Weekly severs ties with Newcity, charts own path

South Side Weekly, formerly the Chicago Weekly, breaks ties with its former publisher Newcity.

By Linda Qiu

Student news magazine South Side Weekly is bidding farewell to its “parent” publication and declaring independence.

The magazine formerly known as the Chicago Weekly publishes now as a stand-alone magazine, without a copy of the alternative news weekly and its former publisher Newcity folded inside. The two publications also ended a decade-old marketing and distribution relationship, and Newcity will no longer play any role in the future of the Weekly, said both publications’ editors-in-chief.

The Weekly’s editor-in-chief, fourth-year Harrison Smith, said he had initially expressed interest in maintaining a relationship with Newcity, but the two publications now have no plans to collaborate in the future.

Established in 1995, the Weekly had its first run as the Chicago Weekly News, operating until 2002, when it folded due to declining revenue. It relaunched four months later as the South Side–focused Chicago Weekly, characterized by Smith as a “sassy campus gossip” rag in its early days. The Weekly was published by Newcity, which was also inserted into every issue. Though it maintained editorial independence, the Weekly relied on Newcity for publishing, distribution, and a portion of ad sales.

The relationship between the two publications, characterized a decade ago by Newcity editor-in-chief and co-founder Brian Hieggelke (A.B. ’83, M.B.A. ’84) in the University of Chicago Chronicle as “mutually beneficial”, also had an element of mentorship.  Getting involved with the student news magazine was for the UChicago alumni who founded Newcity “a way of giving back to the University and nurturing student journalists,” according to Hieggelke. Weekly writers, including Smith, also have a history of being hired as Metcalf Fellows at Newcity.

The future of the relationship between the Weekly and Newcity was always nebulous. “In 2003, we had no idea how [or] if it would end,” Hieggelke wrote.

According to Smith, Weekly editors had entertained the idea of independence for quite some time, and the transition to independence this year made sense. “At the end of the day, every publication wants to be a stand-alone publication,” he said.

The Weekly has grown significantly in the past years, sizing up from eight pages of content and a handful of writers to 20 pages and a staff of nearly 80. Between a small University allocation and ad sales, the Weekly is breaking even currently but has plans to expand their business operations. Former editor-in-chief and current publisher Harry Backlund (A.B. ’11) will spearhead the Weekly’s day-to-day, in-house sales platform.

“It’ll be student-led and that’s a great sales pitch,” Smith said. “There’s opportunity in sales and we’re thinking constantly about how we can grow and improve this…. We’ll be realistic about it—and obviously, we’re not in this to make money—but in my mind, eventually we’ll be making a steady profit.”

As for Newcity, the Weekly’s independence may actually prove financially beneficial, according to Hieggelke. “C.W. was not a financial play for us…. I’m sure we enjoyed some residual marketing benefit from the relationship, but that was definitely intangible,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, with a new design, name, Web site, and business model in tow, the Weekly’s presses will keep rolling.

“The timing is right, the passion is there, and the talent is ripe,” Smith said.