It's online! Zombie 'New York Press' looks for recruits; owner wants it to be Bloomberg's 'homepage'
11:18 am Dec. 6, 2011
Three months after shutting down the 23-year-old newspaper New York Press, the paper's publisher, Manhattan Media, is gearing up for a relaunch of the late alternative weekly's website.
Long a dark horse rival to the Village Voice, the paper was once a place where emerging big-shots like Dave Eggers, Sam Sifton, Amy Sohn and Jonathan Ames cut their teeth. It was shuttered at the end of August following years of budget cuts and a steady decline in ad pages. (The most recent editors by then had already left for new jobs elsewhere.) In its place, Manhattan Media brought back Our Town Downtown, the local newspaper it folded upon acquiring New York Press in 2007. New York Press was to live on titularly in Our Town's arts section, and nypress.com was to become a portal site to aggregate content from the company's other publications, which include a bi-monthly political paper called City & State, a culture paper called City Arts, the lifestyle magazine Avenue and various other community weeklies.
But last week, the twitter account for New York Press declared: "NYPress is back with a growing team of writers!" It was also scouting for new ones across various beats, such as food, nightlife, and politics: "NY PRESS IS LOOKING FOR POLITICAL/LOCAL NEWS WRITERS IN NYC! Have some sass and a strong opinion? Email firstname.lastname@example.org." (That would be Amy Michelle Smith, an early-20-something former Avenue intern hired to run New York Press 3.0.)
Reached by phone, Tom Allon, the owner of Manhattan Media and a 2013 mayoral candidate, confirmed that an overhaul of nypress.com was underway and that a new incarnation would be unveiled in the first quarter of the New Year.
"It is our intention that this will become Mayor Bloomberg's homepage," Allon told Capital. "It will be the quintessential website for the savvy Manhattanite."
Allon said that traffic to nypress.com was up "25 to 30 percent" since the site started incorporating content from the other Manhattan Media titles earlier this fall, with more than 200,000 monthly visitors. Several independent web analytics providers, which tend to find lower numbers than site-owners' internal metrics, put the site's total monthly uniques below 100,000, although they did show a spike between between the beginning of September and the end of October, the most recent month for which data is available.
"The Press is still a great brand," said Allon, though he scoffed at the suggestion that he might revive the print edition someday.
"No. No. Alternative newspapers are an anachronism," he said. "I don't see a future for papers like New York Press or the Village Voice now that everything, at least in that industry, is migrating online. That readership is online."
Many would agree with him. But the irony, according to sources familiar with Manhattan Media, is that while the print edition was still alive, the website was languishing, with diminutive to nonexistent funding.
There was no editorial budget for freelance columnists on the web that were not to appear in print; the paper itself was running on a freelance budget of $1,500 per week by the end, and trying to offer a full complement of news and reviews across culture categories.
Most writers would file their online copy gratis, save $20 here or $25 there for the occassional party item or some other reported feature.
Nor was there any dedicated web staff. Rather, the paper's two editors and an army of unpaid interns would generate the 10-12 items for the web every day. The sales team likewise didn't have much luck selling digital advertising, which accounted for less than 10 percent of overall revenue while the print edition lived, according to one source.
Considering Manhattan Media is now focusing on reviving New York Press as a web-only brand, was there perhaps a missed opportunity here?
"I don't look backward," Allon said. "I only look forward."