Washington City Paper Seeks Journalism Bankruptcy Filing asks court for protection from readers, expectations, standards.

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In re:

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                        )


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).


  1. 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.
  2. 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.”)
  3. 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”).


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).


9. On or about July 24, 2007, Washington City Paper was acquired by CLI. Over the next five months, the paper underwent a staff- and cost-cutting program that left it with a diminished editorial department. On or about Dec. 12, 2007, the editorial division signed a forbearance agreement with its readers. The purpose of the agreement, signed by reader representatives and City Paper executives at Tryst Coffeehouse*Bar*Lounge, was to give the paper’s reporters and editors time to execute a plan to deliver decent journalism with a depleted resource base.

10. Subsequent to the execution of the Forbearance Agreements, the Debtors complied with all material covenants and requirements therein, ensuring, for example, that popular features such as “Savage Love” and “News of the Weird” would continue to be easily findable in the paper.

11. Debtors sought to preserve customized coverage of local news and arts. Among the first costs cut were the $8,000 per annum spent on comic strips and comic illustrations, a decision generally unremarked upon. However, the paper did hear a backlash from fans of Savage Love illustrator Robert Ullman, who called upon readers of his “blog” to mount a letter-writing campaign.

Some of the resulting complaints criticized City Paper for no longer being “alternative,” an attack that weakened the paper’s standing among “hipsters.”

12. City Paper attempted to repair this relationship with the July 12, 2007, publication of “Members Only,” a humorous cover story about the social network Late Night Shots, which reassured “hipsters” that City Paper was still on “their side,” repositioning the paper as a source of “alternative” news and snide commentary and resulting in a spike in Web traffic courtesy “blogs,” some of whose authors sarcastically suggested irate Late Night Shots members “sue [author Angela Valdez] for being mean!”

13. Subsequent City Paper stories attempted to woo back other disaffected readers with sex (“Sorry, No Russian Whores Here,” 8/15/07), nostalgia (“Home Games,” 11/19/07), and a close relative of the Late Night Shots story (“No One’s Going to Stop Me,” 12/5/07). Further, the paper broke news in late December 2007, when it reported on suspicions surrounding the Eastern Market fire (“Was This Really an Accident?”).

14. In April 2008, City Paper published its first “Best-Of” issue in 21 years. In doing so, the editorial department bowed to intense pressure from ownership, the advertising staff, and the Fairfax-based band JunkFood, which was hungry for its third “Readers Choice”-style competition for “Best Local Band.” The paper’s foray into “service journalism” was mocked by readers who contended that Wawa, not Sheetz, was the best place to stop while on road trips. Others held that JunkFood had engaged in ballot-box stuffing.

15. A second attempt at service journalism, the June 20, 2008, the “Hoods and Services” issue, was mostly ignored by advertisers and drew criticism from the copy-editing community for the conscious decision to omit an apostrophe before the “H” in “Hoods.” The edition was headlined by a map of the District of Columbia containing satirical nicknames for its neighborhoods. The paper has since put the map onto very attractive T-shirts that are unavailable for purchase on washingtoncitypaper.com.

16. “Hipsters” who viewed the service journalism as a sellout to corporate America tended to leave their expressions of disapproval on the Web sites of other publications, thus denying City Paper the Web-page views (“pageviews”) that are the currency of the new media landscape.

17. City Paper editors are nonetheless resolved to lure back such readers and have determined to subject them to fewer of the paper’s long-form narratives and more “stunt” stories (a true and correct copy demonstrating reader reaction to this plan, DCist’s 9/26 post “Washington City Paper Changes Include End of Cover Stories,” is attached). Further, the paper is prepared to offer Sudoku puzzles in addition to its long-running crossword and has commissioned several “blogs” of its own, including one about real estate and another about sex.

