Friday, March 7, 2008
Many will rightly consider this insider baseball, but we've been watching with interest a long-standing battle between the independently held San Francisco Bay Guardian (the sort of alt-weekly that defines the term, particularly those with long roots) and the San Francisco Weekly, owned now by Village Voice Media, the largest chain of newsweeklies in the country. VVM owns, clearly, the Village Voice, as well as the Dallas Observer, Houston Press, LA Weekly, Denver Westword, Seattle Weekly, Nashville Scene and others. The company was formed in a 2006 merger between Village Voice Media (which owned 6 papers) and New Times Newspapers (which owned 11), having originated as the Phoenix New Times. Management is largely that of the previous New Times company.
This week, the SF Bay Guardian won a predatory pricing lawsuit against SF Weekly and its parent company, in which a jury found that the Weekly has systematically offered advertising below its cost, running the SF Weekly into the red for over a decade while supporting it with profits from other chain papers. The goal, in the eyes of the jury, was hurt the Bay Guardian's business. The verdict, including some damages that automatically triple under California law, reached over $15 million.
Perhaps most entertaining is the fact that both are weekly papers, with varying degrees of solid reporting and snarkiness. A money quote from the SF Weekly's The Snitch blogger:
When The Snitch heard the verdict, he was disappointed but not surprised. As this blogger has written, the state law under which the Guardian sued is practically an invitation for inefficient competitors to sue their rivals in hopes of a big payday.
(The Snitch is a "corporate editor" for the newspaper chain, Andy Van De Voorde, based out of Denver.)
From the Bay Guardian, we get something slightly more reported and relevant:
Evidence produced in the trial showed clearly that the Weekly had been selling ads below cost. In fact, the paper had lost money every year since the New Times chain, now known as Village Voice Media, bought it in 1995. Those losses totalled $25 million over the 12 years.
As newspaper owners who have occasionally had our own Goliath come after us with unsavory plans and ambitions, we root, in the end, for fair pricing and fair competition. May the best journalism win!
"inefficient competitors" Interesting phrase. I guess the more papers you own, the more "efficient" you can be?
As a former Bay Area resident, the Guardian was a way better read than the Weekly. Everyone knows that. May the best journalism always win!