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Rhino Times paper ends, stays online

By Mark Washburn
mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com

Citing rising production costs and dwindling advertising, Charlotte's Rhinoceros Times has stopped the presses after six years.

Launched as a politically conservative free weekly, it will live on as an Internet-only venture at www.rhinotimes.com, editor Mark Pellin said Thursday. “It's frustrating because readership remains strong; feedback remains strong,” said Pellin, who has been with the Rhino since it launched in April 2002 with a press run of 25,000. “One of the things that hasn't remained strong is sales.” Real estate advertising has been particularly hard hit, he said.

Among the features that will continue online after this week's last issue (Sept. 18): the paper's popular party pictures.

Charlotte's edition was an expansion of the Greensboro-based Rhinoceros Times, owned by Hammer Publications Inc., which will continue to publish in the Triad. It launched in 1991, said William Hammer, company president.

Hammer said the Charlotte edition had been breaking even but started losing money as the economy faltered. “Right now the print publication wasn't making economic sense,” he said. “I hope we can bring it back at some point.” Three of the Rhino's six Charlotte employees were laid off, he said.

Pellin said that besides cutting printing and distribution costs, moving online will allow the Rhino to emphasize more interactive blogging and to break stories in a timely manner. It will continue to focus on civic and government issues, he said.

Rising newsprint prices, fuel costs and declining ad revenues are being widely felt in the publishing industry nowadays. Even Creative Loafing, Charlotte's free-distribution weekly entertainment tabloid, has strategically trimmed circulation from 55,000 to about 50,000 to save money, said publisher Carolyn Butler.

“We've done OK,” she said. “Charlotte's still a pretty good market.” But she estimates the weekly, owned by Tampa-based Creative Loafing Inc., has lost about 25 percent of its real estate advertising in the last year or so. Concert, club and restaurant advertising is softer, too, she said.

Mark Washburn: 704-358-5007; mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com

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