Columbia’s alternative-weekly Free Times newspaper will publish its final standalone issue Sept. 30, ending a 33-year run in the busy media landscape of South Carolina’s capital city.
Free Times, which was bought by the parent company of The Post and Courier in 2016, will be folded into the paper’s new free, weekly Columbia edition beginning Oct. 1. The two-section edition will feature journalists from both papers. Anchored by reporting from P&C staff, the Free Times section will include arts, entertainment and food coverage.
“Combined the two organizations will have 11 full-time journalists based in Columbia covering local news for Columbia readers,” wrote P&C‘s Columbia bureau chief Andy Shain in a Sept. 16 column announcing the change. Shain was briefly Free Times‘ editor after it was purchased by Evening Post Industries.
The Charleston-based daily has expanded with newsrooms in Greenville and Myrtle Beach in recent months, moves that coincided with at least two journalist layoffs reported at the home office.
The new-format Free Times will not result in any staff changes, P&C Executive Editor Mitch Pugh told the City Paper. Chris Trainor will continue reporting on Columbia-area news as he did for Free Times, and existing opinion writers will still be published alongside columnist Cindi Ross Scoppe, according to Pugh. Free Times will continue to publish online.
Founded in 1987, Free Times journalists took pride in the paper’s independent voice over the years.
“Free Times paid particular attention to news that other outlets were not as interested in,” said Dan Cook, who was editor from 2002 to 2016, decamping months before the paper was sold.
“Although Free Times was the city’s alt-weekly, I was proud to be part of a team that also grew the paper’s readership among traditional power brokers: legislators, city and county council members, business leaders,” Cook told the City Paper.
Still, Cook said the shift could present an opportunity: “More local news content at a time when it is desperately needed.”
“The downside, of course, is the potential loss of a distinctive and independent editorial voice, as a 33-year-old paper becomes absorbed into the new Columbia edition of The Post and Courier, where it will essentially serve as an entertainment insert,” he said.
Along with Charleston City Paper, Columbia’s Free Times is one of South Carolina’s two alt-weeklies. Nationwide, the free local papers have taken a hit in recent years and many have closed as advertising has moved online and economic turmoil staggered publications’ budgets.
“I have great respect for my former colleagues at Free Times,” Cook said. “I know they will do the best they can in the new environment.”