Coury Turczyn introduces the Knoxville Mercury, East Tennessee History Center, Knoxville, December 2014
Since the day the news broke about the closure of Metro Pulse, Knoxville’s weekly (sort of) independent, I’ve been asked at least once a day, sometimes more, “What’s going to replace the Metro Pulse?” I haven’t known much more than anyone else and probably the best, most direct answer is “nothing” or “many things,” or at least in the early weeks, “no one knows.”
Metro Pulse was most recently owned by Scripps, which is why I inserted the “sort of” above. I have no idea if they were allowed to operate with complete independence, but the truth is if you are owned by a large media operation the word “independent” doesn’t exactly fit. It was given enough latitude by its owner to allow it to have a different, more progressive voice which many of us appreciated. Maybe Scripps tired of that voice, though likely we’ll never know. But many of us feel we do need independent voices in the city and it looks as if we are about to get just that.
The couple of months since have been filled with pronouncements and announcements of expanded coverage, digital operations moving to print, new groups in town and more. Jack Neely felt compelled at one point to issue a statement saying he was not involved in one of the projects at all and to point out that he would be involved in one that was upcoming, but not ready for unveiling. Yesterday, at the East Tennessee History Center, his new project was unveiled. I’ll save it for last, but first I’ll review the other players in the local, independent drama.
Blank Newspaper, operated by Rusty Odom (whom I interviewed here), has been around for over seven years, so it’s certainly not new to the scene. Blank has been a print publication from the beginning, being issued once each month. Focused on sports and music within a framework of giving people good, uplifting news, they have attracted a loyal following. I contacted Rusty to see what changes they have made in the wake of the Metro Pulse closure. Blank is now printing thousands of additional copies and placing more than 100 new racks around the region.
They’ve also made changes to the Newspaper, expanding their subject coverage and the size of each issue. They’ve added writers such as Will West from the Sports Animal, Wil Wright (who had been writing sports for Metro Pulse), Kimberly Pettigrew who will write a food and nutrition column and Mike Gibson, a former writer for both the News Sentinel and Metro Pulse. Investigative pieces will be incorporated. The idea of increasing frequency has been considered and may happen, but Rusty says he is “aware of the landscape of print media in this area.” Their website has been greatly expanded and will be updated regularly and a redesign of the newspaper is coming.
Rusty ended by stating, “We are still going to celebrate good things people do in this town because that’s why we started this paper and that’s why people have gravitated to us for the last seven years. Now we are more aware of the need for legitimate, independent journalism in this area.”
Knoxzine is an online magazine which started nearly two years ago. Operated by Debra Dylan, it is an outgrowth of Nolpix Media, LLC. Knoxzine published a print edition in December and tentatively plans print editions for alternating months going forward, while maintaining their focus on excellent digital content that shows, “Knoxville’s quirky side through original stories about local unsung heroes and hardcore hobbyists. Explore significant social issues through personal narratives shared by our neighbors. Increase your awareness of regional resources and events. KnoxZine.com provides thought-provoking entertainment for curious individuals seeking inspiration and motivation through adventures in travel, arts and culture . . .”
I spoke to Debra regarding their plans and she told me, “In the past eighteen months we developed a small and loyal following through social media, but we wanted to reach a larger local audience. Our recent launch into print was a fun way to advertise our online magazine, which includes over 100 articles, 16 videos, an an extensive community calendar. Due to the tremendous reader response to our print debut, we will provide another print issue during the first week of February.”
The new venture that has gotten the most local press is a venture backed by publisher Crystal Huskey and editor J.J. Stambaugh. Ms. Huskey currently publishes independent newspapers in Clinton and Oak Ridge and had been considering the possibilities in Knoxville prior to the announced closure of Metro Pulse. With that announcement, she joined forces with some of the people who were most vocal about the loss and set in motion the launch of the Hard Knox Independent. Early response was positive and the webpage accumulated nearly 3,000 likes, which is a lot for a paper which hasn’t published an issue, yet.
Ms. Huskey told me they will publish, “intelligent, challenging stories about complex issues and the best possible coverage of music, movies, books, theater, and dining. . . We want to build a sense of community and highlight the stories of people who make our town great. When you open the latest edition of Hard Knox Independent, we want you to be immersed in all that Knoxville has to offer. We want you to feel as if you are beginning another chapter of your favorite book.
