MINNEAPOLIS — City Pages, the last and most storied of the Twin Cities’ alternative weekly newspapers, has ceased publication after 41 years.
Mike Klingensmith, publisher and CEO of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, informed the entire Star Tribune workforce by email on Wednesday, Oct. 29, that after five years of ownership, the company could not sustain its free weekly during the pandemic-era advertising downturn.
City Pages’ 30 employees had been told of the decision by their managers earlier in the day, according to Steve Yaeger, chief marketing officer for the Star Tribune Media Co.
“We are permanently shutting down the print publication and website, effective today,” Klingensmith wrote, noting “most of City Pages ad revenue comes from the businesses hardest hit by the pandemic.”
The current issue on the stands will be its last. Launched in 1979 as the monthly music magazine “Sweet Potato” by Tom Bartel and Kristin Henning, the downtown Minneapolis-based paper became a weekly in 1981, going head to head with the Twin Cities Reader across the street.
“From the music scene perspective, it just leaves such a huge void in the landscape of local music journalism,” said Andrea Swensson, a former City Pages music editor who now hosts a local music show on 89.3 The Current. “I’m really feeling that loss and wondering what will come along to fill it.”
City Pages and the Reader competed over coverage of music and arts, culture and commentary until 1997, when Stern Publishing purchased them both and closed the Reader.
In 2005, City Pages and other alternative weeklies were acquired by New Times Media, which had also bought another alt-weekly institution, the New York-based Village Voice.
The paper’s transition to shedding print pages and boosting its digital presence was already underway, and job security felt shaky.
“The paper physically shrunk by dozens of pages while I was there. Instead of me writing one column a week, it was a blog post a day,” she recalled. “I always felt like I was running across a bridge that was collapsing.”
Under pressure from critics of the sex industry, City Pages in 2012 dumped its racy Backpage.com advertising section, which carried ads for escorts, massage parlors and nude clubs.
The Star Tribune Media Co. purchased City Pages in May 2015 and closed its own entertainment paper, Vita.mn.
City Pages’ alumni have included Rolling Stone contributor Will Hermes, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody, music critic Jim Walsh and author, MTV News editorial director and former Pitchfork Magazine editor Jessica Hopper.
Media outlets, from print to broadcast, have suffered in the modern era as traditional advertisers have looked to new outlets to spread their brand name. While the Web has provided new revenue opportunities, it’s rarely made up for the decline in print ad sales.
Without any subscription revenue to lean on, free arts and culture weeklies are especially dependent on local ads.
As a result of the pandemic, Klingensmith told employees Wednesday, “virtually every advertiser in the core advertising base for City Pages — local restaurants, theaters, clubs, museums, and more — has drastically reduced its ad spending.”
He said the Star Tribune daily newspaper is in “a relatively strong position” due to the majority of its revenue coming from digital and print subscriptions, as well as “support from a large base of regional and national advertisers.”