This weekend marked the rally to support Metro Pulse and/or protest the actions of Scripps to cease its publication and layoff all its employees. Since the announcement last Wednesday passions have run high across the city and on Thursday Chris Irwin started a Facebook Page called “We Loved Metropulse!!! KNS and coporate master Scripps you Suck! Rally” With invitations sent to 1600 people, nearly 250 said they would or might attend. Fifty attended, but it was an enthusiastic fifty. Maybe the crowd would have been larger with more notice.
Protests are pretty common downtown, and they vary tremendously in size and intensity. I’ve covered many since I began writing about the center city. Probably the first, in August 2010, was the Neo-Nazi March, which was actually billed as an anti-immigration protest. Of course, I covered the counter-protest. Immigration seems to draw the largest crowds. I covered immigration protests in June of 2012 with the focus-of-the-moment on 287g. That one drew a couple hundred which may be the largest I’ve seen downtown. The same topic came up a couple of months later when a group touting “No Papers,” came through town.
Most of the pictures you see here are from a rally on Market Square from this past Spring. Like many, it combined a number of causes. Education, a living wage, voter suppression, immigration and other issues are reflected on the signs. This particular crowd was notable for its diversity – blends of races, genders and ages joined together under a sort of human-rights umbrella. Sometimes it’s difficult to determine the original unifying theme of an event.
So, we don’t really mobilize in large numbers whatever the cause. I’m not sure if it’s always been this way or if we’ve gotten lazy. I’ve only been in Knoxville since 1982, so I don’t remember earlier protests from the civil rights and Vietnam eras. I know a protest was mounted when Richard Nixon came to a Billy Graham Crusade in Neyland Stadium. I’ve seen small protests, from the left and the right. Anti-abortion groups have sometimes mounted a crowd as did the Tea Party when it was a hot item. I remember protesters outside the movie theater outside West Town Mall (since torn down) when they showed “The Last Temptation of Christ.”
This weekend saw a couple of protests. The first, on Saturday involved an action to encourage people to vote “no” on amendment one to change the state constitution in the current general election. Two, apparently uncoordinated, efforts centered on Market Square with a group of stilt-walkers passing through with music and signs encouraging people to oppose the amendment. A larger effort was mounted with a concert on the square culminating with a set by Jay Clark. It attracted a few dozen on a chilly night.
All of which brings me back to the fifty people gathered in Krutch Park to protest the closure of Metro Pulse. Some of my favorite people attended and spoke. Several explained the role Metro Pulse played in their lives. Kim Trent spoke of moving here from Atlanta and being ready to leave town when she found Metro Pulse, which convinced her that this could be a city she could love – and Knox Heritage has benefited greatly that she stayed. Michael Gill and others spoke of the support provided to local music and musicians. Others talked about how Metro Pulse gave them a connection to Knoxville when they moved away from the city.
A common theme through the various speeches was the loss of a cultural connecting point. Metro Pulse took on issues which other local media outlets tend to avoid, such as strip mining in the east Tennessee region. Holly Hambright pointed out that her target audience is under-forty and, with the demise of the Metro Pulse, she doesn’t have a good outlet for connecting with them. Also mentioned was the go-to cultural calender for what to do in the city. Two couples from west Knoxville pointed out that Metro Pulse is what brought them to downtown events.
The conversation turned to what comes next. One person asked, “Are we supposed to turn to blogs?” He rolled his eyes. A couple of people, including Evelyn Gill said it is time to let go of the past and move forward. While anger ran high toward Scripps, she pointed out that good people still write for them and damaging them doesn’t bring back the independent weekly. A crowd-sourcing effort was mentioned and a few people offered help with trying to start another independent paper. It’s a daunting task and, honestly, I can’t imagine it happening outside people who really know the business. Some mentioned the need for a major donor.
One potential variable lies in the hands and plans of those who worked for Metro Pulse at the end. Of course, they can’t speak, because the organization that fancies itself a protector of free speech has told them they will lose their severance pay if they talk. Speculation has also been heard as to whether they have “Do Not Compete” clauses in their contract. In the interim, a couple have surfaced, or appear about to surface with their own websites: Jack Neely hasn’t begun posting yet, but the webpage is ready. My friend, and now-former classical music critic at Metro Pulse is publishing at Arts Knoxville. There is also an online history of the early years of Metro Pulse.
So, what next? Letting Scripps know what you think might feel good, but it doesn’t seem likely to help the current problem. Since the initial announcement they have acted as if nothing significant has happened. Another, hopefully larger, rally may be held. It’s possible you will be able to donate to a new effort or encourage people with the wherewithal to do it, to do it. It will require a huge commitment and perhaps risk on the part of some and it still may not work. Missing the Metro Pulse won’t be enough in an era when mounting an independent print voice and finding an economic model that works is extremely financially daunting. Does Knoxville have the capacity to rise to this challenge? It will take more than fifty people.