“HKI will be published as a weekly paper in conjunction with a vibrant, organic online presence through our personal website and social media, bringing you current news in real time from our community. Our free print editions will be distributed throughout Knoxville and its surrounding communities, available at local restaurants, retailers, colleges and other venues. Having both versions available for free will allow us a rewarding opportunity to include interactive content from both sources . . . featuring well known voices in the community as well as some new, fresh ones.”
Their goal is to have online content and two print issues published in January and to move into weekly publication starting in February.
The big question in everyone’s mind has been, “What will Jack do?” – as in Jack Neely, of course. Jack has become the defacto symbol of Metro Pulse and its best known writer, Knoxville’s historian and a well respected man about town. The larger question was whether the staff would disperse to other cities and, if not, then what did they have in mind? Rumors have circulated, some close, some not-so-much, but last night the plans were announced at the East Tennessee History Center before a crowd of well over a hundred people. It was a crowd filled with people who have been associated with Metro Pulse over the years as well as some of the most influential people in Knoxville.
After several testimonials regarding the important role played in the community by Metro Pulse from people such as Kim Trent of Knox Heritage, Paul James of Ijams, Julie Webb, co-founder of Webb School, David Dewhirst and Frank Cagle, the stage was set for pressing forward. Press Forward, it turns out, is the name of the campaign going forward. Jack Neely introduced the first phase which is the establishment of a non-profit organization called the Knoxville History Project.
The Knoxville History Project will offer lectures, tours and conduct research for “public and private developers.” They will mount exhibits, host forums, serve as a publishing house for local history and maintain a website regarding Knoxville history and “current cultural events.” The possibility of producing radio and television shows was mentioned. A board of directors will be put in place and Jack Neely will be the Executive Director. As a 501 (c)(3) they will be able to accept tax-deductible donations.
But that’s not print and print is what everyone is wondering about. The non-profit Knoxville History Project will produce a for-profit print paper called the “Knoxville Mercury.” As a for-profit enterprise they will be able to sell advertisements and develop revenue streams like any other business. The thought is that the History Project will fund the paper as it starts and eventually the paper will become profitable and help fund the Knoxville History Project. Coury Turczyn, the most recent editor of Metro Pulse will be the editor of the new effort, with Jerry Collins, Tricia Bateman and Matthew Everett joining him on the staff.
They hope to hire staff writers as soon as possible, but for now contributing writers will include some names with which you are very familiar, such as Rose Kennedy, Mike Gibson, Alan Sherrod and Stephanie Piper as well as Metro Pulse co-founder Ian Blackburn. Photographers will include David Luttrell and Shawn Poynter.
They feel this structure will insulate them from corporate and other pressures. Coury pointed out that even a single owner will likely have “sacred cows,” and this avoids any such issues. They will have very similar content to that in the former Metro Pulse and they have started fund-raising efforts already. The over-arching goal is to raise $500,000. Coury announced they have received a $250,000 pledge toward that goal. A Kickstarter campaign went live last night with an initial goal of $50,000 and almost immediately jumped into the thousands in commitments. Longer term, they hope to draw as much as $350,000 per year from memberships to the History Project, foundations and corporate support.
So, there you have it: The most direct successor to the Metro Pulse is the “Knoxville Mercury,” which should be available in February if all goes well. “Blank Newspaper” is already publishing expanded content, “Knox Zine” has a print edition out and plans to do one every two months and “Hard Knox Independent” plans to start publication in January with weekly issues beginning in February.
To end on a personal note and for full disclosure lest anything above be questioned for objectivity, I do have a feature each month in Blank Newspaper and that has doubled to two articles in the new version of the newspaper. I’ve also been asked to write for the Hard Knox Independent which I’ll do if all goes well. There are also people affiliated with each of these projects mentioned in this article whom I genuinely respect and, in many cases, I count as friends.
There will be a significant amount of cross-pollination between the publications as writers listed by Blank are writing for the Mercury and there are other combinations with at least one writer I know of perhaps appearing in three of the papers. Many of them have cycled through Metro Pulse over the years.
I’m not sure how all of it will sort out, but my intention is to keep doing what I do and to wish them all the best. There’s no such thing as too many independent voices. Will there be enough support for each to survive? What will the landscape look like a year from now? No one knows. In the meantime, we should have some true diversity of perspective available in the city and I think that’s a good thing.