18. Following the news of its plans to reduce long cover stories, readers are now asserting that long cover stories are in fact why they like the City Paper and that “the reprinting of blog posts is weak.” These contradictory messages have forced City Paper to assert that readers refuse to act in good faith to lower their expectations until such time as it can at least get its sex blog linked by Fleshbot.

C: Injunctive Relief Pursuant to the Uniform Code of Expectations and Section 10 Due to Breach of Confidence in Content

19. Pursuant to Section 10-WTF of the Uniform Code of Expectations, District of Columbia, Readers owe a duty of good faith to City Paper to (i) not assert City Paper is in default of providing quality local content without first actually reading said content and (ii) negotiate a lowering of expectations outlined in the Forbearance Agreement.

20. Pursuant to Section 10-CMS of the Uniform Code of Expectations, District of Columbia, City Paper has received a mandate from parent company CLI to focus on Internet-related content. As such, readers owe a duty of good faith to City Paper to (i) understand a shift in readership away from newsprint and toward computer screens and (ii) acknowledge that this shift supports writings regarding personal interactions with critters and the recirculation of news generated by other outlets.

21. Pursuant to Section 10-DCIST, Readers further breached their duty of good faith when they wrongfully posted comments made in regard to City Paper, its content, and its compromised employees on Web sites neither owned nor operated by City Paper or CLI. To wit: Commenter “monkeyrotica,” in posting on independent Web property DCist, stated s/he picks up the paper only “to check out what’s on sale at the porno stores.” In a later comment, “monkeyrotica” suggested that if City Paper writers would “stop writing like a bunch of lofty horses asses pontificating on matters of burning import, maybe locals might start caring. Maybe!”

22. Pursuant to Section 10-DUH, Readers also failed to aid City Paper in its discovery of the existence of the World Wide Web (“Web”) and Web commentary (“Blogs”). Readers owe a good faith effort to City Paper to inform City Paper of the demands on their time and attention.

D. Action for Declaratory Relief Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2201

23. This is an action for declaratory relief with respect to the loyalty of City Paper readers in toto. The paper and its principals request that the court, using its powers under 11 U.S.C. 105(a) through 106(zz), assist the City Paper in the following manner, via a contract sub modo:

24. Protection from readers. The Debtors hereby request that the court, using its powers under 28 U.S.C. 2201, enjoin readers from doing anything that could damage the standing of the City Paper. In addition:

• An injunction barring any retail outlet in the Greater Washington region from turning down a rack of City Papers for distribution.

• An injunction barring further comments from “monkeyrotica.” If the Court should decide not to order an outright ban on such postings, Debtors would request an interlocutory order requiring “monkeyrotica” to limit his/her postings to washingtoncitypaper.com. If the Court should decide not to issue such an interlocutory motion, Debtors would request that the Court certify “monkeyrotica” as non compos mentis.

• A nunc pro tunc order exempting City Paper from all areas of libel and privacy law. Publishers and editors of City Paper, arguendo, state that their editorial content would be more lively and interesting under such order.

• A Court order, pro bono publico, committing at least one Court clerk to a regimen of 20 hours per week providing assistance to City Paper in updating its database of local events listings.

WHEREFORE, the Debtors respectfully request that this Court enter judgment (i) enjoining the Readers preliminarily and then permanently from exercising any rights pursuant to any competing Web content, including the Sheriff Peanut Craftiest Bastard announcement, the “You Sing the Who” contest, or anything that seems more enticing than a 10,000-word profile of someone they’ve never heard of; and (ii) for attorneys’ fees and costs and further any other relief as this Court deems necessary and just.

