Layoffs leave Creative Loafing with 7, but CEO sees opportunity ahead

Creative Loafing’s December 2017 issue.

Creative Loafing’s December 2017 issue.

When seven staff positions — three of them editorial and four in sales and marketing — were eliminated from Creative Loafing Wednesday, it brought the 45-year-old operation's headcount into single digits.

Along with CEO Ben Eason and Publisher Sharry Smith, five employees remain. Music editor Chad Radford now serves as the brand’s lone full-time editorial staff member.

Eason said in interviews this week that changes had to be made as the brand figures out the “best economic formula going forward” into a digital future. The publication has seen the print and digital advertising money it largely depends on decline as businesses shift to other strategies, such as Facebook ads, Eason said.

The problem he describes is a familiar one plaguing alt-weeklies everywhere. This year alone, the Baltimore City Paper shut down and The Village Voice became online only.

Eason concluded the brand, which worked with about 70 employees in its heyday, can no longer sustain a large staff. The cutbacks are hard on people, the CEO said, and he didn’t want to make them before Christmas.

Two days after the holiday, Nick Tapp was one of the employees to learn he was without a full-time job.

"Sad to say that I was one of the ones let go with Creative Loafing's change of direction," the former marketing director wrote on LinkedIn. "Happy to say that I am not left feeling discouraged, broken hearted or sad — I am instead left feeling motivated. It's not too often that you get to change your life up a little bit (voluntarily or otherwise), so I embrace this change and look forward to see what the future brings."

Eason said the “incredible people that have given their all” to Creative Loafing should be proud that it’s “still strong.”

Multiple former and current employees declined to speak on the record.

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Moving forward, the publication will actively recruit contributing writers, Eason said, although he admitted the freelancers may not get paid “Creative Loafing 2007 vintage prices.” He added that the publication operated with only two editors for the first decade or so.

“We’ll lose a little in staff writing and continuity ... we can have people do as much as they can for the dollars we’ve got,” the brand’s leader said. But he contends the changes taking place are an opportunity to turn the publication into a “real showplace.”

The publication switched from a weekly to monthly print edition in August. Next month, it will unveil a new website design to include a heavier emphasis on music columns while still covering local issues, food, art and movies. And the monthly print edition will be bulked up with a kind of local retailer directory that pushes readers to the website, similar to its holiday gift guide, Eason said.

Another project in the works is the Creative Loafing Podcast Network, a collection of podcasts intended to attract larger advertisers. The brand is also looking to increase its digital presence and gain revenue from local businesses by partnering with Prenet Media, a local company that provides an ad platform for Wi-Fi networks.

One change Eason doesn't intend to make, however, is putting up a paywall: "That's never been in our DNA." Eason's parents founded the alt-weekly in 1972 and sold the company to their children in 2000.

When Eason repurchased the company in February, after he was separated from it in 2008 during bankruptcy proceedings, a former columinist told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that there was "no doubt Ben loves Creative Loafing and wants it to succeed," citing the advertising business model as the problem. In the same interview, David Clapper said the new ownership presented an "opportunity to bring some fun stuff back to Creative Loafing that has been missing a bit."

The former advertising director was one of those laid off this week.

Chad Radford posted a Facebook status Thursday about being the only current full-time editorial staff member at the brand, which he said is “still devoted to keeping an alternative voice for Atlanta.”

Radford wrote: “Meetings with freelancers start tomorrow. Stories and podcast ideas are coming together. Change is afoot. In the meantime, please keep reading. And please send me your music! It’s what keeps this whole operation moving forward.”

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