Missing Pieces: Metro Pulse and More

Final Issue of Metro Pulse, Knoxville, October 2014

Final Issue of Metro Pulse, Knoxville, October 2014

I’ve planned for several days to write this post today about recent closures and losses. It’s fun highlighting the successes, the openings, the interesting people or just the simple progress and growth Knoxville shows every day in this bright era. Not so much when talking of failures, closures and defeats large and small.

Then yesterday, as I readied the piece in my mind, came one of the most startling and unfortunate closures of all when word broke that Metro Pulse has ceased to exist with the current issue. The news first hit via twitter, then all social networks lighted up with the news, comments on Facebook postings running through the afternoon, evening and into the night. I’m not sure it’s possible, with the news so fresh, to imagine all the consequences. After looking at other closures, I’ll consider some likely and possible outcomes.

Former Urbhana, Future Bula Boutique, 100 Block of South Gay, Knoxville, October 2014

Former Urbhana, Future Bula Boutique, 100 Block of South Gay, Knoxville, October 2014

The news of the other closures, while over-shadowed by this news, are important as well. I’ve recently written of a number of openings on the 100 block of Gay Street: Bootleg Betty,  The Village, Bula Boutique and, most recently, James Freeman Interiors. With all those businesses opening, others had to close. Some of the new businesses took long-vacant spaces and others took the place of some recent closures.

A visitor to the 100 block who’s been away for a while will notice several missing pieces to the block. On the eastern side, Slamdot has moved their web design business to west Knoxville. The largest number of losses, however, have been on the western side of the block. Wells Fargo closed their mortgage branch. Like Slamdot, Lululemon moved to west Knoxville, while Gallery Nuance closed due to family issues and Urbhana also ceased to operate on Gay Street.

Former home to Wells Fargo, 100 Block of Gay Street, Knoxville

Former home to Wells Fargo, 100 Block of Gay Street, Knoxville

Where do the five closures and four openings leave the block? I would argue that it is better off today than, perhaps, it has ever been. I’ve talked about the need for clusters of retail instead of lone stores sitting dead in an area. A walk to the 100 block just got much more appealing for visitors, in my opinion.

Slamdot is a great business, I’m sure, but they didn’t attract people to browse the block. Lululemon has its own set of problems, had very limited hours (a thematic problem on this block) and never really fit, in my opinion. Wells Fargo did not contribute foot traffic to the shopping or restaurants on the block. Gallery Nuance is greatly missed by the artistic community, so I count that a serious loss.

Former Home to Lil' Vinnie's, Old City, Knoxville, October 2014

Former Home to Lil’ Vinnie’s, Old City, Knoxville, October 2014

The openings (including the one that’s coming soon) all include a retail component and they all have full-time hours. That alone is enough for fans of the block to celebrate. I’m hopeful it is finally becoming the retail node it has needed to become. There are still available storefronts and I’m hoping the retail will continue to spread, making downtown’s most beautiful block into what we all felt it would become after the renovations and extensive closure several years ago.

I should also mention that Lil’ Vinnie’s closed in the Old City. I regret we never made it there for a meal, but I hope to have some good news about openings in the Old City within the next couple of weeks.

Former Home to Gallery Nuance, 100 Block of Gay Street, Knoxville

Former Home to Gallery Nuance, 100 Block of Gay Street, Knoxville

And now, for the Metro Pulse. I was actually surprised, yesterday, when WBIR and others noted that the paper began in 1991. I’ve been in Knoxville since 1982 and I really don’t remember not having Metro Pulse. I must have read it from early in its existence, though my reading was hit and miss until much more recent years. I’d usually find Jack Neely’s articles and read those, but it was only when I moved downtown in 2009 that it became an essential part of my week. Wednesday evening meant it was time to see what Metro Pulse had to say.

Michael Haynes’ articles about downtown offered an early orientation to the city and I appreciate that. Jack Neely is, of course, Knoxville’s history professor, guardian of our past and an eloquent spokesman on many Knoxville-related topics. He’s also a gracious person to know. So many good writers have graced its pages. Joe Sullivan told us all those downtown hotel proposals wouldn’t happen – and he was right. Many of the writers had a gift to bring us into worlds we might not otherwise enter. I know very little about classical music, for example, but reading Allen Sherrod’s classical reviews always made me want to learn more. I told him last week that his most recent review reminded me all over again that I’m no critic. It’s near poetry.

I’ll also miss the progressive political voice often found on the pages of the paper. It’s pretty easy to find the conservative viewpoint on local, state or national issues in this town, but not so much a progressive voice. If not directly progressive, the paper offered exposure to progressive political candidates, as it did in Mike Gibson’s excellent recent piece on Cheri Siler.

