There's something sad about a newspaper going out of business, something beyond the measurable loss of jobs. A voice is lost to a community, and that community has to make due with fewer voices.
Everybody's News published its final issue on Aug. 20, bowing to several years of financial troubles. Its steady decline in ad count and page count was evident to all, but the paper's owners held out hope that it could be salvaged through a sale or additional investment.
Unfortunately, that hope resulted in a confusing final few weeks for Everybody's News. The local media did not note its passing, and, in the end, the paper didn't even say goodbye.
After 16 years as an alternative voice in Cincinnati's often bland, status-quo-seeking media landscape, Everybody's News deserved better. In the very least, it deserved a proper send-off.
Late in the week of Aug. 9, several Everybody's News free-lance writers called CityBeat to say they'd been told not to work on assignments for issues beyond Aug. 20 and to see if this paper was interested in them. On Aug. 16, a Cincinnati Post reporter called to ask what we'd heard about Everybody's News going out of business.
The Post published a business page story on Aug. 17 (headline: "Everybody's News may fold; buyer sought") that said Publisher Donna Goodwin would not comment on the weekly's future.
"I'm just not making any comment right now," the story quoted Goodwin saying. "If you want to call back next week, I'll tell you everything you want to know."
The following Sunday's Cincinnati Enquirer had a small brief on the business page that breezily mentioned Everybody's News was for sale. (In fact, the paper had been on the market off and on for the past three years.) Goodwin, asked what her free alternative newsweekly was worth, was quoted as replying, "How much are you willing to pay?"
The item ran three days after Everybody's News published its final issue.
When it became obvious that the Aug. 20 issue would be the paper's swan song, several free-lance writers and staffers reportedly tried to persuade Goodwin to run some sort of farewell story as a gesture to long-time readers.
But the publisher resisted, one writer said, because she wanted to keep the door open for the possibility of a last-minute rescue.
The Aug. 20 issue, featuring a cover story by anti-smoking zealot Ahron Leichtman, was business as usual.
Rumors swirled the following week about the paper's fate. More Everybody's News free-lancers called seeking writing opportunities. Classified advertisers said they'd been turned away by the paper. Other advertisers said they were called about outstanding balances and asked to pay up by week's end.
There was no issue of Everybody's News on Aug. 27. The paper's offices had been cleared of practically all of its desks and computers, but the answering machine simply provided the paper's normal operating hours.
Not until a small story on the Editor & Publisher Web site on Aug. 27 was the truth finally known -- Everybody's News was out of business. Reporter Lucia Moses, who covers the alternative press for E&P, quoted Goodwin as saying, "I've been suffering from severe burnout and I just made a decision to put it to rest."
The Post never did get Goodwin to tell the full story. Neither did The Enquirer.
And so it's over. So?
Everybody's News was one of CityBeat's main competitors for readers and advertisers. It was also the place where I got my start in alternative newspapers, serving as assistant editor and then editor from 1990 to 1994, when I left to help start CityBeat.
Everybody's News was what it was. Its 16-year run speaks for itself.
In the late 1980s, when it first began experimenting with political stories and social commentary, the paper picked up the pieces of alternative journalism first tried here by '70s underground publications like The Reporter and Rivertown Times. When it went weekly from biweekly in 1993, Everybody's News proved that there might be a decent market in Cincinnati after all for a free alternative newspaper.
It gave lots of young writers their first breaks, even if they rarely got paid. It gave some powerful people the heebie-jeebies. It gave Cincinnati personal ads and News of the Weird.
But, in the end, newspapers are a business. On top of that, independently owned alternative weeklies in Cincinnati are a small business -- a gnat buzzing around the large media corporations that control the city's daily newspapers, radio stations, TV stations, monthly magazine and weekly business paper.
In the business world, missteps are difficult to recover from. Everybody's News paid the ultimate price.
· · ·
Speaking of paying the price, Hamilton County taxpayers no doubt were encouraged by The Enquirer's recent three-part series on how citizens can still influence designs for the new Reds stadium. Apparently, we simply have to demand excellence from the architects.
Reporters John Erardi and John Byczkowski traveled to six of the newest major league baseball parks across the country to cull the best design elements. They raved about concession stands, views, bullpen locations and various cool offerings on the streets outside of the stadiums.
They then offered their own suggestions for making the Reds facility truly unique and truly a Cincinnati creation.
The work was top-notch, as you'd expect from Erardi and Byczkowski, two of The Enquirer's best writers. They wrote so passionately about baseball and its local origins they almost make you care about the game again.
The only complaint here is: What took them so long? The Reds ballpark is being built at The Wedge, where a tight fit dictates the stadium's overall design. Sure, we can still paint the bathrooms blue or red, but does it really matter?
On the series' first day, Aug. 29, a large chart compared the pros and cons of the six stadiums. The first pro listed for the first stadium, Denver's Coors Field, said the stadium was "a perfect fit" for the renaissance in the once-dilapidated neighborhood surrounding it. Uh, that's not gonna happen here, folks, no matter how much excellence we demand.
Broadway Commons got voted down, remember?
During the debate leading up to the Broadway Commons vote last fall, this column criticized The Enquirer for its blatantly pro-riverfront news coverage -- which included killing a Broadway Commons-friendly story by Erardi (Press Clips, July 10-16, 1997).
The paper routinely ignored the fact that Hamilton County officials, concerned about increased clamoring for Broadway Commons, stopped all public input into the stadium project back in 1996. And it ignored remarks by Reds Managing Executive John Allen that he was not interested in the stadium being an economic catalyst for downtown Cincinnati and that any new restaurants and bars nearby simply would be "competition" for his concession stands.
So now The Enquirer throws a huge amount of space to a series that hopes to whip up public input while pressing Allen and county officials to "do the right thing." But why would anyone think the people building the Reds stadium suddenly give a crap about what the public wants?
It's all good fun to play what-if with a stadium built with our money, but ultimately the series was in vain. As Sam Wyche once said, we don't live in Cleveland, dammit, we live in Cincinnati.