Respectfully submitted,

Erik C. Wemple (DCBN 0450086)
C. Andrew Beaujon (DCBN 0465103)
Jule A. Banville (DCBN 0456222)

Washington City Paper
2390 Champlain St. NW

Washington, DC 20009-2736
Telephone: 202-332-2100
Facsimile: 202-332-8500

Proposed Special Counsel for the Debtors
and Debtors in Possession

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Our Readers Say

Kudos on this article! It was frakking hilarious and sad at the same time. A delicious duofecta. And it motivated me to leave my first-ever comment on the City Paper Web site. Keep it up and I will come back.
Very interesting and funny article. Exactly what City Paper should be all about. Good job!
We tried writing 10 page hit pieces on Murray Waas for personal grievances, and for some reason people didn't like it. Who'd a thunk it?
The above comment was not written by Jason Cherkis.
Your first mistake was not hiring crimefighting newspaper publisher Britt Reid to do your finances.

As your attorney, I advise you to rent a very fast car with no top. And you'll need the cocaine. Tape recorder for special music. Acapulco shirts. Get the hell out of DC for at least 48 hours.
God, I love you guys.
What was the point?
Hey thenewdemographers -- the point is that you are the problem. Thanks for making the point.
OK. Let me get this straight. Your new owner buys two newspapers, at least one of which is entirely dependent on ad revenues (and their others are as well) just as what seems like a depression is starting. The papers are printed on one of the moons of Jupiter or something like that and have to be shipped in each week, just as the cost of fuel for such shipping goes through the roof. Snark just won't cut it. You are ticked at your new owners for not giving clear instructions on how to raise revenue or cut costs, so you address an article to your readers in bankruptcy filing language citing non-existent elements of bankruptcy code in an angry attempt at humor. However, you did not address
A. Will the printed weekly continue to exist or as less pages or become monthly or annual or millenial or whatever??
B. Will the website continue to exist and with what content and how will it differ from the printed material??

I appreciate your anger but please give some facts or turn your paper into the Onion or whatever. Snark and appearing to laugh at your audience is not a good way to retain readers.
Oh, OK, I thought it was that they were complaining about no one going to the largely-extraneous website of what is best appreciated as a print publication since other websites have managed to outperform them by sensibly FOCUSING ON ONE MEDIUM and not overstretching their peribankrupt budgets.
Cute as all-get-out. But if your chicken-shit theory is right -that big bad readers are too dumb to read cover stories so why should you bother commissioning them- then who the fuck is going to read this rather long and all-too-cute "declaration." I read the first paragraph. Fuck it. It was fun while it lasted. Moving on...
Again, I have to apologize to our readers. We overestimated their intelligence and for that we are sorry. You wanted salacious sex stories and revenge fantasies, and we only provided the occasional lesbian catfight feature or anonymous sex memoir.

Let it be known that we are now dedicated to providing the DC public with trivial bullshit all of the time as our editorial policy descends into that of pornography.
This almost out-Onion's the Onion, including modifying the font to fit the piece (see Onion's revisionary history issue - too bad CP didn't beat them to it).

If CP no longer prints, what will I read on the Metro? Books? Nah. I'll have to switch to Avantgo web snippets on my PDA.

Your article did achieve one thing - it drove me to the website for the 1st time. I wonder if I can fit CP downloads into my Avantgo account as well. But then you won't get credit for my web clicks. A conundrum for the CP folks.
I thought City Paper went under a couple years ago. You mean it's still being published???!!
heh-heh...if they sell your news on ebay: Title it, Chapter 11: Grim and Bear It! But, first you gotta spit-shine up those article header links: y'gotta know when to roll'm a 16-wheel double-truck or just throw'm a low-rider to keep those cards 'n' letters coming...our example: instead of just ol' reliable: "Letters from an Arsonist", you gotta real'm 'n' deal'm that really naughty: "You Light up My Life!"...(just kiddin' -- keep up the fun 'n' frolic).

[Insert some PSA blather: now for the law according to all "wiki". Frolic: A frolic in the law of torts is where an employee acts on his/her own without obeying an order. When combined with a detour, where the employee makes a temporary physical departure from the service of his employer, the employer is not vicariously liable....]
This article makes me sad D':

True, I did miss the unique illustrations for columns like Savage Love... but I personally never complained about the newspaper's content. I invariably loved whatever they printed, and I can't believe that the readers of the paper would be so SNOBBISH about being "hipsters," as oxymoron as that seems.

