City Desk

Erik Wemple to Leave City Paper, Will Edit Startup Local News Site

WEMPLE-1

Erik Wemple, the editor of Washington City Paper, announced to the staff this morning that he will leave the paper in mid-March. He will edit the Allbritton Communications Company's as-yet-unnamed D.C. news Web site, which is planned for a spring launch. Wemple, 45, started freelancing for City Paper in 1994, eventually moved into a staff position, and served as the paper's Loose Lips columnist from 1999 to 2000.

He left City Paper in 2000 to work for the short-lived Inside.com and returned as editor of the paper in 2002. When he was interviewing for the City Paper job, Wemple says he told the paper's then owners "that I may never leave."

"Of course," he says, "I tried once."

That was in 2006, when he was hired to edit the Village Voice, a job he quit before he started.

Wemple stayed at City Paper, and his subsequent tenure coincided with what was perhaps the alt-weekly's most difficult period—its July 2007 sale to Creative Loafing, a chain of alternative newspapers based in Tampa. Battered by the recession and debt it took on to finance the purchase of City Paper and the Chicago Reader, Creative Loafing demanded deep staff cuts, including the elimination of the paper's entire art and production departments, before declaring bankruptcy the following year. The staff is now half the size it was before the acquisition.

Creative Loafing was purchased by Atalaya, a hedge fund, last year. Between the bankruptcy and that sale, City Paper turned from a weekly paper with an anemic online presence to a two-platform publication with a robust, frequently updated Web site.

One casualty of this shift was the paper's trademark long-winded cover stories, which could run for thousands of words on subjects like renegade ginseng farming, the history of the half-smoke, and noxious young socialites. The paper was rewarded with numerous awards for such work: City Paper has won 51 Association of Alternative Newsweekly awards, the second-highest total in the awards' 14-year history, and Dave Jamieson's 2007 feature "Letters From an Arsonist" won the 2008 Livingston Award. Wemple edited the preponderance of the award-winners during his tenure, and he won two for his media criticism. His piece "One Mission, Two Newsrooms," won first place in media criticism last year.

Nowadays the paper neither employs the general-assignment staff writers who regularly brought home such hardware nor has as many ad-bedecked pages to fill. (Cover stories are still published on occasion but are often written by freelancers.) Wemple turned attention of the staff from nostalgia for these circumstances to an all-consuming desire to increase Web traffic and figure out how City Paper's brand of low-to-the-ground local journalism could thrive online.

Wemple says Jim Brady, the former editor of Washingtonpost.com whom Albritton tapped to lead this project, "wants the Washington City Paper voice and feel and sense of authority about local stuff."

Wemple says he doesn't know what the new Web site will be called. "I knew that was a touchy subject," he says, adding he "didn't even go there" during his interviews. He says he's "studiously guarding against" conflicts of interest with City Paper as he transitions to the new job—he will stay to oversee the hiring of four editorial positions, a process that is well under way. Also, he has three cover stories he intends to finish editing.

Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

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  • http://imgoph.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    best of luck in the new position, erik!

  • JustJule

    Never Forget!

  • just sayin

    Frio! but good luck

  • mark b

    Congratulations.
    Best of luck, Erik.

  • Thomahunk

    As posted on POLITICO.com
    Excellent choice, deserved congratulations to Erik Wemple. All things considered one could make a case that this is the best and most challenging job in journalism today. Good luck!

    I have had some minor quibbles with Wemple as to certain issues specific to his Logan Circle neighborhood. The WCP showed marked insensitivity some years back when a young neighbor's dog was killed by traffic in the circle and the attitude was " kid get over it". The kid was 11. Also, Wemple needs to be careful not to allow the news site to weigh in on issues directly pertaining to his own self interests such as was done during the endless "Wagtime" controversy.

    That being said Erik has matured and nurtured the WCP beautifully. This is great news for the community and bodes very well for the POLITICO.com venture. Not such good news however for the Washigton Post currently mired in yet another Sally Quinn bred scandal and sinking fast, very fast.

    PS Make sure to keep Jason Cherkis resume handy!

    One could also make the case that this is the best news in the field of journalism since Anderson Cooper emerged.

  • chris h

    Best of luck with the new venture, Erik. It was a privilege and a pleasure to work under you back in the day. I will miss your media columns dearly.

  • WardQueen

    Big Congrats! You should probably talk to Lou Chibarro as well. He is kind of slow but he has the goods and would probably really enjoy getting a pay check again some time soon.

    It will be interesting to see how you organize the site demographically.

  • Hemingway

    Finally journalism in the Nation's Capital can lose the taint of Sally Quinn's bedroom farce and move forward.
    Good work Erik.

  • Pingback: Wemple Departing City Paper for New Local Venture » We Love DC

  • HoHumDrum

    Oh God, shoot me now.

    Entitled White Guy hires another Entitled White Guy to edit "digital media" savior in one of the most ethnically diverse markets in the U.S.

    And so how many journalists of color will be ON STAFF and IN LEADERSHIP roles at this new Politico?

    Hmmmm? What's that? NONE so far?

    Great. Just great.

    You people are a joke.

  • Hemingway

    Hate to break it to you HoHummer but beige is a color. What could be more tired then your constant refrain of victim entitlement in 2010?

    Rather, why don't you question why your "brother" Bob Johnson and your "Sista" Sheila Johnson have sucked so much out of the community and given nothing back, not even so much as a good idea?

    Don't know the socio-economic background of the WCP or Albritton staffs but I do see that those "of color" making contributions to whatever endeavor are those doing not those whining.

  • HoHumDrum

    Why call yourself "Hemingway," when you can't even spell correctly, or even pull together a coherent sentence? And I'm guessing you are defending these benignly racist white guys who run these digital media outlets because, oh, I don't know, you aspire to BE one of them some day.

    In total, you don't know what the F you are talking about since clearly you don't even know any black, or brown people in your real life. If you did, you would know that it is only racist white guys and gals like you who use words like "Sista."

    Gaaagh, you fake-ass PC Dupont-Logan-Circle Would Be Hipsters give me a stomach ache.

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  • Hemingway

    ...aspire to BE? Would you like some bread and cheese for that whine, some salt for that wound? HoHumDrum, is that Swahili for stale?

  • Sadie

    Erik,
    Glad you are staying in the local news scene. Will miss you at WCP! Someone better invite me to the going-away party.
    - Sadie

  • sedcdude

    Wempie AKA Wemple needs to make a "signifcant" donation to a local charity or non profit organization that benefits inner-city youth, that would definitely create a positve karma vector for this lame who has contributed to the "witch hunts" and the literary cross burnings hereon WCP!!!

  • sedcdude

    @ Hemingway

    I appreciate your observation of the Johnson's lack of "self love/CONSCIOUSNESS", but "your people" made, created and bankrolled their "selfhate", THEY also critiqued, encouraged and supported it, MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT THAT!!

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    Sad to see him go! Good article.

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    Hope the new position works out for you Erik.

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