All great things come to an end, and it is now CityLife’s time to exit gracefully from the Sin City media landscape. It has been a long and colorful ride, and we like to think we made an important difference through the years.
The journey began in September 1992 when what would become Las Vegas CityLife was founded as New Times by Business Press publisher Alisa Fuller, according to the history described in the 15th anniversary issue of CityLife. Larry Lane as the first of many editors. About a month in, Fuller sells both papers to Arizona-based Wick Communications. Wick, under pressure from the owners of Phoenix New Times, changes the name of the paper to CityLife on Aug. 1, 1996.
Geoff Schumacher is named editor in December 1997. Hugh Jackson is named senior editor in November 2000. In January 2001, Schumacher leaves Wick and joins Stephens Media, owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and he and Andrew Kiraly debut the Las Vegas Mercury, a competing alt-weekly.
CityLife has had a history of upsetting advertisers, sometimes impacting the paper’s bottom line. In June 2001, CityLife’s Hugh Jackson’s story spotlighting Station Casinos’ opposition to union attempts to organize its workforce led to the locals casino company pulling its advertising. In November 2001, while being interviewed for a story on the casino giant’s layoff of 6,000 workers in the wake of 9/11, MGM Mirage executive Alan Feldman tells staff writer Heidi Walters, “First off, I hate your fucking paper, because you’re always taking this position.” After the quote is published, MGM Mirage pulls all its advertising.
In May 2002, Matt O’Brien is named managing editor. About a year later, he publishes the infamous dildo issue. In the spring of 2005, Stephens Media buys CityLife and merges the staffs of the Mercury and CityLife. The publication goes on to be the oldest, and for a time, the most award-winning and most widely read alternative weekly in Nevada.
O’Brien, who is one of Las Vegas’ most successful freelance writers, and who spent years working underground - literally underground - on groundbreaking coverage of people who live in the storm drains of the urban area, made a career out of the upstart weekly. O’Brien started freelancing for CityLife in 1998, joined the staff in 2000, was managing editor from 2002-2005, and left the paper in early 2008. He writes books, articles and teaches English at UNLV as a graduate assistant in the creative writing program.
“In early ’98, shortly after moving to Vegas, I walked into the CityLife office with a few Raymond Carver-rip-off short stories and part of a screenplay. I didn’t have any journalism clips. Instead of laughing me out of the office, the editor encouraged me to pitch him stories. I did, and few weeks later my byline was in the paper. It was a welcoming and open-minded publication and a great place to launch a career.
“We showed up to work excited about the prospects. We actually liked the people we worked with and the stories we were working on. Few stories were assigned; you simply followed your interests and instincts and were encouraged to be creative. Sure, it didn’t always work, but the paper was rarely boring and, at its best, it was the most interesting read in town.
“It certainly tried to live up to the motto of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. It would cast a sympathetic eye on a homeless schizophrenic and kick Steve Wynn in the balls. It would plug a skater zine and call out the Sun on a conflict of interest. I think that contrarian view will be sorely missed. I mean, who wants to read another puff piece about downtown revitalization?”
Geoff Schumacher was managing editor of CityLife in the 2000s, founder of the Las Vegas Mercury in 2000, and publisher of CityLife in 2008. He also served extended stints with both the Las Vegas Sun and Review-Journal, and wrote two books on Las Vegas. He is the publisher of the Ames (Iowa) Tribune and also oversees newspapers in Boone, Perry, Adel, and Nevada, Iowa. (Ed. note: Don’t get him started on how Iowans pronounce Nevada.)
“CityLife was for many years the leading alternative newspaper voice in Las Vegas, providing important counterpoints to the conventional wisdom that so often prevails in the mainstream media. Its loss will be felt by those readers who relied on the paper to provide fresh and different perspectives on the issues of the day, as well as the issues nobody had any awareness of. My proudest moments came in producing a cover story or package that skewered the powers that be in a way that resonated with rank-and-file members of the community.”
Scott Dickensheets, now deputy editor at Desert Companion, was CityLife editor from 2011 to late 2013.
“Getting ready for my little skull-of-Yorick moment here — Alas, poor CityLife, I knew it well, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy, though it could have used more full-page ads at the non-discounted rate — I reached into my garage and grabbed, more or less at random, the Jan. 24, 2013, issue from the pile of old CityLifes I keep there.
