When it came to local news, Cathy Salustri always had a lot of fucks to give while she was the Arts & Entertainment Editor at Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. So it’s not surprising to learn that she wants to bring those fucks to Gulfport’s neighborhood newspaper, The Gabber, in a big way.
The 52-year-old hyperlocal publication—which shipped its final print issue on March 25 as the coronavirus fallout crippled advertising revenue across the country—was the first rag to give Salustri her first real clips. If a still-pending deal works out, Salustri, who joined CL on New Year's Eve 2015 before leaving in March 2019, will be The Gabber's next publisher.
Deb Reichart—who bought The Gabber with her then-husband Ken Reichart in 1992—told the Tampa Bay Times that she’d run out of ideas after nearly three decades of running the paper. She was already thinking about selling it; the coronavirus just expedited the process.
Salustri wouldn’t tell CL details of the contract and deal that will transfer ownership of the Gabber from Reichart to her, but the transaction is supposed to be finalized by June. Salustri did tell Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that she is looking for private investors interested in giving her low-interest loans to offset the purchase.
“We're asking that no one loan less than $1,000,” Salustri told CL. “But if anyone else wants to join us in saving a paper that means a lot to a lot of people, I'd love to hear from them.”
There’s also a crowdfunding campaign with a goal of $250,000; funds from that effort “will, among other things, pay salaries for an editor, reporters, and a designer.” Salustri told the Times that even if the deal doesn’t happen, money from the crowdfunding campaign will go towards keeping the Gabber—which is still publishing stories online—running. As of May 7, the campaign had raised $4,776.
Newspapers across the country are being tested by the economic fallout surrounding the coronavirus. A Poynter article last updated on May 7 listed 54 publications that’ve seen coronavirus-related layoffs, furloughs and closures. The Associated Press said that more than 2,100 cities and towns have lost a paper in the past 15 years. Many of those papers are weeklies and community newspapers. Salustri’s reason for jumping in the publishing game?
“I love my community and I can't bear to see the paper die when it's in my power to save it,” she said, adding her belief that the Gabber’s business model makes sense to her. The Gabber’s return to print is part of the plan, but a timeline is unknown.
Salustri also told CL that she’s bringing back Laura Mulrooney, who wrote politics and news for the Gabber, along with Gabber editor Shelly Wilson, who’ll stay on temporarily and leave the position in June to start her own editing business. Also joining the Gabber staff as Creative Director is Joey Neill, a 10-year alum of Creative Loafing Tampa Bay who was laid off in March. Salustri said that she’ll also use Scott Harrell—who spent the better part of a decade-and-a-half at CL as music editor, contributor, managing/online editor and its last editor-in-chief—for feature writing since he now calls Gulfport home.
She plans on expanding the Gabber's culture coverage past Gulfport's local news and into South St. Petersburg. She wants to cover beaches, arts, food and music news. She's also promised not to focus on clicks for advertising.
"Good writing gets read as long as there's a team out there to let people know it exists, and that's how we'll proceed," she said. "We're fortunate we can do that because we're dealing with people who already read us, and I look forward to our team expanding our readership even more with this online opportunity."
Salustri told CL that she won’t take a salary in her first year as publisher. She’s also going to leave the content to reporters and editors. She may, however, pen an occasional opinion column that’ll probably have “a lot fewer f-bombs.”
Communities like Gulfport (pop. 12,401 according to the latest Census numbers) need their hyperlocal papers, and running one is harder than ever these days, but here's a toast to the successful return of the Gabber. I’ll go ahead and drop an f-bomb for Cathy, too, and wish her the fucking best of luck.
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