UNITED STATES BANKRUPTCY COURT
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
DIVISION OF THE FOURTH ESTATE
WASHINGTON CITY PAPER, et al. ) Case No. 1982-2008-RIP ) Chapter 86 ) Debtors ) (Content Reorganization Requested) __________________________________) ) WASHINGTON CITY PAPER, et al. ) No. Adv. 28-25 Plaintiffs ) ) v. ) ) OUR READERS, LLC ) Defendants ) __________________________________)
VERIFIED COMPLAINT BY WASHINGTON CITY PAPER FOR
CHAPTER 86 CONTENT REORGANIZATION AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF AGAINST READER EXPECTATIONS
1 The Debtors in these proceedings are Washington City Paper (“City Paper”), to include its Web site, washingtoncitypaper.com, and providers of Editorial Content, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 133(w), 157(e), 221(s), 232(u), 334(c), and 486(k).
THE BANKRUPTCY CASE AND THE PARTIES
- On Oct. 9, 2008, the Debtors filed petition for relief under Chapter 86 of the Content Bankruptcy Code, Alternative Weekly Provision, in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Fourth Estate.
- Debtor, City Paper, is an alternative newsweekly devoted to coverage of news, features, arts, and listings for the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area (“Washington, D.C.”)
- Defendant, the Readers of City Paper (“Readers”), are residents of and visitors to Washington, D.C., with expectations of well-reported long-form narrative journalism (“cover stories”) in addition to comprehensive and critical coverage of music, film, theater, visual arts, happenings, et al. (“arts coverage”).
A. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
4. City Paper is a weekly newspaper based in the District of Columbia and printed at a plant in Fayetteville, N.C. The newspaper reaches 680,000 readers each month through its Web site, washingtoncitypaper.com, and via print distribution throughout the Washington, D.C., region.
5. The gradual rise of the Internet as a conduit for all the sorts of information provided by City Paper—from classified ads through news—has buffeted the paper’s business, as well as that of other print publications. City Paper has suffered through a typical onslaught of industry downtrends, including declines in circulation, display advertising revenues, and classified advertising revenues.
6. The journalism/content of City Paper has also undergone a significant upheaval in the age of the Internet. Even before City Paper began placing its stories online, its journalists suspected that perhaps not a great multitude of readers were reading their work. Specific concerns clustered over the paper’s cover story, often a long piece of narrative journalism exceeding 5,000 words. Other questions about reader popularity attached to smaller news stories as well, which often related to landlord-tenant disputes, police misconduct, and, once, the rise of chai.
7. Web traffic numbers have confirmed the editorial department’s concerns. In early 2006, for instance, a City Paper staff writer began a written correspondence with a federal inmate named Thomas Sweatt, who was serving a life sentence for setting a series of fires in the Washington area. The letters continued for more than a year, as did a parallel investigation into the damage done by Sweatt’s fire-setting. The investigation turned up two deaths from Sweatt’s rampage that the public did not know about. The story would later win the Livingston Award. The paper posted the story, titled “Letters from an Arsonist,” on washingtoncitypaper.com on June 1, 2007, since which point it has attracted 5,748 pageviews. Meanwhile, an item on the paper’s blog titled “Obama, You’ve Got Something….” has attracted 10,128 pageviews in the past five weeks alone. The blog item was a commentary, written in a ranting style, on the appearance of a fragment of saliva on the face of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama during his 2008 convention speech.
8. The foregoing has significant ramifications for the editorial operations of City Paper. As disclosed in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing last month, City Paper’s parent company, Creative Loafing Inc. (CLI), is seeking protection from its creditors, most important from lenders who hold $40 million in CLI debt. As part of an effort to restructure some of its debt, CLI promised to achieve specific improvements in Web-related revenue, an initiative that is ongoing for newspapers in the CLI chain. (CLI owns alternative-weekly papers in Washington, Chicago, Charlotte, Atlanta, Sarasota, and Tampa).