In what is shaping up to be yet another replay of Goliath attempting to throttle David, Primedia, parent company of Climbing Magazine, filed a lawsuit on June 10 in U.S. District Court, District of Colorado, Denver, against Big Stone Publishing, parent company of Rock & Ice and Trail Runner. The suit, which also names Duane Raleigh and Quent Williams personally, alleges libel, assault, and slander.
SNEWS® obtained a copy of the summons and suit, which asks for damages in excess of $75,000 to be determined by a jury. The lawsuit alleges that Big Stone sought to essentially cripple Climbing by stealing its key staff, degrade its production quality (while Raleigh and Williams were still employed by Climbing), steal its subscribers, steal its advertisers, and steal its contributors.
Raleigh told us he couldn't comment on specifics of the case since Big Stone's legal team had just received the paperwork and was reviewing allegations. He added, "We were founded with the intent of putting out the best magazines possible and operating the business in a very fair and above-board manner, and that continues to be our mission. And, we will defend ourselves vigorously against any claims that allege otherwise."
For its part, Primedia insists that filing this lawsuit was the last thing it wanted to do.
"When Duane and Quent formed their company, moved Rock & Ice to Carbondale, and started working on an effort to staff up, we wished them nothing but the best and were excited for them and for us because of the promise of the challenge and spirited competition that could only serve to benefit both magazines and the market as a whole," Norb Garrett, VP, group publisher/editorial director of Primedia's Action Sports Group. "We had had a long-standing relationship with Duane and he had done a terrific job for us.
"Unfortunately, despite that posture on our part, and even after losing significant key staff members and continuing to maintain that posture, we began receiving significant and provable information from advertisers, contributors and others that what we had hoped would be a fair competition was disintegrating into one of misinformation. We were left with no choice but to take action to defend our magazine and its staff."
Primedia also publishes, Canoe & Kayak, Surfer, Surfing, Snowboarder, Skateboarder, Surfing Girl, BodyBoarding, Bike, and Powder, as well as the trade pub, Club Industry.
SNEWS® View: This has all the makings of a divorce proceeding -- with one spouse alleging the other moved out and took all the furniture while he or she was out. Now that lawyers are involved, it's looking like it might get nasty.
Certainly, if Big Stone has done anything out of sorts, Primedia deserves the right to defend itself. However, it remains our belief that Primedia has the staff and talent at Climbing to have taken up this challenge and stated, "Let's kick some editorial butt," instead of, "Let's hire the top legal firm in Denver and sue." In fact, given the way the suit is worded, we're surprised that Climbing is even breathing. And that's a huge disservice to the staff at Climbing.
Overall, what this did do for Climbing was breathe new air into an already successful magazine. The remaining staff was suddenly presented with opportunities they would not have otherwise realized for some time -- and they've all stepped up to the plate. New Climbing editor Jonathan Thesenga told us, "We're stacked, and we're psyched!" Certainly not words of a magazine reeling from blind-siding blows. A new photo editor will be in place at the end of this week. A new advertising manager was added last week. A new publisher -- hopefully one from within the industry -- is being hunted as you read this. The editorial staff is as strong as ever. This is a magazine that's moving forward. And quickly.
The suit is also a swipe at the employees who left, and that's patently unfair too. Tyler Stableford was the photo editor at Climbing. Having the opportunity to be The Editor of a magazine is a huge step up. Michael Benge was editor of Climbing, but few know he's also a passionate trail runner. Now he's driving the Trail Runner future as that magazine's editor with immense possibility. Alison Osius was a part-time (working 3/5 time) senior editor at Climbing. She now has an opportunity to work fewer hours for the same position with a new magazine that presents new challenges. Randall Lavelle was the advertising manager for Climbing. Now she's the advertising manager for two magazines -- Rock & Ice and Trail Runner. Are we to believe that none of them would have jumped at the opportunity and that Raleigh and Williams are to be blamed for these employees' good fortune to try something new and challenging? Ridiculous!
As for the claims that Climbing magazine's reputation was besmirched by commentary from departing staff, and that Climbing continues to be negatively impacted, that's become a bit of a he said she said affair. Emotions were running high during the transition and we're sure the competitive fires were burning. However, isn't that kind of stuff best sorted out through frank phone calls instead of a legal skirmish? Raleigh and Thesenga both told SNEWS® they want nothing but good feelings and that getting into a bitter battle of words and barbs does not serve either magazine at all.
We do know that on and off the record, Raleigh has had nothing but praise for Climbing all through this process, and long before. He vigorously defended Climbing as being more successful than ever and continuing to grow in late October of last year when we pressed him about Primedia's financial challenges and rumors that magazines might be sold. Certainly not the actions of someone trying to bring a magazine down -- unless we're missing something here.
Unfortunately, people are involved here and the risk is that this could reach a point where friends are unable to look each other in the eye. Carbondale is a small community. It is our hope that both Primedia and Big Stone are able to arrive at a quick, amicable and out-of-court settlement that will allow both to move on from this black mark with as little blood letting as possible.