New owners buy Kansas City alternative magazine The Pitch. Here’s what they plan

·3 min read

For the third time in 10 years, The Pitch has changed ownership.

Carey Media has sold the 41-year-old local alternative publication to a group that includes current Pitch editor Brock Wilbur; his wife, Vivian Kane; his father, Tom Wilbur; and two local business owners, Mat Moody and Steve Chase.

“It’s a group of folks who thought that KC would be a lesser place without the voice and presence of The Pitch,” Brock Wilbur wrote in a post announcing the news Saturday. “The magazine will expand with more pages, more writers, more voices, more weirdos, and more of what you’ve always loved about our scrappy journalistic endeavor.”

Stephanie Carey, who owned The Pitch with her husband, Adam Carey, characterized the decision to sell as both personal and professional.

“Adam and I are getting divorced, and that of course colors everything when you own a business together,” Stephanie Carey told The Star. “And COVID didn’t do us any favors.”

It’s been a grim decade for most local media businesses in America, but particularly so for free publications like The Pitch, which since its founding in 1980 has largely relied on advertising revenue from classified ads and local businesses to fund its coverage of arts, culture, and city life. Tech platforms like Craigslist and Facebook have since snatched up a lot of that market share. Then came a pandemic that saw bars, restaurants and concert venues — core Pitch advertisers and distribution points — unable to host gatherings.

Once a weekly newspaper and now a monthly glossy magazine and website, The Pitch currently has seven full-time staff members, including editorial and sales, “down significantly from pre-pandemic levels,” Wilbur told The Star.

“Our plans are to expand steadily over the next six to 12 months by bringing on as many folks as we can support,” Wilbur said, but did not specify how many.

“We are scaling up the newsroom in proportion to new incoming sales and programs around that.”

Moody, who recently started a website in Salina called Salina311, told The Star in an email, “We’re going to be experimenting a lot. The old ways of doing things in news don’t work anymore, but the problems it solves remain.”

Salina311, which launched in October, declares on its website that it “isn’t a news or media company. This is a network built to foster commerce and opportunity in this community.” The stories on Salina311 are “submitted by community members or automated via public information sources. Some stories are written/edited by Artificial Intelligence software. This enables stories to happen fast, and often times, automatic.”

Moody is also the founder of Bellwethr, a Kansas City startup that says it employs machine learning to help companies retain customers longer.

About the other new owners: Vivian Kane is the politics editor at The Mary Sue, a pop culture website that calls itself “the geek girl’s guide to the universe.” Steve Chase is the founder of GrooveWasher, a vinyl record cleaning product. And Tom Wilbur is a retired banker; he was formerly the chairman of Bank VI in Salina and, before that, the president of Security Savings Bank in Olathe.

Tom Wilbur is also a registered Republican who gave $250 to Donald Trump’s campaign for president in 2020, federal election records show. Chase gave $100 in that same cycle to the Lincoln Project, a Republican-led PAC opposed to Trump’s candidacy.

Asked whether these new investors intended to influence the progressive worldview that The Pitch has long espoused, Brock Wilbur said, “New ownership is taking no hand in the editorial side of The Pitch, and I’m mostly removed from the business side. The decision to buy The Pitch from all the investors came from a place of liking what we were doing and how we were doing it, but recognizing that the business itself could be managed much differently.”

Tom Wilbur told The Star, “Brock and I disagree on lots of things politically. It makes for interesting holiday dialogue. But (wife) Marlis and I fully support the mission of The Pitch, in giving voice to everyone in Kansas City.”

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