Scripps Purchases 'Metro Pulse'

The arrangement provides for editorial independence


As of July 1, if you haven't heard yet, Metro Pulse will be owned by the E.W. Scripps Co.

Developer and Cardinal Construction owner Brian Conley, who has owned Metro Pulse since he bought the weekly from Joe Sullivan in 2003, sold the paper to the media company. He and News Sentinel publisher Bruce Hartmann signed the deal last Friday. Metro Pulse 's sister publication, Knoxville magazine, was also included in the sale.

There's no denying that it's the end of an era for Metro Pulse , which, unlike many alternative weeklies across the country, has been locally owned and unassociated with any larger media company, since its founding 16 years ago this summer.

Some of the staff members do have some regrets about the sale. It's always been fun to surprise newcomers with the revelation that we're locally owned. â“Enjoy it while you can,â” one big-city journalist remarked. â“It won't last.â”

So, like many weeklies, we're now owned by a corporation. Scripps is a major media company that owns both newspapers and cable-TV networks across the nation. Though TV is its biggest group, Scripps owns a string of more than 20 newspapers nationwide, including the Rocky Mountain News , the Memphis Commercial-Appeal â"and, yes, Scripps also owns the News Sentinel , which is often regarded as Metro Pulse's nemesis.

But, then again, Scripps ain't Murdoch; the News Sentinel is its third largest newspaper. Most of Scripps' papers are small, with circulations hardly bigger than that of Metro Pulse , which we understand will be Scripps's only alternative weekly anywhere.

News Sentinel publisher Bruce Hartmann met with the editors of Metro Pulse on Monday. He tells us he likes the paper exactly as it is, and that Scripps wants to leave the paper editorially independent indefinitely.

Based on the experience of the expanding Halls-based Shopper-News , the politically feisty community paper Scripps bought about two years ago, we have reason to trust that Hartmann's pledge is bankable.

Hartmann has promised us editorial independence, and we promise you that you're always going to find stuff in Metro Pulse that you're not going to find in the News Sentinel .

And for a tiny editorial staff (we're practically down to three full-timers, presently, plus four who work substantial part-time hours) working on a shoestring, the resources Scripps may be able to provide are promising.

No, we're not moving anywhere near the News Sentinel building; we will keep our offices downtown, in the Burwell Building on Gay Street.

Metro Pulse , which is currently printed by the Daily Times in Maryville, will probably eventually be printed in the News Sentinel presses (as its old arch-rival, the Knoxville Journal , once wasâ"newspapering's a weird business), and that may bring a change in format size. That's the only sale-related change contemplated.

Ownership of an open-minded paper is always a complicated issue. Papers tend to be owned by wealthy people, and wealthy people tend to be involved in lots of other projects that often turn into potential conflicts of interest.

For the last four years, Conley's ownership of Metro Pulse has aroused some public skepticism, considering that during that period, Conley, through Cardinal Construction and his partnerships with Kinsey Probasco, has been involved in numerous high-profile and sometimes-controversial projects, including the Candy Factory redevelopment, the Sunsphere, and the redevelopment of Market Square. For journalists trained to avoid â“conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict of interest,â” as boilerplate editorial guidelines specify, just covering the news was often an awkward proposition. Though we on the editorial side have never printed anything that we were aware was skewed in favor of Conley's interests, we have sometimes found ourselves avoiding otherwise interesting subjects only because covering them might come across as an implicit endorsement.

In that regard, we will feel less constrained. As part of the deal, however, Conley will retain the title of publisher of Metro Pulse ; he'll join staffers as a member of the editorial board, which considers subjects for the unsigned editorial. Scripps, however, will be in charge of personnel.

The biggest change you'll see in the near future is unrelated to any of this week's announcements. About a month before Conley's decision to sell, journalist/equestrian Leslie Wylie, who has been editor of Metro Pulse for the last year and a half, was offered a dream job as a professional rider and competitor. Though stepping down as editor-in-chief, she plans to continue to contribute to the paper. A new editor has yet to be announced.

Our staff will remain, and we're told that editorial decisions will be ours. If you think we're becoming too corporate, too News Sentinel -like, too Scripps, we know you won't hesitate to let us know.


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