The East Bay Express: Independent again

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By Tim Redmond

The good news -- and it's very good news -- is that the East Bay Express is no longer a member of the Village Voice Media chain that owns the SF Weekly. I'm a day late with this news; it's taken me a bit to process, because our ad director (and my good friend) Jody Colley has left the Guardian to go work with the new ownership. But most of the reports have been upbeat, emphasizing that Express editor Steve Buell and his partners, Hal Brody, Kelly Vance and Bradley Zeve have done a very unsual thing. They've taken a chain paper and made it an independent.

And although none of the principals are talking about the price, I think they got it pretty cheap. In essence, the big, bad VVM couldn't make it in the East Bay, and was forced to bail.

Of course, it's going to take a while to disentangle the VVM connections. The Express was very much a cog in the borg machine: The website was designed and run by VVM. The movie reviews came from VVM. The accounting and systems were all handled through VVM. And -- perhaps most important -- the ad sales were closely linked to the SF Weekly.

In fact, the Weekly's ad materials these days all cite the circulation not of the SF paper but of the combined Weekly and Express, and for a lot of accounts, buying an ad in the Weekly meant a free one (or heavily discounted one) in the Express. So the two were almost like an old-fashioned joint operating agreement. They even ran the same cover story a few months ago.

I suspect on the sales side, that won't change immediately. There are contracts and deal and money is involved, so I expect the nonsense will continue for a bit. But in the end, I hope and believe the Express will once again be a community-based and community-serving paper. And I wish them all the luck in the world.