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Alas, the big chains are but neophytes compared to New Times, which is ironically the only potential buyer with any experience."They put out good newspapers and they understand the alternative newspaper business," says Richard Karpel, executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. And they are growing just last week, New Times bought the Kansas Citybased Pitch Weekly. But despite their enormous street cred and their $50 million credit line, New Times owners Larkin and Lacey don't have enough cash to buy the Stern group. And that's where the New York Press comes in. The Smith brothers can afford to buy the chain, but they aren't set up to run it, sources say.
The synergy doesn't end there: New Times and the Smiths are partners in the Ruxton Group, one of two firms that sell national ads for alternative newspapers. If the wild boys took over Stern Publishing, which belongs to a rival network, they could flip the ads to Ruxton, giving themselves an instant windfall.
And they can taste it. At a 1997 media conference, Lacey targeted his plans for the owners of what he called "the bad weekly newspapers." "My business is to retire their ass," he said. "I'm going to send them off to fucking Tahiti, cash them out, get their money. . . . I'm going to fire all the dead mooks that they've got working there, and . . . put in writers and editors who want to do something and get the job done."
Nice fantasy. But it's not happening. One Stern employee says that Stern "hates" New Times's management style. Another Stern employee says New Times "runs on testosterone. . . . The writers go in confident and talented, and come out humbled, humiliated, and totally lacking in self-confidence." Yet another inside source insists that Stern would find it "very distasteful" to sell to Russ Smith, "after competing with that jerk for so long."
Jim Larkin did not return two calls, and Russ Smith declined to comment.