When Pasadena Weekly Editor Kevin Uhrich met David Comden, he knew the sleepy community newspaper was in for a jolt.
"Have we ever had an opinion about anything?" Uhrich recalls being asked by Comden, the new co-owner.
"No," he replied.
"You better get used to having one."
Since the Los Angeles Times sold the Weekly in January to Ventura Newspaper Inc. for an undisclosed amount, the free Pasadena paper has been trying to regain the edgy, alternative flair it once had. The latest step in the transformation came last month when 28-year-old Charles Gerencser, formerly of New Times, was named publisher of the Weekly.
Under the Times, the paper "was more about business-interest stories, advertorials," Gerencser said. "This is more a mudslinging, muckraking (paper)."
"No soccer-mom journalism," Comden added. "We endeavor to make newspapers that contribute to the society."
Breaking away from the stricter rules set by the L.A. Times, the Weekly now allows its writers to produce longer, more in-depth stories that are peppered with opinions. Profanities are no longer chopped from the copy. Editorials and endorsements have been reintroduced.
Ventura Newspaper, owner of the alternative Ventura County Reporter, also has brought the Weekly a more aggressive approach to growth.
The privately held company has invested a modest $50,000 for additional staff and equipment in order to take production, design and copy-editing operations in-house. Under the Times, much of the work was shared with other community papers.
Comden said his goal is to raise the Weekly's circulation to 40,000 by the end of the year, up from 35,000 under the Times. Ad revenues, he added, are expected to increase by 25 percent, to $1.5 million.
Those are lofty goals, given that all newspapers are suffering from major advertising losses this year. While weeklies are more dependent on local advertisers and therefore less affected by cuts in national and classified advertising, they are considered secondary advertising buys that advertisers will drop when looking to reduce costs.
The Weekly, which was averaging 40 pages per issue last year, now has a mandatory minimum page count of 44, a number it often exceeds, Uhrich said.
Once owned by National Media Inc., which published several small weekly newspapers, the Weekly was bought in 1988 by former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan and Sue Laris, publisher of the Los Angeles Downtown News. Later that year, it was purchased by Downtown News co-founder Jim Laris, who ran the paper until selling it to Times Community News in 1998.
Gerencser, at the age of 24, became publisher of New Times Los Angeles, a post he held for more than two years. After leaving to try his hand at media sales, Gerencser was lured back to publishing by Comden.
Michael Sigman, president of the LA Weekly and OC Weekly, described Gerencser as a "very hard-charging advertising sales guy" who could help increase the Pasadena Weekly's revenues.
While the markets of the LA Weekly and Pasadena Weekly overlap, Sigman wasn't worried about competition. "They do make some noise in Pasadena but we do very well in Pasadena," he said.
Pasadena City Councilman Paul Little said the Weekly had lost much of its bite in recent years but appears to be returning to what it was in the past, an "alternative-opinion paper."
"They're moving back to that paper with a point of view," he said, "although I'm not sure they've quite figured out what that view is."
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