Gannett's money mantra



To someone carrying the physical and mental scars from 25 years of newspaper work in Central Indiana, the big news that Gannett is folding Metromix comes as no surprise.

(Please be advised that this column, like the other 875 I've written, represents only my views, not necessarily those of NUVO management or staff.)

There's an old cliche in the newspaper business that the quickest way to become a millionaire newspaper owner is to start with $2 million.

Hundreds of newspapers in Indy have sprouted with optimism only to die agonizing deaths. Observant, long-time residents can recite name after name of failed weekly or monthly newspapers. Some of them were good, some not really, but all are deceased.

Why? Newspapers are expensive to print and it takes a hell of a lot of hard labor to produce even a bad one. I've worked for some badly run, completely disinterested small daily newspapers in my career. Even they required a devoted and underpaid crew living and breathing the job just to put out a crappy paper they're ashamed to bring home with them after a 12-hour shift. Lots of veteran small-town daily newspaper reporters become alcoholics or worse for that very reason (and it's why I got out of the daily game, hopefully for good, a few years ago).

If putting out a bad newspaper costs a lot of money, putting out a good one costs even more. Writers appreciate getting paid for their work; so do photographers, layout artists, printers and drivers.

It cost Gannett too much money to keep printing newspapers and hauling them around to all its distribution sites around the city. Slashing that cost but using their editorial talent to strengthen their online and daily products is just efficient business. That's what they're doing and it is arguably a smart move.

By no means were inTake,, and Metromix bad newspapers. Especially or ironically, in the paper's last few months it got funnier and edgier and wasn't a half-bad read. From the start, it had top-notch talent, some of the finest in city history. Writers like David Lindquist and Jim Walker and photographers like Michelle Pemberton will one day be in a hall of fame for Indiana journalists who always do an awesome job, if one exists. Despite their work, the company still shut it down.

I think the reason it went away is that it was appealing to a market that doesn't exist, one where people are young and rich and trendy but who have little or no social conscience other than an allegiance to partying and devotion to conspicuous consumption.

The actual, real-life young and rich people in Indianapolis all work like hell at their jobs to stay young and rich and most of them care about their community on levels beyond the transient and superficial.

They could have made it work, but no right-thinking executive at Gannett would have ever approved such a plan. They could have tried to go all Hunter S. Thompson, Howard Stern and Sarah Silverman on the city. Things like pulling outrageous stunts and publishing scandalous gossip from the skateboard and punk rock communities. They could have been stirring up every existing pot in the city and creating more to stir, too.

I wish they'd given me the opportunity of running it into the ground. I'm pretty sure I could have been more efficient at it. I'd have hired midgets and fire eaters, asked Mitch Daniels what music he listened to when he smoked pot in college, picketed the NUVO offices and organized flash mobs at cupcake shops.

I'd have found all the city's John Waters and Warhol wannabes, bought them crates of cold Pabst, and turned them loose on the city, bailing them out of lockup at 5 a.m., if need be, but printing and posting anything they did.

That might have failed, too, but it may have cultivated a solid base of people with reason to feel passionate about the newspaper, something Gannett's weekly never quite pulled off, as far as I could tell, and ultimately why it's gone away.

A good newspaper, like NUVO, is a tree with deep roots in its community and is much harder to chop down than one would think. I'm sorry for the people whose stories now will never be told in Metromix, but I'm not surprised that it went away.

It's all about money; there's nothing personal about it.


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