I’ve lived and breathed this competition for two decades, so I’m surprised even as I write this: Sometime in the next 90 days—barring dramatic, unforeseen events—The Independent will acquire the Spectator. We are purchasing the Spectator from Creative Loafing Inc., the Tampa-based group that also owns weekly newspapers in Atlanta, Tampa and Charlotte. Throughout our friendly negotiations, both sides acknowledged a critical fact. A community the size of the Triangle can support one prosperous alternative newsweekly that pays good wages and publishes great stories. One and only one.

Therefore, immediately after the acquisition, we will merge the two papers into a single major weekly called The Independent. We promise you this: We will continue to imbue the merged paper with The Independent‘s cutting-edge cultural criticism and hard-edged investigative reporting and our historic commitment to help build a just community here in our North Carolina home.

At the same time, we recognize the deep loyalty of the Spectator‘s readers and advertisers and we welcome you with open arms. You will find the Spectator embodied inside the paper every week as wellthe Spectator‘s best editorial features, its tradition of first-class arts and entertainment writing, its particular focus on the Raleigh side of the Triangle where it first laid down roots 24 years ago.

For our readers, old and new, this merger means more every week. More information. More facts. More thinking, laughing, arguing, learning. More in-your-face opinions. More calls to action. As our friends at the Spectator like to say in their pages, more to read and do.

For our advertisers, old and new, this merger simply means more exposure to more readers. As the Triangle’s one major weekly, we will be able to push our circulation up over the next few years to reach more readers—and more customers for our advertisers.

All of that is good. Very good. But Independent senior staff writer Barbara Solow, a member of the executive committee of our company’s board of directors, reminds us that “it’s never a happy moment when a newspaper shuts its doors.” Barbara knows. She lost her reporting job when the Pittsburgh Press was purchased by its competitor and closed down in 1992. Despite our plans to hire some Spectator staff members at The Independent and despite the efforts of Creative Loafing to find jobs for many Spectator employees, some people will probably lose their jobs in the merger. The Spectator‘s unique voice will no longer sound full-throated on the streets as it did in the years of its founder, Bernie Reeves, who authored his aggressively conservative “Mr. Spectator” column for many years before selling the paper to Creative Loafing Inc.

This media merger-and-acquisition story has a happy upside-down ending, however. All across America, locally owned newspapers, radio stations and television stations are selling out to chains. In the alternative newspaper business, in particular, consolidation of ownership is rampant, with 25 papers in the top 30 markets in the United States under chain ownership (and four of the independent big-city papers owning smaller papers of their own).

This acquisition is different, though. Much to his credit, Creative Loafing CEO Ben Eason decided, in his words, to “yield to local ownership.” Ben knows about local ownership. He lives and publishes in Tampa, and as a young man he worked for the Atlanta weekly founded by his parents.

Nineteen years of publishing an alternative newsweekly in a competitive market never made The Independent truly profitable. Even in our best years, we barely broke even, and we’ve never been able to pay the wages our staff deserves. But all that scratching and clawing got us to this day, to this deal. We live here. This is our home. We’re the local guys, and we’re still standing.

As we acquire the Spectator, we honor its history. Its founder and longtime publisher Bernie Reeves was one of the people most responsible for inventing the Triangle as a single community. In 1978, when The News & Observer was a Raleigh paper with its face toward the coast, when each local TV station focused on its own city, Bernie advertised the Spectator as “One Major Weekly” for “One Major Market.” Hal Crowther and Godfrey Cheshire began their local writing careers at the Spectator. The late Tim McLaurin found a home in its pages, as did Cullum Rogers, Bob Burtman and so many other accomplished writers and artists in the community.

Finally, though, our acquisition of the Spectator made simple financial sense for both of us. I want to thank Ben Eason and the other folks at Creative Loafing for their honorable dealing—and for caring as much as we do about building great alternative newspapers in the South. I want to thank Adam Abram of Omega Management for representing The Independent with such wisdom and integrity as we negotiated with Creative Loafing and for his 10 years of dedicated service on our board and executive committee. Without Adam’s experience, his patience, his unswerving loyalty to our mission—and his kindnesswe could never have completed this deal.

The Independent staff—both the people who work here today and those who came before—deserve the most thanks, but an entire newspaper of praise couldn’t begin to tell their story. One member of that staff for the past 19 years, Sioux Watson, will remain as publisher of the merged paper. Sioux will be the best possible ambassador to the Spectator‘s readers and advertisers as we welcome you warmly into the paper.

Next year The Independent celebrates our 20th anniversary of publishing. As we join the best of the Spectator with the best of The Independent, we hold fiercely to the mission that has inspired us from the first. We want to do some of the nation’s best alternative journalism, to tell the stories that draw you in and challenge you and even make you mad sometimes. Stories that seek justice. Stories that make change. We want to create a great workplace where talented people—ad reps and reporters and designers and circulation drivers and business staffers—can do their best work in the service of this community that we love.

With gratitude,

Steve Schewel


The Independent Weekly