Although the Press successfully steered its way through turbulent times in the newspaper business over the past decade thanks to a strong online presence, in the end its print operations proved no match for Hurricane Harvey. The devastation wrought by that record-setting storm, the worst disaster in the city’s history, was the primary factor behind VMG’s decision to take the Press to a daily, web-only format, said VMG group publisher Stuart Folb.
“The loss in print revenue we suffered as a result of Harvey and the time it might conceivably take for that print business to come back was the final straw,” said Folb. “Thankfully we’ll be able to continue covering Houston with a streamlined approach online.”
Folb noted that the Press is the first VMG publication to move strictly online. He added that veteran Press editor-in-chief Margaret Downing will stay on to oversee the online operation, working with many of the same freelance writers readers have followed over the years and publishing fresh daily content consistent with the Press’s longtime mission of covering Houston news, food, music and culture.
The Press will continue to offer all existing advertising opportunities outside of print, including email newsletters and direct web sales for local customers. Folb said he expects the Press’s popular local food events – Tacolandia, Menu of Menus and the Morning After brunch event – to be part of the new dynamic as well.
Folb, who also serves as VMG’s executive vice president of digital sales, emphasized that the company’s digital advertising agency, V Digital Services, will continue to maintain a robust presence in the Houston market, with he and a team of local managers dedicated to ensuring a seamless transition for agency customers.
VDS, which offers a wide range of services designed to help small and large businesses thrive in the digital space, was recently named one of America’s fastest-growing private companies by Inc. magazine. Double-digit growth since its inception has allowed the agency to open regional offices in twelve major U.S. cities along with a number of international markets.
“We’re incredibly bullish on the long-term prospects of VDS in Texas and our digital sales team will be reaching out to all agency customers to walk them through this transition with no interruption of service,” said Folb. “Our agency business has been a real bright spot. But right now it admittedly feels bittersweet, since ending our print operations at the Press means moving to a much smaller staff.”
Founded in 1989, the Press was barely out of its infancy when it was purchased in 1994 by VMG’s predecessor company, New Times, Inc. For the next two and a half decades, the paper brought home national journalism awards by the truckload, while also carving out a reputation as an insider’s guide to local music, restaurants, arts and culture.
Downing arrived in 1998 after having served as the managing editor of the Houston Post and the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. With her at the helm, the paper cemented its national reputation for investigative reporting, and Downing herself went on to win dozens of national and regional awards for her own writing, including first-place in the 2005 Unity Awards for “A Closer Look at Dillards,” which revealed a pattern of sometimes deadly altercations between customers and the off-duty police officers the chain had employed to handle security.
In 2007, Press staff writer Todd Spivak won a national Investigative Reporters & Editors Award for “Run Over by Metro,” a story exposing the dangers posed by Houston’s runaway bus company. More national recognition came in 2008, when Press music editor John Nova Lomax received the prestigious ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for his poignant portrait of fading country superstar Doug Supernaw. And the next year, Press staff writer Craig Malisow was named Texas’s Print Journalist of the Year in the Lone Star Awards, marking the first of three consecutive wins for the paper in that category.
In 2010, Press staff writer Chris Vogel, now the editor-in-chief of Boston Magazine, won a Casey Medal and a PASS Award for his story “For Their Own Good,” about the Harris County Jail’s practice of putting juveniles in solitary confinement. Three years later, while working as a writing fellow at the Press, Terrence McCoy, now a staff writer with the Washington Post, won the national Sigma Delta Chi Award for the feature story, “The Battle of Remington Lane.”
In recent years, the Press continued to excel. In 2014, Malisow won a PEN Center USA journalism award for his story “Deadly Charades,” about a Texas A&M professor who committed suicide after being extorted online, and Downing took first-place in the National Association of Black Journalists Awards with “Stats and Lies,” a story explaining that many Houston-area high schoolers literally couldn’t read despite having passed their state exams. And just a few weeks ago, Press reporters Dianna Wray and Meagan Flynn were lauded by numerous national publications for their scrappy coverage of Hurricane Harvey, the super-storm that sadly would prove the print newspaper’s undoing.
The print edition of the Press will be shuttered just as VMG is putting the finishing touches on the sale of its LA Weekly subsidiary to Semanal Media, LLC.
The Weekly is the seventh newspaper to be sold by VMG as part of a strategic corporate realignment that began when a new ownership group led by chief executive officer Scott Tobias assumed control almost five years ago. Under that plan, the company has made targeted reductions in its print newspaper portfolio while aggressively building its digital business.
Following the sale in LA, along with V Digital Services and the Press website, VMG will continue to own and operate four iconic print-and-web publications: Phoenix New Times, Denver Westword, Miami New Times and the Dallas Observer.