When word reached the NUVO offices a few weeks ago that Gannett planned to cease publication of its weekly Metromix paper here in Indianapolis, and this week's issue would be the last, our first reaction was disbelief—followed quickly by relief.
It’s been a long eight years for our locally owned and independently operated newsweekly in the face of the competition that began with the launch of the product Gannett called INtake in 2003, continued when they changed the name to Indy.com in 2008, and again when they changed the name to Metromix in 2009.
To hear they are waving the white flag on the weekly print product gives us cause for a celebration, albeit a brief one.
A LITTLE HISTORY
INtake/Indy.com/Metromix was never truly a local product, but with the backing of one of the world’s largest publishing corporations, we always considered it a formidable competitor—whatever they were calling it.
INtake first appeared in 2003 as Gannett began publishing or took over the publishing of ‘faux’ alt-weeklies in cities all across the country. Most, if not all, of these new products were launched in cities like Indianapolis where an independent alt-weekly like NUVO already existed.
According to their own marketing material, the great corporate allure of these weekly papers was coveted advertising dollars in exchange for delivering the coveted young demographic of readers that newspapers across the country are scratching and clawing to attract in order to survive.
It’s the same motive and marketing mantra Gannett used in 2007 when it partnered with the even bigger corporate publishing giant Tribune to first produce Metromix. Over the next three years, Metromix newsweeklies and metromix.com rolled out in more than 60 cities across the U.S.
“Gannett and Tribune are a powerful combination of deep local market experience, superior content and national scale,” Tribune Interactive President Tim Landon said at the time of the announcement. “With this partnership we can grow Metromix into a true national brand, adding value for advertisers who want to reach a highly desirable demographic.”
Since Tribune was already publishing Metromix newsweeklies in some of these cities, Gannett followed suit. By this time, INtake had already been renamed Indy.com, but Gannett renamed the product a third time in 2009 relaunching as Metromix and joining a national network of article and advertising sharing.
In Indianapolis and other cities, the transformation to Metromix was accompanied by substantial staff layoffs. In some cases, the papers died as soon as the regional website launched. In others, like Indianapolis, Gannett continued to publish both the website and weekly newspaper. That trend is now coming to an end, however. In addition to Metromix Indianapolis, Nashville’s Metromix weekly print product died earlier this year. Cities like Cincinnati and Louisville can’t be far behind.(Update (6/24/11): Gannett has also pulled the plug this week on the print version of NOISE their newsweekly in Lansing, Michigan and INSIDER, in Rochester, New York.)
THE BIG DIFFERENCE
The irony of Gannett launching a weekly product to compete with NUVO has never been lost on us, as our very existence came about in order to provide an alternative to the Indianapolis Star and its mainstream coverage of news, events, organizations and individuals.
When our first issue hit the stands on March 14, 1990, then-Editor Ron Tierney explained the impetus: “The sad fact of the matter is that many of the country’s largest cities are down to just one newspaper… one major ‘print’ voice for hundreds of thousands of people. [So], a few of us got together to see what we could do to create a second voice for Indianapolis.”
Our motives for creating NUVO have not wavered in the 21 years since that first issue was published. We exist to provide an alternative source of local, independent and original news, arts, entertainment and music coverage.
To put it another way, we exist to tell stories. And our stories and storytelling were always distinct from Metromix. As the Indianapolis Business Journal said in an article last week, the two papers "have been a contrast in styles."
“Metromix often contains shorter articles with lots of pictures. Its reporters have written about such topics as coping with holiday stress, living together before marriage, retro fashion from the 1980s and the hippest Super Bowl parties. Nuvo typically has longer, more in-depth stories on weightier topics such as politics and urban decay.”
No matter what stories we are telling, they only make it to publication thanks to the dedicated efforts of our sales staff and the support of local advertisers.
In contrast, the Gannett and Gannett-Tribune models work in reverse. Publications are created in order to generate revenue via advertising dollars and stories are often tailored to increase advertising sales or paid for by advertisers out right in the form of “advertorials.”
We don’t have advertorials at NUVO. Which isn’t to say we wouldn’t have struggled as much over the past eight years if we did. Instead, we all took pay cuts, senior employees resigned to free up capital, remaining staff absorbed their workloads, and we cut expenses every way we could.
Like many other newspapers, the size of our paper also got smaller both in area and the number of pages — though we did not cut the actual amount of editorial content in each issue. We also got serious, for the first time, about expanding beyond print journalism and legitimately embracing digital.
GRATITUDE AND PERSERVERANCE
To be honest, INtake, Indy.com and Metromix made us better.
Few of us doubt that we could have quite easily written the NUVO obit several years ago if the challenge of competition had not made us fight so hard to hold our own against the publishing industry’s Wal-Mart equivalent.
It is in that spirit that we empathize with our friends, neighbors, fellow journalists and newspaper staff members who are losing their jobs as a result of this latest round of Gannett changes. While management originally stated no jobs would be cut by ending the print version of Metromix in Indy, we now know that more than 700 Gannett employees will be laid off this week, including more than 60 at the Indianapolis Star, several of whom did contribute to Metromix.
That NUVO continues to exist today is testament to an incredibly dedicated, overworked, and underpaid family of employees and an incredibly loyal community of readers and advertisers.
Since Gannett launched their competitive weekly, we’ve seen our print and digital readership grow to the highest numbers in our 21-year history. The most recent independent media audit shows NUVO has twice as many readers as Metromix could draw, and recent months have also brought both the highest pick-up rate for any single print issue of NUVO and record-breaking numbers of unique visitors and pageviews to our website.
Things are good. We are grateful. Mostly, we are relieved.
At least temporarily.
We know metromix.com will challenge us to keep our own digital efforts stellar. And we know that other print products are already vying for their places on Indianapolis newsstands. We may have won the battle, but the war rages on.
Today, however, we are celebrating the survival of the local, the independent, and the storytellers.
More importantly, we are celebrating the loyalty of our coworkers, our readers and our local advertisers.
Thank you all.