I LOVE the long cover stories. Whenever I pick up the City Newspaper, that's the first thing I turn to! The articles are so probing, so intelligent, and cover such unique topics. You just don't, unfortunately, find this kind of journalism in many other places.

I haven't read the City Paper for a while since the venue in which I used to normally read it has been temporarily closed for a while, but until it reopens, I'm going to make it a point to read the City Paper whenever I can.

Just one criticism-- online hits DON'T correspond to absolutely how many people are reading the cover story, especially when you compare it to a blog that is ONLY available online. It should be obvious that most people are probably reading the cover story in the print version, as I do. I almost never read the paper online.
I bring you my love.

Every moment
I try to remember
the light af
an hidden report,
when my memory
outshines, when
your love disappears....

Francesco Sinibaldi
Redneckerson- if you thought City paper went under a few years a go- how the fuck did you end up on the site making a shitty comment? Your totally contradicting yourself- dipshit
More whiny than funny, I'm afraid. You should let Monkeyrotica play editor for a while.
I've long enjoyed reading the old-fashioned print version of the Citypaper, and look forward to the long cover stories the most. Sure, I read Savage Love and News of the Weird too, but I remember being riveted by that story chronicling the serial arsonist in DC.

I have plenty of other online sources for news. I turn to the Citypaper to read about local events while riding Metro or sitting on the throne.
Here's another first time CP poster inspired by your plea for more audience participation.

If more blog posts can help CP, I say, Let's do it!

The existence of blogs is fine, but no one should conofuse a blog with a news organization. We must have news, and more news, and if blogging on the CP Web site will help support that I am all for i t.

Thank you, CP, for hanging in there.
Perhaps this will be of use to your parent company:

I am a regular reader of the Washington City Paper. I try to pick it up every Thursday evening at the Metro station on my trip home. Normally I'll read the paper either on the Metro or at a coffeeshop type of place.

I read pretty much all of the sections, but tend to merely browse over the theatre and movie sections. I always read the long article, and 90% of the time it's interesting and relevant. I did notice when the comics were pared down (at least you kept Dirt Farm) and the illustrations stopped changing. I suspected it was to cut costs, which this article confirmed. I do miss them, but understand their exclusion.

I regularly visit the washingtoncitypaper.com site for only two things - finding restaurant reviews and recalling articles from previous months. Frequency of visiting the site ranges from once a week to once a month. Other than those two things, I have no reason to go to the site. I just wait for the next issue to come out on Thursday.

I am sure there are a number of people who fall into the same category as me - loyal readers who read the paper edition every week, but simply do not need to go the Web site. Unless you can provide a reason - follow-up on long articles, perhaps - I'll continue to be a paper issue only reader.
so, your new owners over leveraged their purchase and then tell you that you need to get the page views. Since the news trophy projects drew less than 6,000 page views it's time to start a blog focusing on sex and housing porn. Might as well blog about cell phones, video games and Hollywood. Forget what your are: street smart and tough.

your new overlords who managed to dive into bankruptcy less than one year later ought to apologize to DC. Why did I write that?

Life is so unfair. The Internet has ruined everything and when you put your stories on the web site no one reads them. But if you write enough housing and cellphone porn you may draw in enough new traffic to boost your page views a little. Did your chain dweebs tell you that? Yet?

You are a local pub and getting 6,000 people to read anything in this city is an accomplishment. I'm sure your traffic logs are mostly md-va-dc and that ought to be gold to advertisers, the smart ones at least, who know that you can bring in a local market.

Don't whine. Do what you do until they take the spoon away and then start your own blogs and rebuild this thing from the beginning. I know. No money, no health care but for emergency rooms. Bankruptcy, foreclosure, is the fate, ugh, but at least not the fast evaporation of pointless whatevers. Before you know it you're older, older still and dear lord now part of the perpetual crap machine industry.