“I know you remember that issue: a stunning Aaron McKinney cartoon of a handgun pleading, ‘Love me’ (this was a month after Sandy Hook — remember how conflicted that time was?); an essay by Max Plenke parsing the changing demos of East Fremont; Launce Rake on the local gun-control movement; a typically free-spirited column by Sarah Jane Woodall (‘I could have posed all day. I love the porn expo.’); Hugh Jackson’s analysis of Gov. Sandoval’s wan state of the state address; Launce’s well-reported, big-picture take on America’s conspiracy mania (the Newtown effect, again); Mike Prevatt’s profile of a local guy with music label heavy on Norwegian bands.
“What? You don’t recall that issue? Too bad; by any measure, that’s a free weekly dropping a lot of good shit on you. Perhaps you do recall the issue before that, in which we ran pieces by two of America’s finest cultural critics, Thomas Frank and Mark Dery? You gotta recall that!
“Well, what about the four issues it took Juan Martinez to detail his epic walk across the city? What about Kristy Totten’s passionate spanking of the media for its mockery of Steven Brooks’ mental illness? Amy Kingsley’s compassionate look at the old-timers who then lived in downtown’s John E. Carson Motel? Chip Mosher’s attacks on enemies of education? Launce roving the length of Fremont, tallying with gimlet eye the winners and losers in downtown redevelopment, one of dozens of stories this superb reporter filled our pages with. Any of George Knapp’s uncompromising columns?
“(Notice that ‘our’? I’ve been gone a few months, the equivalent of stepping safely out of the plane one second before it hits the ground. Yet I still feel like I own a few shares of the place.)
“I suppose that’s how it goes with free-weekly journalism: assembled in haste, read over a bagel, tossed when you’re done. Next week will bring another — why would you remember? Despite that, and a thousand other aggravations (declining resources, indifferent ownership), for much of my two-and-a-half years at CL (2011-2013), it was a pretty damn cool way to make a living.
“Anyway, here’s what people do remember (not necessarily about my tenure, but about the paper as a whole), at least judging by the ongoing autopsy that my Facebook feed has become since the news broke two weeks ago. That CityLife enjoyed a principled estrangement from what many see as the douchebag-industrial complex on the Strip, and Hipster Inc. downtown. That it cared about people and news overlooked by a complacent local media. (No, critics, we didn’t go after Harry Reid; that’s what the RJ is for.) That it was real, for real people, its grubby newsprint more authentic than slick, ad-friendly paper.
“A lot of that’s overblown — our skepticism about downtown wasn’t militant, and we’ll never know how CityLife’s truth-telling would’ve been altered by the juicy, delicious, addictive club dollars we couldn’t get — but there’s nothing wrong with the sentiment.”
Launce Rake started freelancing with CityLife in the spring of 2012 and was hired in January 2013 full-time.
“I bounced around a bit in my life. I’ve worked with nonprofit groups, a couple of campaigns, and years of straight newspaper reporting, including eight years with the Las Vegas Sun. CityLife got started just about the time I arrived in Las Vegas, in 1999, so to me it was just always part of the background. Even when I viewed it as competition, I appreciated its take-no-prisoners feistiness and the fact it covered important issues, including topics that traditional papers didn’t, or couldn’t, write about.
“I saw the Matt O’Briens and Steve Sebelius-es pass through CityLife, and saw some amazing writers and editors. I’m very sad to see CityLife pass, but I am grateful to Stephens Media for the opportunity to work for such a publication. Even in twilight, it was a great place to work.”
Andrew Kiraly, editor at the KNPR-affiliated Desert Companion, was a staffer for CityLife for five years in the early 1990s, contributed for several years as a freelance writer, and then was managing editor from 2005 to 2009.
“CityLife was all about telling Da Troof, so I won’t engage in any windy lionizing about the ‘real alternative weekly,’ blah blah. It turned out some of the valley’s most solid, engaged, gritty, probing journalism; I’m thinking of Matt O’ Brien and Joshua Ellis’ compelling travelogue of the tunnels beneath Vegas; Steve Sebelius’ methodical takedown of the Las Vegas Monorail, and, heck, any of Hugh Jackson’s or George Knapp’s bare-knuckled columns that chewed at the rich and powerful; or Heidi Walters’ deep and impassioned environmental reporting. And I know we’re living in an age when the Internet is aboil with acid and snark, but back in the day — in a city where PR platitudes take on this omnipresent, fictive, miasmic, thuggy force — CityLife’s attitude and style, oddly, had a certain comforting substance. The snark was instructive, enlivening and bracing. CityLife was kind of some weird noble version of the id for Las Vegas: Coarse and impulsive, sometimes, yes, but there was always a rough and cutting truth in it.
