Houston Press ceases print operations

End of an era.

Voice Media Group announced today that the Houston Press ceased print publication with its November 2 edition, capping a 28-year run as one of the nation’s leading alternative weekly newspapers and concluding a wild ride as an irascible and irreverent part of Houston’s cultural fabric.

Although the Press successfully steered its way through turbulent times in the newspaper business over the past decade thanks to a strong online presence, in the end its print operations proved no match for Hurricane Harvey. The devastation wrought by that record-setting storm, the worst disaster in the city’s history, was the primary factor behind VMG’s decision to take the Press to a daily, web-only format, said VMG group publisher Stuart Folb.

“The loss in print revenue we suffered as a result of Harvey and the time it might conceivably take for that print business to come back was the final straw,” said Folb. “Thankfully we’ll be able to continue covering Houston with a streamlined approach online.”

Folb noted that the Press is the first VMG publication to move strictly online. He added that veteran Press editor-in-chief Margaret Downing will stay on to oversee the online operation, working with many of the same freelance writers readers have followed over the years and publishing fresh daily content consistent with the Press’s longtime mission of covering Houston news, food, music and culture.

I haven’t picked up a print copy of the Press in awhile – for what it’s worth, there just aren’t that many places I frequent in the course of my week that carried the Press, and like most people, I consume most of my news online now – but I’m sad to see this happen. The aforementioned Margaret Downing offers her obituary to the print edition.

[Hurricane Harvey] was the topper. The massive flooding destruction it caused appeared to directly target restaurants and the arts community – some of our biggest advertisers – who faced with declining revenues of their own found they had other, more pressing expenses to consider.

Despite all the millions of people who read us each month, or all the journalism awards we’ve won, or the successful public events our marketing department has presented, the fact is, we haven’t been making enough money to sustain ourselves in print and our parent company Voice Media Group decided it could no longer afford to be our enabler.

A new streamlined Houston Press will emerge starting next week, still presenting the cutting edge journalism that readers aren’t likely to get elsewhere, still questioning the status quo while highlighting what we think is great about Houston. The difference will be that a sole editor will be working with freelancers to produce editorial copy, rather than having a staff on hand.


When we eventually moved to an online component there was a huge adjustment as well. Suddenly we were back in the game – some of the staff for the first time in their careers – of responding quickly, of answering the bell, collecting thoughts rapidly while still writing clearly and cleverly.

As it turned out in most cases the online demands helped everyone become better, sharper writers. Readers engaged with us in ways they hadn’t in the past. Posts online led to tips that took us to larger stories. Photographs looked better online than they could ever look on newsprint. Cover stories found new homes in one of our four posting areas – food, news, arts and music – and Best of Houston was there to see for all time, not just a once-a-year special event.

Did I want to see the end of the print edition, the dreaded either-or instead of publishing in both forms? Well, of course not. Who wants to be the editor whose printing press was shuttered? Where was Warren Buffett when I could really have used him to swoop in?

But it is what it is. Our parent company could have killed this publication completely. Instead it listened to our Publisher Stuart Folb and kept it alive in digital form, with the company’s successful new digital advertising agency helping to buoy the new model.

A lot of good people here will no longer have jobs at the Houston Press and that for me is the saddest and most painful part.

Nearly all of our employees were handed their termination papers today. In several cases, whole departments are gone. These are people who in most cases worked above and beyond because they really liked working here, liked the camaraderie, the clients, the interesting people they got to meet.

In the newsroom that means that reporters who were more than competent, who could negotiate the most complicated business documents or talk with sensitivity to people who were going through the worst days of their lives – journalists with passion and discernment whose work has changed lives for the better — are suddenly without a platform, or a paycheck.

We rely upon a sizable number of freelance photographers, graphic artists and videographers whose work is also highly valued. This change will also affect them in the number of assignment opportunities available.

I feel terrible for the employees who are being laid off – that just sucks. I hope they are given some help to find other work. Harvey aside, the Village Voice ceased print operations a few weeks back, and if a venerable alt-weekly like that can’t make it work these days, it’s hard to see how anyone else can. Someone please keep an eye on the Austin Chronicle, San Antonio Current, and Dallas Observer. I have several friends who write for the Press but as freelancers, so they are probably not affected. For what I do, the Press does a lot of good work, though their publication schedule for regular news stories is kind of unpredictable. I wish them all the best, and look forward to seeing what comes next.

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One Response to Houston Press ceases print operations

  1. Steve Houston says:

    “Despite all the millions of people who read us each month…”

    I doubt they had anything close to that many readers even in their peak years but they are part of a trend seen everywhere, the decline of print.

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