A longtime Richmond alternative newsweekly is getting a second chance at life by way of a public media nonprofit.
VPM announced Thursday it has acquired Style Weekly, which ceased operations in early September after a 39-year run.
The acquisition, terms of which were not disclosed, includes Style’s website and social media channels, and all digital content therein. The deal closed Wednesday.
VPM plans to revive those sites, resume Style’s events calendar and eventually produce arts and culture news content, with two staffers assigned to Style specifically.
It’s also in talks with a few former Style employees to potentially bring them on to VPM’s roster, VPM President Jayme Swain said.
The future of Style’s print publication remains to be determined as VPM assesses whether to continue it, Swain said.
“We’re going to be focusing in the short term on StyleWeekly.com and the social channels, getting content up and running on those, as we take a step back and evaluate, do some branch research, listen to the community and try to get a better understanding of what people hope Style Weekly can be and how it can best serve the community,” Swain said.
“I think like everybody in the community, we were saddened to hear that Style Weekly wouldn’t be a part of the Richmond culture and community anymore, and arts and culture is a foundational genre for public media,” she said. “We’re uniquely positioned to cover arts and culture, so we saw alignment there with Style Weekly’s coverage and being a go-to place to find out what’s happening in arts and culture in the Richmond community. We thought it was a real public service.”
Style’s last publication, on Sept. 8, came months after its parent company, Tribune Publishing, was purchased earlier this year for $633 million by Alden Global Capital, a New York City-based hedge fund that’s become the second-largest U.S. newspaper publisher by circulation, behind Gannett/Gatehouse Media and followed by Lee Enterprises, which owns the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Tribune, then known as Tronc, had purchased Style in 2018 as part of a $34 million deal that included the Virginian-Pilot and Inside Business in Hampton Roads.
“A lot of people looked to Style to see what was going on, what shows were in town. For me, it’s always been a staple of the arts community here in Richmond,” said Steve Humble, VPM’s chief content officer.
Swain said recent months were spent trying to connect with Alden to negotiate a deal, a process that started by reaching out to former Style staffers. Swain said those talks continue.
“We are talking to a few previous Style Weekly employees, and if we can make that happen we hope to bring those folks on,” Swain said.
Brent Baldwin, Style’s editor-in-chief since 2018, declined to comment when reached in recent weeks.
“Initially our goal is to get Style back up and running, and doing it in a similar fashion that they’d been doing it,” Humble said. “They had a very small, core team, and then did a lot of their work through freelancers, which is probably what we’ll do in the short term as we figure out how to integrate it with our team.”
In late September, The Valentine announced it had acquired Style’s photograph archive, which the Richmond history museum plans to digitize. Swain said that archive consists of hard copy images and contact sheets, whereas VPM will be able to use the digital images that remain archived on Style’s website.
Humble, who joined VPM in 2019 after 20 years as an executive at The Martin Agency, said the Style acquisition comes as VPM is beefing up its news division.
It hired a new news director, Elliott Robinson, who came over from Charlottesville Tomorrow in August, and recently added two reporters. It’s also about to fill two more reporter positions, not counting the potential Style hires. The news division currently totals 17.
VPM also is launching a news magazine-style TV show in February called VPM News Focal Point, to be hosted by Angie Miles, a former anchor with WTVR CBS 6.
The moves come at a time when area news outlets such as Style have been pulling back on their print versions, a trend accelerated over the course of the pandemic. Humble said Style’s addition to VPM could help to buck that trend.
“The Alden Capitals of the world coming in and buying up small local papers and then squeezing them and dumping them has really been hard for local journalism across the country, and this is another example of that,” Humble said.
Swain, a longtime PBS executive who took the helm of VPM in late 2018, said the deal also provides the nonprofit an opportunity “to innovate and experiment with new business models that may define the future of local journalism.”
“I think this is an exciting time for VPM,” Swain said. “Indicative of this acquisition of Style Weekly, we are investing more into local news … and this acquisition also helps us build our digital arts and culture channel.”