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City Paper sale and censorship reverberate from Manhattan to Austin

Meanwhile in Baltimore, a City Paper veteran is denied severance pay by the weekly’s outgoing owner

Above: C&W superstar Jason Aldean sells out concerts and tops the country music charts.

Baltimore City Paper’s recent sale, and a controversy over censorship there, have rippled beyond Baltimore, spawning a New York Times opinion piece by senior editor Baynard Woods (defending alternative-weeklies) and an Austin-based country music blog’s profile of the freelancer whose negative concert review (assigned by Woods) was spiked under pressure from advertisers.

What did Travis Kitchens learn, after his scorching write-up of a February 1 Jason Aldean concert at the Baltimore Arena was pulled off City Paper’s website under pressure from advertisers?

“The ‘experts’ you see and hear in the media are now just vested interest, working for one side or the other,” he told Savingcountrymusic.com. “If you have school debt and kids and whatnot, and most people do, you can’t afford to tell the truth.”

But the experience didn’t completely sour him on journalism. “Even though City Paper was coerced into pulling my article, I’m impressed by several of the people there and their courage and commitment to telling the truth in the aftermath,” Kitchens said.

“They didn’t have to do that, and it would have benefited them to completely disown me.” While the editors who were trying to publish the review are still employed, turbulent times are far from over at the weekly, whose sale to the Baltimore Sun Media Group takes effect today.

No Severance for MacLeod

Yesterday outgoing creative director and “Mr. Wrong” columnist Joe MacLeod learned that he would not be receiving the 10 weeks of severance pay offered to others let go as part of the sale.

A source at City Paper said MacLeod was told by the outgoing owners, Times-Shamrock, that the reason he is getting nothing is “poor performance.”

Colleagues and readers lit up social media with anger over the company’s treatment of the 25-year CP veteran, calling for people to recommend “a good labor lawyer.”

“TS philosophy: If I don’t give you 10 weeks of severance, then I have 10 weeks of your pay in my pocket,” staff writer Ed Ericson Jr. tweeted.

Calendar editor Brandon Weigel observed, “Joe MacLeod was here until midnight last night working on the issue, his last. Now they do him like this. Unconscionable.”

Many defenders brought up the numerous awards MacLeod won for himself and for the paper under his art direction.

One honor came recently and ironically – the influential industry publication Adweek lauded their “commendably self-effacing” approach to designing a cover after the news of the sale to The Sun broke. (It re-worked the Sun masthead and “Light for all” motto, subbing in “City Paper” and “Jobs for some.”)

A staffer at the office of Scott Lynett, Times-Shamrock CEO, told The Brew that Lynett was “out of the office – out of the country actually” on “a trip he planned a while ago.”

No Censorship from us, Sun says

Lynett acknowledged, in a phone conversation with The Brew, that he had forbidden editors from running a proposed MacLeod column last week that consisted almost entirely of the f-word repeated multiple times, with “The Baltimore Sun” inserted at one point in the ocean of profanity.

But Lynett has denied that the outgoing owners ordered City Paper editors to spike Kitchens’ Aldean review, leading to lingering confusion over whether the mandate came from incoming owners, the Baltimore Sun Media Group.

Sun spokeswoman Rene Mutchnik told The Brew via email “no,” they did not have anything to do with killing the Aldean review.

We also asked Mutchnik if anyone at BSMG had spoken to Times-Shamrock to express concern that their actions (deleting content and locking reporters out of their blogs and social network accounts) were hurting the reputation and value of the media property and might derail the sale.

“As to your final question, we are very much looking forward to having the storied and successful Baltimore City Paper join The Baltimore Sun Media Group tomorrow, March 5,” Mutchnik simply wrote.

As for Kitchens, his comments to Saving Country Music include the fact that City Paper sent him to the concert after a pitch by Aldean’s public relations people, The Green Room, of Nashville.

So did Green Room initiate complaints about Kitchens’ negative review that ultimately triggering the threats to City Paper? (Sources told The Brew that LiveNationDC and the Baltimore Arena put the pressure on.)

It wasn’t us, said The Green Room’s Courtney Johanson, “It wasn’t anything on our end.”

Also in the article, some even more harsh comments by Kitchens about pop country music – observations that critics of the original review will not like to hear:

“The fans of this music, whether they know it or not, are participating in the dumbing down and stereotyping of an entire region of people,” Kitchens writes. “There is as much diversity in the south as anywhere else, if not more, but you don’t see that reflected in this music. It deadens the mind and kills interest in discovering your own past and culture. There are strong undertones of the ‘us against them’ attitude prevalent in contemporary politics.”

Woods, meanwhile, who said his Times piece was in the works long before the censorship flap, worries about corporate influence as well. He writes that he worries that, over time, it could over time cause City Paper to “lose its edge.”

But he also speaks up, as the editor of a free print publication covering local news and culture, for the 20 to 40 percent of the population that doesn’t have Internet access.

“The glib techno-utopians who not only foresee a paperless tomorrow, but also lobby for a paperless present, are ready to forget about these people.”

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