The LA Weekly is making some big edits. The alternative weekly will name a new editor-in-chief in the coming weeks, around the time it unveils a revamped website designed to accommodate the ongoing shift of readers from print to digital.
“There’s no question that that’s a lot of change,” said Andy Van De Voorde, executive associate editor at the Weekly’s parent company, Voice Media Group of Denver. “In this business, you just have to keep reloading.”
The reloading will include replacing Editor Sarah Fenske, who told staff earlier this month that, as part of a family move, she will be leaving to take a job as digital director at a magazine in St. Louis next month.
The search for her replacement comes as the Weekly prepares to roll out its new Web design, which will be designed to be better suited for mobile scrolling and social media sharing.
The expectation is that new Web content and a more up-to-date layout will further boost the Weekly’s online traffic. The layout will let readers scroll down the page to read a long story rather than clicking through to multiple pages and will be less cluttered. It will also automatically format to fit a given reader’s screen, whether on a desktop or a smartphone.
Rick Edmonds, a newspaper business analyst at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., said it’s necessary for outlets to plan for a mobile future, employing event recommendations and similarly short, list-y content meant to drive traffic.
“That’s the type of content that people will access by mobile phone,” Edmonds said.
The changes at the Weekly come as it tries to navigate a shifting landscape that has seen print ad spending drop industrywide. The Weekly is still profitable, Fenske said, with the print edition generating about 75 percent of its revenue. The balance comes from its website.
“What’s important to us is making sure that our digital identity is well taken care of and we’re prepared for the future,” said Darrick Rainey, creative director at the Weekly, who led the team of Voice Media developers that built the new layout.
As part of that evolving identity, the staffer responsible for putting together listings of cultural events for the paper was let go and will not be replaced. In his stead, the Weekly is replacing the listings with a Web-focused feature that will give 10 brief tips for what to do every day around town, Van De Voorde said. Some of those items will make it into the paper.
Managing the renewed Web focus will fall to the Weekly’s next editor – its third in the last five years. Fenske took over in 2011 after the abrupt departure of Drex Heikes, who had been on the job for just two years.
Her replacement will take over a paper where print circulation, the metric used by free papers to set ad rates, has dropped dramatically. The Weekly’s circulation is down about 42 percent since 2010, to about 100,000 copies in June of this year, the most recent month that data was available, according to Alliance for Audited Media.
And its page count is down as well. An October issue of the Weekly had 80 pages, roughly half the number of pages in issues published just a handful of years ago.
Those declines, part of the wider print publishing landscape, have happened in part under a relatively new ownership group.
The Weekly has been under current ownership since 2012, when former executives of New York’s Village Voice Media formed Voice Media and purchased the company’s weeklies – Village Voice, OC Weekly, Denver’s Westword and other titles. Two other Village Voice executives kept ownership of Backpage.com, a digital classified ad business.
One challenge for the LA Weekly’s next editor will be using limited resources to balance its storied print history against its digital future.
The paper now has 18 full-time editorial staff, of which three are staff writers. Others are editors who coordinate news, arts, music and other coverage. It contracts with dozens of freelance writers to fill its pages. And in an apparent effort to cut printing costs, the Weekly earlier this year shrunk the size of the paper by an inch on the top and a quarter inch on the sides. Fenske, however, said that decision was due more to the particularities of the printing press the paper uses than the need to cut costs.
She said that while she was “obsessed” with print, she tried to bring a greater digital focus to the paper. During her tenure, online traffic grew to about 14 million page views a month, up from less than 10 million when she arrived.
“We’ve focused very heavily on digital because that’s where the growth is,” she said.
The Weekly’s site, LAWeekly.com, is the most-trafficked of all Voice Media’s digital properties, Van De Voorde said. The redesign developed at the Weekly will be applied to the other papers’ websites as well.
The company has established monthly page view targets for the editorial staff as a whole, as well as for particular sections, and has introduced lists and other Web-friendly content to boost those counts and supplement longer reads. It has also ramped up its video production for the Web in recent months.
Still, Fenske, who will depart in November, said its current design isn’t as user-friendly as it could be.
“We’ve had this online focus for the last few years. Now, hopefully, we’ll have the infrastructure that will make it easier to find what’s newest and interesting,” she said.
As Voice Media looks for Fenske’s successor, Van De Voorde said he’s considering a wide range of applicants and keeping all options open. He’s optimistic about some of the new digital initiatives, as well as others to be rolled out shortly. The Weekly will be the first of the Voice Media papers to get the new layout, with the other papers to follow.
“We’re going more toward a Web-forward approach,” he said. “We’re really excited about it.”
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.
Stories You May Also Be Interested In
- LA Weekly Sold; Buyer Under Wraps
- Voice Media Selling OC Weekly, Keeping LA Weekly
- Weekly Newspaper Owner Hopes to Deliver Buyer
- New Times to Buy LA Weekly Parent
- Massive Staff Cuts at LA Weekly; Editor Out
- Owners Look to Sell Print Publications as Ad Revenue Dwindles
- Paper Hopes to Clean Up After Loss of Sex Ad Site
- Surprise Star of Show Biz News: Print