Zen question: Why get into this business? A. Because you can't leave it.

Just remember to start your day with a healthy breakfast and this motto: chains suck; yell it your car, on the Metro and on your job. Big. But the power is out there and you got the power. Remember, do onto chains as they do onto you. John: chapter 11.
"As your attorney, I advise you to rent a very fast car with no top. And you'll need the cocaine. Tape recorder for special music. Acapulco shirts. Get the hell out of DC for at least 48 hours."

OMG, monkey, I need all that right now! CP editors, I call shotgun.
This is kinda sad. A newspaper goes out of business and the only people in the comments section are the people who work there-- Arthur Delaney, Matthew Borlick, Jason Cherkis.

Are there no readers who care? The horrors!

Maybe the readers aren't at fault-- as this self-rationalizing parody suggests-- but the publication has lost touch with its community.

The CP has become a paper that more often than not seems to have written for the benefit of people who work there. If no one cared much for Jason Cherkis' story about his landlord, maybe it is because nobody but... Jason Cherkis and his landlord and their various attorneys gave a hoot!

Write something relevant, and readers will care...
Another loyal on-paper reader - only reading this wonderful thing now, after seeing the comments printed in this week's paper, because the paper's only getting delivered half the time these days to the place I normally pick it up, and last week's didn't show.

You'd think that would mean that I'd go to the web site when the paper doesn't
show up but the reality is, I just don't. The last thing I need in my life is another website to read.

I guess I should just hope I live long enough to see the pendulum swing back to where people are starting up new newspapers because there's so little competition off-line.
Can you turn the sidewalk boxes into Automats?
Sandwiches, juices, vodka, Ho-Hos, wedges of good cheese, Greek yogurt - that sort of thing?
Yo, Fonz

1) You spelled my name wrong. That's OK, everyone does. It was spelled wrong on my high school diploma and the personalized hockey jersey I received on my 18th birthday, among other things. (Fun fact: In the print media world, spelling someone's name wrong is considered a crucial error and cause for that most humbling of professional embarrassments, the correction. In the blogosphere, all you get is a "Whoops! My bad!" and a strike-through. How about that?)

2) I haven't worked at the Washington City Paper for months.

3) "Write something relevant, and readers will care... " Just in case you missed it, "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."

So much for "Write it and they will come," unless by "it" you mean a blog post spit on the side of Obama's mouth.
Brilliantly executed. Page three simply shines with obfuscation!
One wants to feel bad and sorry for people losing their jobs and a newspaper-- any newspaper-- even the WCP going bankrupt.\

But they don't seem to get it at all. It's not the readers' fault. The one story they cite, "Letters from an Arsonist" was a rare exception to the kinda shit that is all too common. Rants and raves, attitude over reporting, self-interest over relevance, and a look a tendency by their writers to look at their own navels and think they are the story instead of the wider world around them.
Wow. Just...wow.
This is another excellent Law Suite. Marvelous!

My Defense (Pro-Se) exculpable injury – Democrats took my job! It was not the economy; it was NAFTA-GATT, now WTO!

I'm not guilty, it's that the cleaners was closed, I ran out of gas ......., I love you! (Blues Brothers movie)

Your articles have always captured my interests. The Firebug series is still the greatest; loved the article about (Vinnie) Vincent Orange (or should I say –unlicensed illegal gambling interest – pay off?).

Yes the “D.C. Fire Tuck and Ambulance fiasco is riveting (to yours truly).

Donte Owens – very good follow through!

Please add insight into the D.C. Superior Court, the (dishonorable) Judge, Judith Retchin (?). i.e. Jonathan Magbie’s murder (my bad, D.C. Jail’s cover-up, and the Court’s escaping public scrutiny).

I had (two years ago) selected the WCP for advertising. (Your right about the intelligence of the general responses here :)

Again, a wonderful filing, in the Forth Estate!

Don't go .. Please stay.

Thank you,


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