The paper also offered a place to promote and discuss local music. It is very difficult for local musicians to gain exposure. There are a few other spots: Wayne Bledsoe with the News Sentinel and Steve Wildsmith with the Maryville Times as well as Blank Newspaper. Still, the Metro Pulse played a critical part in informing us about local bands as well as telling us where to go to hear them.

Jack Neely at the Final Metro Pulse Best of Knoxville Awards Party, Barley's, Knoxville, Spring 2014

Jack Neely at the Final Metro Pulse Best of Knoxville Awards Party, Barley’s, Knoxville, Spring 2014

In many respects, as shocking as it feels in this moment, the end of Metro Pulse was probably predictable. Given that it was owned by Scripps and that print news is struggling to survive nationally, it was probably a matter of time. Many cities no longer have a daily paper. My home town, Mobile, Alabama which, like many cities published two daily papers when I was younger, no longer publishes a single paper each day. The same is true in Birmingham, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana. The bottom line rules and the bottom line isn’t good enough. In our current world everything is a commodity and profit margins are more important than simple profit.

So what will happen next? Social media was awash in suggestions from the moment the news broke: Crowd source funding for a new independent paper, boycott the News Sentinel, hammer the News Sentinel with complaints, maybe the current staff will come back with another independent paper, maybe a current online effort will move to print, maybe a financial savior will be found. Perhaps a pay model would work – a dollar or two a copy? It all feels like wishful thinking, but who knows?

In the meantime, we aren’t going to have the investigative reporting, progressive view and local focus brought to us for the last twenty-three years by Metro Pulse. I wonder if the great backlog of articles will be maintained online. I can’t imagine not being able to search Google for “Whatever Topic Jack Neely,” and get his eloquent discourse on the topic du jour.

Beyond wondering about links to that great wealth of material, there could be other implications for some of the rest of us offering online and print content. What implications? I don’t know. I do know the game has changed and it will shake out over the coming weeks and months as we see what the News Sentinel does next, what the former employees of Metro Pulse do next and whether another independent voice will emerge.

We’ll likely be surprised by where it all settles, but in the meantime, here’s hoping for the best for all those who have been hurt by this abrupt development.


  1. Maybe Blank will transform itself into a Pulse-ish paper. If it does, or if someone else tries to fill the void, it’s likely only a temporary fix. News printed on dead trees is a dead business model (a good thing from an environmental perspective).

    The company that develops a news platform optimized for smartphones/tablets *and* that effectively delivers local advertising is going to make a lot of money. People actually like the ads in Metro Pulse, but somehow no news outlet has transferred that ad experience online. This is no fault of the folks at Metro Pulse, it’s purely a corporate failure.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      It certainly doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the skill and work of the people at Metro Pulse. There could be some group of people who try to fill the void, but when I think about the professional investigative journalism we saw there, it’s hard to imagine who will (or can) do that.

  2. Old Buckeye says

    KUG, you are doing a marvelous job filling some of the void the Metro Pulse leaves. Too bad it’s not a paying gig!

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Thanks. There was some over-lap between the two, though I think much of what I do and much of what they did was distinct from one another. I do make money from this blog through the ads you see on the side-bar, as well as a little from the “Downtown Properties” page and I really appreciate each and every one of those businesses/sponsors. But what I make, while important for my income, is a supplemental income. There’s no way a single person, let alone a group of professional journalists could make a living off the revenue I generate. I don’t know what Metro Pulse’s budget was, though I understand they did make a small profit, but it would need, I assume, to be several hundred thousand dollars, at least, to pay salaries, pay for news print and distribution, as well as office space and so on. What they did will be very hard for another group to replicate.

  3. While I will sorely miss the Metro Pulse, I have to agree with Old Buckeye UG. Your blog works to help fill a large part of the void. If ever there is a need to know what is going on downtown, you’re on it. On another note, I have long admired Jack Neely and I am sure he will land squarely on his feet. In the meantime, if he wants to exercise his creative Jones, I would be happy to have him guest in at my shop (the pay is not as great as that offered at insideofknoxville.com).

  4. I’m with you, Urban. It’s going to take me a long time to stop looking for the Metro Pulse box or the stack just inside the grocery store. I can’t count how many times I’ve started a conversation with, “Hey, did you read that article in the Metro Pulse?” I don’t know that I’ve ever picked up the phone to share something I’ve seen in the KNS, but I’ve done it several times with the MP. I’m going to miss it. I don’t know what Wife of Shaft is going to do while she waits on her food at a restaurant. This could get ugly.

  5. Thanks for your kind words, KUG. I can’t begin to explain how painful the demise of MP is to me. I dropped by Suttree’s last night, where former staff members had gathered. It felt so much like a funeral for a dear friend.

