Artvoice staff resigns en masse, prepares to launch new publication

Jonny Moran, Executive Editor

Artvoice employees resigned en masse last week in a move to directly compete with the 24-year-old alternative newsweekly. At least seven top staff members followed former managing editor Geoff Kelly, who resigned in May, to launch a new periodical called the Public. They’re determined to make their new weekly paper Buffalo’s go-to alternative news publication.

The Public will print 50 issues a year and have a circulation of 35,000. Issues will hit stands Wednesdays, a day before Artvoice. Like Artvoice, the Public will be free. It will be physically larger than its competitor, whose size shrunk over the years as its debt grew. It will not contain a complete event calendar, with the intention of saving print space for more in-depth features of select events.

Artvoice is widely distributed throughout Erie County, including on campus at SUNY Buffalo State. The company has been a popular site for Buffalo State students pursuing media internships. Kelly says the Public will be distributed to Buffalo State as well.

Artvoice founder and publisher Jamie Moses said the trouble started several years ago when his relationship with then-partner and sole owner of Artvoice Deborah Ellis got rocky. When Ellis threatened to sell the company out from under him, Kelly took interest. He began looking for investors to help him buy it, something Moses said was a fool’s mission. He said Ellis’s threat to sell the paper was never a possibility because of the harm it would do to their family.

“Deb and I were in love for 20 years,” Moses said. “She was never going to sell the paper to them. You know, if they had really thought it through, we have a daughter together, we have a family together … [so] how could you do that? You know, it’s going to alienate your whole family. It’s going to affect your kid. It was just not ever a possibility. And then they were stunned when she just turned around and said [to me] ‘here’s the paper.'”

Moses said Kelly’s desire to own his own paper never went away after that.

Now the owner of Artvoice, Moses sees the recent wave of resignations as an opportunity to improve the publication. He’s already replaced the open positions and is pleased with the new staff. Of the staff members who had quit, the only one he was sorry to see go was head designer Amanda Ferreira, calling her departure a “great loss.”

“We wanted new people. The [Buffalo] News painted a picture of this mass exodus, but it’s really not true,” he said. “I’m excited about every new person we have. Every single one of them. They’re the people I’ve been looking for.”

Shortly after Kelly’s departure, Ellis resigned from Artvoice and left the business completely.

Cory Perla is a partial owner of the Public and was Artvoice’s music editor until last week. He says Kelly resigned after seeing his position at Artvoice listed on a job recruitment website, apparently posted by Moses. He also said that when Ellis resigned soon after, it was for the same reason.

Perla acknowledged Artvoice’s history of resilience through turbulent times, but doesn’t think the paper has a boundless future.

“Artvoice has always been a paper that’s survived,” he said. “[But] I don’t think that they would be in a position where much of the staff is leaving if it were a healthy paper.”

He said the Public will be designed in an eye-pleasing and accessible way.

“We’re hoping our publication looks more like a high-end magazine on newspaper print,” he said. “The idea is that if you’re going to provide content as a newspaper it might as well look as good as it can. You want to be able to attract people to a newspaper because they have an experience reading it that they can’t have on a four-inch screen.”

Each issue of the Public will contain a removable, collectible centerfold featuring the work of a local artist and ads on the back.

Kelly will be bringing his political point of view to the Public, something Perla said Artvoice readers missed when he left.

“Geoff Kelly is probably one of the most well-sourced writers as far as city hall goes,” he said. “He’s got politics running through his veins, and he’s got a brilliant perspective on it. He’s able to write from a perspective that I think a lot of people understand and crave in Buffalo. When he left Artvoice, [they] lost that.” will feature daily content from the publication. Perla says the website, designed by former Artvoice designers Ferreira and Billy Sandora-Nastyn, will be attractive and easily-navigable, something that was one of Artvoice’s weaknesses.

“We have a website that’s going to look beautiful,” Perla said. “The [Artvoice] website is a little out of date. I think our website will look like one that Buffalo deserves for an alternative newspaper.”

On Saturday, Kelly held a meeting for interested recruits and laid out his plans for the paper. Among those in attendance were Artvoice’s erstwhile staff, including Perla, Ferreira, Sandora-Nastyn, and former advertising representative Cy Alessi.

One concern discussed at the meeting was financial compensation for theirwriters, which most members of the group felt Artvoice didn’t consistently provide. Kelly ensured that every writer would be paid. He says the Public’s freelance budget is four times Artvoice’s. He also promised transparent and even rates for writers.

“We’ll pay everybody if it kills us,” hesaid.

Another issue raisedwas advertising revenue.

For Artvoice, ads in the back pages for sex hotlines and escort services have been a major source of income. Kelly was optimistic that not running such ads in the Public would increase advertising and delivery opportunities.

Kelly said ads that do run will be sold at highly competitive rates.

“Ten or 15 years ago… Artvoice was in competition and that kept ad prices low,” he said. “It meant lots of small businesses could afford to advertise… It made sense [for a small restaurant] to buy an ad because they could sell enough fish fries to justify it.”

Moses says Artvoice can’t afford to drop their ad rates, but he doesn’t think the Public will be around long enough to be more than a temporary thorn in Artvoice’s side.

“We’ve had people with much deeper pockets than these guys try to make copycat Artvoices. Metro Weekend, Buffalo Beat, Blue Dog, The Currant; they’ve lost millions of dollars … they fold,” Moses said.

Moses recognizes the Kelly-led publication does have other advantages.

“They’re Artvoice people,” he said. “They have a lot of our contacts. They’re able to use our name. … They’re going to leverage their connection with us against us, which is kind of weird. Sure, that’s going to give them an advantage over the other [publications.] Is it a big enough advantage? I don’t think so.”

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