Previous owner Ben Eason buys back Creative Loafing

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

This was posted on Monday, February 20, 2017 by Rodney Ho on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing is going back to its roots - literally. Ben Eason, son of the original owners, has purchased back the brand.

"I am seeing some incredible trends particularly back to local publishers," Eason said in an interview today from the home of his parents in Morningside where the paper began in 1972. "I thought it was time to get back into publishing again. And Creative Loafing is such a part of the fabric of Atlanta."

He didn't say how much he paid for the paper but said he was the only investor.

Eason wants to revitalize the paper for the digital age, especially mobile. (He thinks the print edition only has a few years of life left in it.)

Andisheh Nouraee, a columnist for Creative Loafing from 2000 to 2010 who now works at the non-profit CARE, said people he has spoken to who are still working there are "cautiously optimistic."

"It's likely a positive development," he said. "There's no doubt Ben loves Creative Loafing and wants it to succeed. I think the paper needs that. The mission is more relevant than ever. It's the advertising business model that's troublesome."

"Local news is more important than ever," Nouraee added. "Unfortunately, it's very expensive. One hopes they can do it. It definitely needs some investment on the editorial and business sides."

Several key people have left Creative Loafing in recent months including former editor-in-chief Deborah Michaud  (now at CARE), former news editor Thomas Wheatley (now at Atlanta magazine) and music writer Rodney Carmichael.

The paper's first African-American editor in chief Carlton Hargro started last month. He oversaw CL's cultural coverage in the mid-2000s and ran the Charlotte Creative Loafing for several years.

"He's an incredible multi-media guy," said Eason. "He got his start at Creative Loafing doing podcasts. He's very fluent in the digital world."

Eason would like to bring back some features that have fallen on the wayside such as the Soundboard music listings and the Police Blotter, a long-time jaundiced view at crime in the city.

Former employees said they want Eason to inject the brand with some fresh mojo.

"I may have competed them for years but I really hope he can bring some passion to the brand," said Patrick Best, who owned rival The Sunday Paper from 2004 until 2011 but also worked at Creative Loafing 1999 to 2004 during its heyday. "I hope he can come in and reinvigorate the staff. More power to him!"

C.B. Hackworth, who worked at the paper from 1986 to 1991, said "there's a void in Atlanta that it once filled. That could be filled again if it's done the right way."

Eason acknowledges the print edition is but a shadow of its former self. In its salad days in the 1990s and 2000s, the weekly would typically be filled with 150 to 200 pages of ads. Now, the print weekly is lucky to come in at 40 pages. The employee count was 80 in 2005 with 25 editorial employees. Now it's 16 with only a handful in editorial.

He said the online operation brings in 300,000 to 400,000 unique users a month but needs to be significantly ramped up to make significant revenue.

David Clapper, who used to work at 97.1/The River and works part-time at Rock 100.5, came aboard last month as an ad executive. "It's pretty exciting," he said. "This gives us an opportunity to bring some fun stuff back to Creative Loafing that has been missing a bit.... I felt like having corporate ownership chained us down a little bit."

The alt-weekly was founded by Deborah Eason in 1972, turning it into a progressive voice of Atlanta. She sold the company to her children in 2000, including Ben.  It also included papers in Tampa and Charlotte. (Cox Enterprises, which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, owned a 25 percent share of the chain for four years.)

After an ill-fated purchase of the Chicago Reader and Washington City Paper in 2007 and the 2008 recession, the chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In 2010, Ben Eason lost control of the company in a bankruptcy auctiion to creditor Atalaya Funding.

In 2012, Nashville-based SouthComm Communications purchased Creative Loafing Atlanta.

"I like what Southcomm did," Eason said. "But it's hard to stem the tide. You have to reinvent yourself regularly."

Ben Eason lives in Tampa and runs  The Networked Planet, an agency that provides digital programs for daily and specialty publishers across the U.S.

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