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Thursday, March 15, 2012

CL (weirdly) lays off Besha Rodell

We learned yesterday that CL's owner, Atalaya Capital Management, has laid-off Besha Rodell, the paper's dining critic and managing editor of the digital edition. She was joined by Scott Henry, Chante LaGon, and Curt Holman. This is a shock, to say the least. All four have been central to Creative Loafing's editorial distinction in a city otherwise bereft of anything resembling alternative journalism.

It's especially disappointing because the newest editor at CL, Eric Celeste, has been doing an impressive job of restoring the strong voice of advocacy reporting in our city.

It is hideously painful to watch Creative Loafing shrink and shrink more. I've been associated with the paper since about 1983, serving two stints as editor for about seven years total. I wrote my formerly weekly "Grazing" column for most of the years since then, along with a second column, "Headcase" (nee "Paradigms"), until it was cancelled a few years back.

Besha is an amazingly good writer and it's been a great pleasure to watch her develop her critical voice over the seven years she's been with the paper. She is also a phenomenal editor. It seems shortsighted to lay her off, considering her broad contribution to the paper and the broad readership the food section attracts. But the paper is for sale and the owners say they need to save money to exhibit greater profitability.

And, honestly, I've watched the same process repeat itself at publication after publication: When push comes to shove, content is quite secondary to the people in financial management. You don't sell advertising on the basis of content, strange as that seems. If a publication has established itself in a market and has a savvy ad staff, the quality of its content matters little.

That's why, 25-plus years ago, when the Village Voice was considering expanding to this market, they decided not to. I went to a meeting with them to talk about becoming editor of the new project. There was no doubt the content would be a vast improvement over Creative Loafing's at the time, but I urged them to investigate just what I've said here: they were not going to take advertising away from a paper with such an established brand and loyalty.

Of course, this has changed somewhat with the takeover of print media by Internet publications and advertising. Many alternative weeklies were long dependent on classified advertising and that has moved online to sites like Craig's List. And, frankly, content of depth — thorough reporting is now characterized as "long-form" — isn't what most readers want, anymore. They want "five restaurants to impress a first date."

None of this is to say that CL's owners reasoned out their decision this way, but, along with increasing digital content, it's almost certainly why they'll get away with it.

I hope that Besha, who has won numerous awards for the paper, will turn up somewhere soon, along with the three other laid-off employees.

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