“CityLife often blurted out the things nobody at the dinner table wanted to say.
“Personally, I feel a sense of gratitude and debt toward CityLife because it gave me my first job in journalism. Its first editor, Larry Lane, who helmed it as The New Times when it launched in fall 1992, somehow saw promise in my grubby package of shitty skate ’zines and started sending me on assignments to see what I could do. So, yeah, completely defined the trajectory of my life. I mean, look at me now: As I write this from the burnished oak editor’s desk of Nevada Public Radio’s Desert Companion, I am sipping a crisp and piquant pinot noir between dainty nibbles of Stilton cheese.”
Amy Kingsley, now a producer at KNPR’s State of Nevada, worked as a CityLife staff member from 2008 to 2012.
“On my first day at CityLife, Lehman Brothers collapsed. I thought it was going to be my last day at CityLife, but luckily, it wasn’t. The paper, and my position there, weathered the first, early days of the financial crisis, and I got to know a little bit about Las Vegas from the bottom up.
“For four years, I worked with some of the best in the business. I came out the other side a better reporter and writer than I ever would have been if my career in Las Vegas had come to an abrupt end in September 2008.
“I thought, having weathered that upheaval in 2008 and 2009, that CityLife would stick around a little while longer. But at least we all got to make some noise in the time we had. So long, CityLife. It was fun while it lasted. Hell, sometimes it was even more than that. Sometimes we did work that mattered. And a lot of that work would not have been published if not for CityLife.
Steve Sebelius is, as an Review-Journal columnist, a voice of sanity and moderation on the daily’s usually staunchly, sometimes reflexively, conservative op-ed pages. He was CityLife editor from 2005 to 2011.
”CityLife was many things for me. First, it was a lifeboat, saving me from a career in traditional newspapering and leading the way to a more meaningful journalism, a profession with a purpose where – as in Hitchcock’s films – every line serves a purpose. It showed me that telling the story, and telling the truth, is the highest calling for a newspaper and all those who work there.
“Second, it was a beacon in a city built on falsehoods, phoniness and slick marketing. We strove with every issue to describe the city for what it really was, not what it pretended to be. This earned us some fans but many enemies as well. But this was an invaluable thing in a place built on illusion and fantasy.
“Third, it was an incubator of great talent. I had the privilege of meeting and working with some truly great journalists, and, for six years between 2005 and 2011, the honor of leading them. It was hard work, but also very rewarding, and I’m pleased to see how many people went on from CityLife to great success elsewhere.
“CityLife will be missed; Las Vegas still needs a publication like it now more than ever, whether it’s in print or online or a combination of both. Now, more than ever, while we live, we need to tell the truth and shame the devil.”
Hektor Esparza has been an occasional contributor and in 2013 joined the ranks of columnists at CityLife.
“CityLife changed my life. First publication I ever wrote for. When I met my wife at a Killers show at Cafe Espresso Roma in 2004 she said she’d been stalking me while following my byline at CityLife. Stroking my ego was a good way to land me. I covered the local music scene back then and our courtship was fueled by free CDs and concert tickets. I started there in my mid 20s and covered A&E under Mike Prevatt and Jarret Keene. They probably don’t know how much I feel indebted to them. Prevatt ‘cause he was kind and Keene because he was cruel. Jarret once edited a swear word into one of my pieces. When I complained that I didn’t want my rabbi to see it he promptly replied ‘fuck your rabbi,’ then fired me. He hired me back a short time later and we have been friends ever since.
“CityLife stoked the cultural and civic fires of this strange city from its very first run.The end of CityLife does not really mean the end of its voice. So many writers who learned and refined their craft here are out there in the valley keeping its badass spirit alive.”
Dana Gentry is one of CityLife’s most recent additions, beginning her column just a few months ago. For over a decade she has worked as Jon Ralston’s executive producer, first with the newsman’s Face to Face and now with Ralston Reports, a weekday evening show on KSNV-Channel 3. She has also worked as a television reporter for KLAS-Channel 8 and with the Las Vegas Sun.
“One of journalism’s most important functions is to lend a voice to those who would otherwise never be heard. CityLife speaks on their behalf. The silence left in its absence will be deafening. Thank you for briefly allowing me to join the ranks of such notables as Knappster, Jackson, Rake and Arnold Knightly. It’s been an honor.” CL