Creative Loafing files for Chapter 11

When your boss calls an unexpected Monday meeting, it's not usually a good sign. Especially when the meeting involves the word "bankruptcy."

But believe it or not, the news that came out of that meeting — the announcement that Creative Loafing, Inc. had filed that morning for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection — wasn't bad. In fact, it was pretty good. Hopeful, even. (See Wayne Garcia's blog posts on media coverage of the filing and on the reorganization case itself.)

The boss, CL President and CEO Ben Eason, acknowledged that the term "bankruptcy" conjures up demons but assured us that the move actually stands to make the company healthier. He made clear that a) the company is still in business, b) no one's getting laid off and c) the payroll is secure. Plus, he told us we'd been given a reprieve on editorial budget cuts that had been projected for October. A list of Frequently Asked Questions answered the FAQ we were likely to get from everyone we do business with: "Vendors and suppliers will continue to be paid for all products and services provided from the day of filing forward," and the company will be asking "the court's permission" to pay past due balances up to the day of filing.

In an e-mail to the staff, Eason called the Chapter 11 filing "a legal proceeding designed to give an over-leveraged company the time, process and a safe harbor for which to reorganize its finances." How did we get "over-leveraged"? Well, buying the Chicago Reader and the Washington City Paper last year had something to do with it. But that's not the central reason. Those two publications now account for half of the company's profits, he said. The major source of the company's financial problems was an unexpected contraction in print advertising revenues across the company, despite strong audience numbers. "The problem is that the ad spend is moving rapidly away from traditional media at a pace that few of us expected."

Eason's hope — his certainty, even, given his upbeat mood in the meeting — is that the re-org gives the company time to refine and advance its online strategies while working out "a new arrangement with the lenders." He assured the staff that "print's not dead here — it's just part of a bundle package. It's what we use at the end of the week to promote our daily Web traffic."

Not exactly heartening: We're part of a "bundle package." Ouch. But at the same time, we know that the future lies in some hybrid of online and print that may not even exist yet, and if this "reorganization" gives us a chance to be pioneers in uncharted territory, so much the better.

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This week's cover feature about Clip, the newly renamed Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, marks the first time in years that our coverage of TIGLFF has not been anchored by Lance Goldenberg. For much of the paper's history, Lance was our film critic, and in addition to writing regular reviews of national releases, he covered our local film scene, including TIGLFF, with exemplary taste and comprehensiveness.

Last month, we made a move to consolidate coverage of national releases by using staff critics from our Chicago and Atlanta papers. We'd hoped Lance could continue covering the local film scene, but, perhaps understandably, he wasn't interested in half a Loaf.

Our staff commitment to covering Tampa Bay's local scene remains strong, however, and I urge everyone in the community — filmmakers, festival directors, fans — to keep in touch. If I'm not already on your mailing lists, please add me, [email protected], or call me at 813-739-4854, and I'll make sure we have you covered.

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In last week's issue, CL theater critic Mark E. Leib went backstage to follow the progress of a community theater production from auditions to opening weekend. Starting this week, three of us on the CL staff are taking the paper's interest in local theater even further: We're daring to appear on stage.

Publisher Sharry Smith and Events Editor Leilani Polk are among the local celebrities joining the cast of The Vagina Monologues at American Stage in St. Pete for one-time appearances. Leilani's stint takes place Saturday, Oct. 4 at 10:30 p.m.; Sharry's up Tues., Oct. 7, at 7 p.m. Call (727) 823-PLAY (7529) for info.

And I'm taking the leap as well. I'm playing the role of a Talmudic scholar in Stageworks' production of The Chosen, adapted by Aaron Posner from the well-known novel by Chaim Potok, Oct. 2-19 at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

And no, I won't be editing Creative Loafing's review of the show. We're bringing in a critic whom I've never met, and I won't get the chance to read her review before it's printed.

I got a big kick out of hearing the screams of Best of the Bay winners when they saw the issue for the first time the night of the Loafies. I expect to feel the same level of anticipation when I turn to the theater review in next week's issue. For better or worse, there may be screaming.

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