Volunteer preserves City Pages online as owner plans to let it go dark

    Photo courtesy of City Pages.

    A volunteer web developer has rescued the entire City Pages website from impending obscurity after the Star Tribune, the parent company of the recently-shuttered alt weekly, told former staff it would be pulling the plug on the site by the end of the year.

    City Pages was abruptly shut down after more than four decades on October 28, with staff receiving notice of their immediate termination and severance offers just minutes before the public announcement. Until then, it was the lone surviving alt weekly, publishing a mix of longform reporting, arts and music news and irreverent criticism of Twin Cities culture and politics.

    Then, last week, the Star Tribune told former City Pages staff that the website would go dark by the end of the year, saying it was “prohibitively costly” to maintain with the company’s new content management system. The Star Tribune’s digital team asked for a list of contributors whose work needed to be downloaded and saved beforehand.

    Ivan Stegic, a City Pages fan and web developer, said he learned through Twitter that the website would disappear. He published a copy of all existing City Pages website content under a new domain, which he’ll maintain for about $10 a month.

    “Because I can and because it’s the right thing to do,” said Stegic, CEO of Minneapolis-based TEN7, a web development company. “I just love the kind of journalism they’ve done, so I was really sad when I saw that it was going dark.”

    Stegic had already started downloading every page on the City Pages website before he learned the website would be shut down. He wanted to have a copy for posterity, so he modified some code he had already assembled to archive websites for one of his clients, the Minnesota Historical Society. He let the program run for about 10 days as it copied years of work, some 11 gigabytes of stories.

    After that, he said, it was easy to upload it to a new domain as a complete replica of the City Pages website.

    “There are writers and editors out there who point to CityPages.com as a resource for getting other jobs to show the things that they’ve written. So if they can update their resumes, so that it points to the archive instead, I think that’s worth 10 bucks a month,” Stegic said.

    Steve Yeager, chief marketing officer for the Star Tribune, wrote in an email that they have been making a “considerable effort to ensure former staff writers have a complete archive of their contributions to CityPages.com.”

    He also said the Star Tribune is taking additional steps to “secure the legacy of and accessibility to the long history of City Pages.” That includes discussions with Newspapers.com on the feasibility of hosting a digital archive of the print issues of City Pages and with the Minnesota Historical Society on accepting a copy of CityPages.com into their collections. The Hennepin County Library also has a complete archive of every issue of City Pages, Yeager noted.

    Yeager did not reply to a follow-up question asking if the Star Tribune planned to host an archive online or if they take issue with Stegic publishing the entire archive online.

    Former City Pages staff, speaking anonymously because of their severance agreements, say the Star Tribune said it would not entertain offers to buy the archive either from former staff or other organizations.

    “It’s important to have if at any point we want to create something new,” said one former staff member.

    Of Stegic’s effort, the former staff member said: “I think it’s great. It shows how easy it would have been to do this if you were interested in preserving journalism for the public.”

    Keeping the digital archive accessible online, however, is cold comfort for former staff and avid readers.

    “It’s a damn shame that all of the people who participated in the City Pages are now looking for work,” Stegic said. “That’s a damn shame. And I wish that we could put them all together again.”