Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Editor's Note: Bringing the Express Back Home

By Stephen Buel
Tue, May 22, 2007 at 12:08 AM

The East Bay Express is once again locally owned and operated.

Last week, a group of local owners bought the paper from Village Voice Media, the national alt-weekly chain that has owned it since early 2001.

I am one of those owners. I have served as editor of the Express since late 2001, and will retain that role at the new paper. I'll be joined in managing the independent Express by Hal Brody, an alternative newsweekly veteran with more than twenty years' experience as publisher of an independent weekly in Kansas City, and Jody Colley, who until recently served as sales and marketing director of the San Francisco Bay Guardian and is now our new publisher. Among our other owners is original Express cofounder Kelly Vance, who has worked at the paper for many years and will once again serve as our chief film reviewer. We all couldn't be more excited about bringing the Express back home and building upon the work of the two prior owners. Given that I have guided the paper's content for almost six years, I am understandably proud of its editorial legacy during that period. We have enlarged and invested in the editorial staff, professionalized the reporting, sharpened our news coverage, and tightened the writing. We've broken hundreds of great stories, won dozens of journalism awards, and strengthened the paper's role as the source of the East Bay's smartest news and entertainment coverage. None of those things will change, foremost among them the quality of our staff and our dedication to providing smart news and arts coverage about the East Bay.

But during our stint with a national chain, we also made decisions that we wouldn't have made as an independent: While our coverage area expanded across most of Alameda and Contra Costa counties, that growth came at the expense of our old friends in Berkeley, Oakland, Albany, and Alameda. Meanwhile, changes to the format and design of the newspaper have made it a far less hospitable home for small advertisers, and placed limits on our community news coverage. Most of our comprehensive calendar listings have been banished to our Web site, EastBayExpress.com. And, because the paper got smaller during 2005 and 2006, we've had to cut back on arts and culture coverage, for which the old Express was justifiably renowned.

As new owners of the paper, we'll be addressing all of these issues. It's going to take time, and few changes will be apparent right away. But over the next few months we'll redesign the paper, build a new Web site, and rethink some of our editorial content. Although we will maintain some circulation throughout most of Alameda and Contra Costa counties, we've already begun the process of returning the majority of our print copies to our historic home in Berkeley, Oakland, Albany, and Alameda. We'll also soon be increasing our weekly circulation from 60,000 to 65,000.

We've all been overwhelmed by the volume and warmth of the feedback we've received since the purchase was announced last week. To the dozens, if not hundreds, of readers and friends whose calls and e-mails I haven't yet responded to, a sincere thanks for your congratulations, and for your support these past six years. And to those of you who haven't been as supportive of the paper in recent years - and I know you're out there too, because you certainly haven't been shy about calling or e-mailing me - I hope the forthcoming changes will encourage you to take another look at the East Bay Express. We believe you'll like what you see.

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