The Santa Cruz alternative newspaper scene just got a lot weirder. Not necessarily better. Not necessarily worse. Just weirder.
Remember those old newspaper movies of the 1940s? Whenever a big story broke, some fast-talking editor like Cary Grant or Kirk Douglas would grab the phone and yell, "Stop the presses!" This is a moment like that for local media.
Yesterday, the news broke that Metro Newspapers, the corporate entity that operates the Santa Cruz Weekly (formerly Metro Santa Cruz), along with several other publications over the hill, has purchased its crosstown rival, Good Times, from its most recent owner, Mainstreet Media. And, no, it wasn't an April Fool's joke.
It was more like an item in "Believe It or Not." Hit hard by the economic downturn and the decline in print media in general, The Weekly was becoming the incredible shrinking paper, while GT—despite cutbacks, downsizing, and one or two painful layoffs—still managed to operate at a healthy percentage of its old capacity. If a merger was even suspected, most observers would assume it would go in the other direction.
So, what's the deal?
GT owners have come and gone over the years. I always refer to them as the Pros from Dover because I have no earthly clue who they are from one regime to the next. Normally it doesn't impact us much, the editorial and art departments, freelancers, and staff who go about the business of getting the paper out every week.
Most of the incoming owners don't really want to fool around too much with the team in the trenches responsible for making the paper a successful enterprise worth buying in the first place.
Not so, this time. In one afternoon—and a Monday at that, deadline-eve, when things are hectic enough in the office—publisher Ron Slack, editor Greg Archer, Entertainment Editor Jenna Brogan, and staff writer Joel Hersch were out the door. That's a huge chunk of the team responsible for making GT a success.
Dan Pulcrano, owner of Metro Newspapers, has a long history with the local alt-journalism scene. For the (ulp) 39 years I've been at GT (beginning when I was an infant prodigy, of course), there has basically never been a moment when our paper was not the target of some other feisty little publication—the Independent, the Phoenix, the Express, the Sun, Taste, Santa Cruz Magazine, Metro Santa Cruz. Dan Pulcrano was involved in a lot of those papers, along with Buz Bezore, Christina Waters, Geoff Dunne, Stephen Kessler, Michael Gant, Tim Eagan, Bruce Bratton, and many other luminaries on the local media scene.
These were the folks who never thought GT was alternative enough. And I have to say there have been times in this paper's checkered history when I agreed with them, when I would have gladly jumped ship and gone to play for the scrappy rival team. But not lately.
Yes, once upon a time, GT was "Lighter Than Air"—a tagline that apparently we will never, ever live down. Get over it. It's been decades since those words appeared in the masthead, or were reflected in the editorial content of the paper itself. When Ron Slack was installed in the publisher's office 13 years ago, he not only relocated to Santa Cruz and got involved in the community, he dedicated a hefty chunk of GT column inches, staff, and resorces to reporting on local news and issues, alongside the arts and entertainment coverage that had sustained the paper over the years.
Good Times blossomed under the stewardship of Ron Slack, the tireless efforts of our fearless leader, editor Greg Archer, and the contributions of dozens of writers, artists, columnists, critics and dreamers too numerous to mention. I am extremely proud and excessively lucky to have worked with all these people. It won't be the same around the ol' newsroom without them.
No one knows at this point how this transition will play out. Incoming editor Steve Palopoli is a good guy; we used to work together at GT. I suspect that the success of this venture will depend—as always—on the heart, integrity, and sheer stamina of the folks in the trenches, the creative staff tasked with the insane, impossible, wildly exhilarating business of getting out a weekly newspaper.
For the story so far, catch up with Wallace Baine's excellent piece in the Sentinel, and this interesting news item on the purchase in the Silicon Valley Business Journal.
To relive those thrilling early days of alt-journalism in Santa Cruz, check out this vintage piece from the old Metro.