    In any case, I wanted to pass along the latest I’ve seen about the future of the Lil’ Vinnie’s location:

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Deserved words, Michael. I know a lot of people are really hurting, today. I appreciate you passing on the link, as well. I hope to have more on that, soon.

  6. The report by the Urban Land Institute citing the lack of tourism that they say is not filling the shops downtown seems to hit the nail on the head. The closed “local only promotion” doesn’t fill the cash register with new out of town cash. Money from the ;local economy just makes the local circle and doesn’t grow. The point… when it comes to shops in the 100 block closing and the end of The Pulse….What could have drawn the out of town visitors to downtown walking around for fresh money ?. I have a possible answer but will wait to see the response.

  7. Thanks, UrbanGuy, for the kind words. I wasn’t exactly aiming for poetry, but rather to keep readers from turning the page too quickly. And thanks for your major contribution to Downtown life.

  8. That painted Metro Pulse box in the top pic sure is cool. I wonder how long before people steal them for souvenirs?

    Not that I’m encouraging illegal activity. No sir. But that kind of thing sometimes sprouts legs and wanders off. I’m just sayin’.

  9. Rusty Odom here from BLANK. Just want to jump in here and say that we will carry the torch for East Tennessee and we will continue to celebrate the people of this region. BLANK would not have worked for the past seven years had Metropulse not already been firmly planted in this community. On many occasions, those involved were kind to me when they didn’t have to be and I’m forever grateful for that. I hate it for those who lost their livelihood, but hopefully we can help those folks out too. We’re going to step our game up in a big way and we aren’t going anywhere.

  10. Wow, this is some shocking news for sure! Things just won’t seem the same without MP around. I hope the best for all their staff.

  11. Thanks Urban Guy for carrying the torch now that Metro Pulse is sadly no more. I will miss its insightful and sometimes offbeat writing. Can you add Jack Neely as a guest columnist in the meantime until he gets something new going?

    Makes me wonder why KNS bought Metro Pulse in 2007 only to shut it down seven years later. I would have thought that KNS could have continued at least an online presence for Metro Pulse. And would KNS release the rights to the name Metro Pulse if a new (maybe digital only) version could be revived by former staffers or others?

    I will keep my digital subscription to knoxnews.com since I want to support local news and journalism. Not happy about the recent redesign though which seemed to dumb down knoxnews.com.

    I feel bad for UT journalism students of today knowing that future job prospects are few and far between.

    Much ado has been made about KNS prohibiting Metro Pulse staffers from going public as part of their severance but that is not unusual in this day and age. I was laid off a few years ago and I had to sign a similar agreement that I would not say anything negative about my former company in exchange for a severance payment.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Thanks for the kind words, Tom. I’d give Jack Neely a forum any time he would take it. I suspect Jack will quickly have a new plan. I wondered about the name, also. Any new effort would probably have to use a different name, though I thought of “The Knoxville Pulse,” or something like that might legally work. You are right about the subscription to the News Sentinel – if people stop reading it, more journalists will be hurt. I hate the new format, too, but I feel the same way about NBC.com and WBIR.com, so I’m probably just a grouchy old man. As for the journalism students, I agree. It’s ironic that in the information age librarians and journalists are two of the most endangered occupations.

  12. One of the great benefits that alt-newspapers like Metro Pulse do is to sometimes give a total different view vs the daily newspapers of the towns they serve. Listings of events that don’t get in the daily papers. Ads from stores and restaurants that are never in a daily paper due to cost or its just not the demographic they serve.

    The Metro Pulse certainly fit this bill here in Knoxville. How often has one picked up a copy and come across an ad for a business that one was not aware of and checked it out. Or a review of a restaurant that sounds good and you want to give it a try.Sometimes just a nice review from a local media outlet is all that it takes to get the restaurant to take off.

    In all the talk of downtown revitalization and urban planning one thing that is left out is how important the media is as a tool to help and promote new (and old) businesses. Urban Guy, by the way, as a one man show, does a wonderful job of this. Unfortunately, with the loss of Metro Pulse, this is just one less outlet for new and local business to get found and promoted.

    With everything going digital, it can be hard for a local media outlet (like Inside of Knoxville) to get found. It wasn’t hard for anyone to miss the paper copy of Metro Pulse…they were everywhere. Digital is great and I constantly check Yelp, Urbanspoon, etc for restaurant listings, but it’s just not the same as seeing a review from a local media outlet.

    Anyway, it would be nice if people like Urban Guy could make enough money to expand to other areas like restaurant reviews, history (ala Jack Neely), entertainment reviews, etc. That’s probably not realistic, but who knows.

    For now I’m going to give Blank a try…haven’t seen them before…hopefully they can pick up the slack.

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