Twenty-five years ago, when Orlando Weekly was just a pup, the publication was actually Canadian. Believe it or not, the Toronto Sun owned the weekly – called, back then, just the Weekly – and had transformed it from a humble weekly shopper (called the Orange Shopper) into the predecessor of the magazine you hold in your hands right now. According to stories published in other news media at the time, the publication was "equal parts alternative [newspaper] and shopper," until it was rescued from limbo in 1994 by the Detroit-based Alternative Media Inc., the media company that published bonafide alternative newsweekly Detroit Metro Times.
Alternative Media Inc. co-founder Ron Williams transformed the Weekly into a dedicated alternative publication focused on local news, investigation, arts and subculture, and even after it was sold to the decidedly less alternative (and certainly less scrappy) Scranton-based media company Times-Shamrock Communications in 1999, it continued to be a legit alternative news source that racked up numerous awards for investigative reporting, arts coverage and design.
Orlando Weekly had a good run, and now it's time for the publication to close the book on its past and begin a new chapter.
The past 18 months have brought a lot of change to the Weekly – in 2013, Times-Shamrock put the publication – along with our fellow alternative publications Metro Times, the San Antonio Current, Cleveland Scene and Baltimore City Paper – up for sale. Orlando Weekly was purchased, alongside Metro Times, the Scene and the Current, by Euclid Media Company. Only City Paper was left out of the deal, and after much anxiety and hand-wringing, that publication was finally purchased by the Sun Media Company, a subsidiary of the Tribune Company. Tribune also owns the Orlando Sentinel, so it should come as no surprise to readers to learn that Tribune, which has long coveted this mighty little alt, announced last week that it has finally negotiated a deal with Euclid to sell Orlando Weekly to the Sentinel's parent company.
Beginning with the next issue, Orlando Weekly will be a Tribune Media property. The publication will be relaunched with a new staff, a new design and an all-new approach to covering Orlando. The issue you're holding in your hands now is just a glimpse of what's to come – the Weekly's new owners say they plan to ditch the new streamlined design of the paper (which we have been calling a magazine for the past two years) and will return to its original unstitched, untrimmed tabloid format.
"Tribune says it's simply a waste of money to invest in making print media look nicer," says an insider who talked to us on condition of anonymity. "Their plan is to make their publications as cost-effective as possible, and little niceties like stapled spines and full-color pages just don't matter as much to them as making sure they get a solid return on their investment as quickly as possible."
To that end, the new ownership will also consolidate content with other Tribune properties – film reviews will come from a syndicated source that's shared by other Tribune properties, as will profiles of national touring acts playing in town. Expect less coverage of cutting-edge local bands: "I overheard one of our entertainment editors say she was really offended by all the coverage the Weekly gave Total Fuck Off Weekend," the source tells us. "She was shocked that was the lead music feature last week, and she was so disgusted that the F-word was all over the paper and the website, where anyone, even children, could read it. Meanwhile, she could not understand why the editors would have chosen to cover that when they could have been writing about the Ariana Grande show at the Amway instead."
Readers can also expect to see some changes in how the Weekly approaches news. Despite our longtime reputation for covering politics and progressive issues, Tribune says its extensive research has shown that people find those subjects too dry and negative. "People would rather hear good news and see their media outlets work with elected officials rather than battle them," says Tribune Media's head of acquisitions Jimmy Favabean. "So moving forward, the publication's focus will be on putting a positive spin on local stories and helping City Hall make Orlando look like a great place to live, work and play. You can expect to see more coverage of the best things Orlando has to offer – profiles of the hottest developers who'll be bringing you new luxury apartment buildings, weekly interviews in which city and state movers and shakers tell us what they think people should be thinking about and stories that show you just how good we have it living here in Central Florida."
The paper's new tagline, adopted with the blessing of the Orlandoan, will be #Orlandodoesntsuck.
The new owners are well aware that the Weekly's current staff could never pull off such a dramatic shift in thinking – putting out the Weekly in its current format has been a labor of love for the people who work at the publication now. Our insider says that editors at the Sentinel have called it an "act of mercy" that the parent company has decided to lay off the entire staff and start new with a group of fresh-faced young bloggers and aspiring writers who aren't tarnished and jaded by working for years in the industry.
Fortunately, Tribune has promised Weekly staffers that as long as they honor their non-compete clauses and agree not to work for any other media outlets in the region, they can pursue any other careers they choose without threat of legal action.
"We're grateful that we'll be able to look for work as public information officers and PR representatives ... if anyone will have us," says outgoing Weekly editor Erin Sullivan, who says she'll try to get a job as a PR flak somewhere in the area. If that doesn't pan out, she plans to move to Mexico where she'll run a taco stand to raise money for dog rescue programs.
Senior staff writer Billy Manes has already planned his exit strategy, and he's moving to California permanently after he completes his writing residency at the Djerassi Residents Artists Program (see his farewell letter in Happytown, page 11).
Our publisher, Graham Jarrett, plans to dedicate his time to his new nonprofit organization, Bootylicious, which organizes volunteers to knit booties for babies born to needy families.
Most staffers, though, were caught so off guard that they weren't really sure what they were going to do next.
As for the staff of the Sentinel, they've received the news that the Weekly will soon be part of the family with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety.
"While I will admit that I have endured and enjoyed certain written felicitations from senior staff writer Billy Manes over the years, and I certainly enjoyed them, this new era of partnership sounds like malarkey to me," said Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell when asked to comment on the situation. "However, I am no Sam Zell, so I won't opine much further than that mass of expletives. We welcome Orlando Weekly to the fold. Perhaps we can share a Pinkberry next to a parking garage? Welcome, newbs."Editor's note: This story was published on April 1, 2015. April Fools Day. Yes, it was just a joke. Thanks for playing along.