A Former Metro Pulse Publisher Reminisces

When Metro Pulse started in 1991, I was looking, at age 54, to undertake what amounted to my fourth career.

After growing up in Knoxville and graduating from Princeton and Columbia Journalism School, I spent most of the 1960s as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, mainly as a congressional correspondent in its Washington bureau.

In 1968, I was persuaded by the president of the Chicago Board of Trade to move to Chicago as his assistant. I’d gotten to know him when he served as head of congressional relations for President Lyndon Johnson. But I had no inkling that my role at what was then the world’s largest commodity futures exchange would be to lead an effort to create what became the world’s first exchange for trading stock options. Upon formation of the Chicago Board Options Exchange in 1972, I became its president and served in that capacity until 1979.

Then came a move to New York to start, with several partners, a firm we called The Options Group. We primarily provided option analytic services to the rest of Wall Street and, through licensees, in London and Tokyo. After a heady but bumpy decade, we sold the business in 1991 and thus ended what I’ll call my third career.

Throughout those years, I still considered Knoxville home and retained a journalistic streak that yearned to someday have a publication here that I could call my own. But what sort of publication and what did I know about starting or running one were questions I really struggled with.

The Knoxville Journal had just folded, and it was clear there was no longer room for more than one daily newspaper in a city of Knoxville’s size—or most larger ones, for that matter. The one type of publication that was becoming voguish in many cities was known as the alternative weekly. These hip tabloids had mostly gotten their start as mavens of local arts and entertainment scenes, but many had extended their reach with insightful and diverse coverage of local issues, people, and phenomena.

When I actually moved back to Knoxville in mid-1992, Metro Pulse had already started down this path. Its original owner, Ashley Capps, was just beginning to make his mark as Knoxville’s music impresario and saw it primarily as a vehicle to promote live music, including but not confined to the offerings of his then fledgling firm AC Entertainment. But the young man he brought in as Metro Pulse’s initial publisher, Rand Pearson, had bigger aspirations, and he had begun to assemble a talented editorial staff and a stable of freelance writers.

At its core were managing editor Coury Turczyn, who’d gained experience at Whittle Communications, and art director Jared Coffin, who could make the paper look good even when its contents may have been lacking. The other member of that team from the inception was Ian Blackburn, whose technical wizardry held the operation together with bailing wire and Band-Aids.

If Ashley Capps’ pockets had been anywhere near as deep as I expect they are today, he might still be Metro Pulse’s owner. But it was losing money and needing more to grow on than he could afford at that time. So that’s where Joe Sullivan came in. I’d made and inherited enough, along with the backing of three angel investors from Chicago, to put and keep this paper on a firmer footing through what turned out to be a succession of losing years.

Since I was neither young nor hip, it took a lot of cultural adaptation on the part of all concerned to relate to a staff that was half my age and anything but establishmentarian. But we managed to coalesce, and I got a great deal of satisfaction from the emergence of an editorial product that I consider to be first rate.

Metro Pulse owes a big debt in that regard to the talent pool that Whittle Communications had assembled in Knoxville prior to its demise in 1994. Heading the list of ex-Whittleites who came on board in those early years is the one person who has stayed on ever since, the iconic Jack Neely. But there were also Lee Gardner, who’s become the editor of the Baltimore City Paper; Hillari Dowdle, who’s since edited several national magazines; and Lisa Horstman, who succeeded Jared Coffin as art director while continuing to author and illustrate children’s books.

Two emigres from the erstwhile Knoxville Journal also made estimable contributions during much of my decade at the helm: irrepressible writer Betty Bean and stalwart editor Barry Henderson. In the latter 1990s, we also managed to recruit one of the News Sentinel’s best reporters, Jesse Fox Mayshark, who succeeded Coury Turczyn as editor when Coury left in 2000 with his mate—none other than Hillari Dowdle—for several years before their welcome return in 2006.

There are many other contributors to Metro Pulse’s editorial success on my watch whose names I’d like to mention, but space constraints will not permit it. The one thing that was missing throughout, for which I bear the onus, was revenue growth sufficient to make the venture as a whole successful. Rand Pearson and our initial sales manager, Pat Hinds, tried hard to spur ad sales, as did their numerous successors. But revenues never caught up with expenses. So each year I would cut a personal check to make up the shortfall.

While I was never strained financially, this eventually took a psychic toll on me. So in 2003 at age 65, I sold the paper to Brian Conley, while continuing to write a column. Brian deserves credit for getting it in the black before he, in turn, sold it to E.W. Scripps Company in 2007.

Never in my wildest dreams a decade ago could I have imagined that Metro Pulse and the News Sentinel would come under the same corporate roof. But I give the Scripps folks enormous credit for sustaining Metro Pulse’s editorial integrity during years that have not been kind to print media generally. They brought back the superb team of Coury Turczyn and Jesse Fox Mayshark to run it, kept Jack Neely doing his inimitable thing, and supported those other editorial positions that are well filled. And for that I am most grateful.

© 2011 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 1

cheshire writes:

Joe,

Knoxville will always be in your debt for your role in this paper. Hats off to you.

Rachel Craig

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