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Weekly paper launched by former members of Artvoice staff

A weekly paper called the Public is being launched next month – and it’s taking dead aim at Artvoice, the nearly quarter-century-old publication.

Most of the staff and contributors to the new publication are coming from Artvoice’s own ranks, and it is headed by Geoff Kelly, the former Artvoice editor who resigned in May. Like Artvoice, the new weekly will cover arts and culture and local news.

“It’s a mass departure,” said Cory Perla, Artvoice’s music editor who worked his last day Friday, and is one of five investors in the new enterprise with Kelly, Aaron Lowinger and two investors who declined to be named.

“I think many of the employees lost faith in the publication in the last year. There were some internal conflicts which led to the departure of two main characters, Jeff and Deb Ellis. And after they left, things started to look bleak.”

Deborah Ellis was the sole owner of Artvoice and the executive assistant to publisher and founder Jamie Moses, her long-time partner at the time. After Kelly and the other public investors discussed buying the paper from Ellis, she decided to transfer ownership of the shares to Moses, who assumed legal ownership of Artvoice for the first time in the paper’s 24-year history.

But in the past two weeks, Artvoice has been racked by resignations. Among the longtime staff and contributors who have left besides Perla are film critic Michael Faust, who writes under the pen name “M. Faust”; head designer Amanda Serriera; graphic designer Billy Sandora-Nastyn; and advertising representative Cy Alessi. Bruce Fisher, an Artvoice columnist Moses let go in May, will also be joining the new weekly, along with columnist Michael Niman and others from Artvoice’s past, including former columnist Bruce Jackson and former photo editor Nancy Parisi.

“If you look at our team there are some familiar names, but we are also drawing in emerging talents, so I think we are striking a good balance,” Kelly said.

Moses, who assumed the editor’s role after Kelly left, downplayed the staff departures and the new publication, but answered “no way” when asked whether Buffalo was big enough for two weeklies to coexist.

“There are bigger cities than Buffalo that couldn’t sustain two weeklies,” Moses said, adding later it was possible he could be proven wrong.

As for the staff exodus, Moses said, “It’s not significant at all. All of those people have already been replaced.”

He said the mass exodus simply meant the ex-employees wanted to try something new with their lives, wanted to follow Kelly and didn’t reflect poorly on Artvoice.

“This is Geoff Kelly’s project, they like him, he’s smart and charming, and he always has the best intentions for Buffalo,” Moses said.

Artvoice, with a free circulation of 45,0000, was $250,000 in debt in May when Moses said he became more engaged. He said that since then, the debt had been shaved by $100,000, attributing the improvement to better collections of monies owed.

“We’re doing better than we have in years. We’ll probably be debt free in several months,” Moses said.

Other weeklies attempted to supplant Artvoice since it began in 1990, but all eventually fizzled out, he said, suggesting the Public could find it difficult to succeed.

But Perla said he expected the new weekly to connect with an audience hungering for something new.

“I think the Public will have a younger feel, It will feel fresh. The images will be large, and something you want to pick up. We will also have edgy content accompanying the art and photographs,” Perla said.

The new publication will be free, have a circulation of 35,000 and be housed in the Hi-Temp Fabrication building on Illinois Street. Unlike Artvoice, it will not carry sex ads.

Kelly, who served as Artvoice editor for 10 years over two different periods, declined to say what the startup cost was, other than it was “not an insignificant amount.”

“From the moment I committed to doing this, we have had a lot of good will behind us, including advertising commitments,” he said. “People have gone out of their way to say, ‘How can I help?” and that has been flattering and encouraging.”

email: msommer@buffnews.com

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