Here’s to the Launch of ‘Mercury’!

In Perspectives by Joe Sullivanleave a COMMENT

When the News Sentinel (or was it someone at Scripps in Cincinnati?) abruptly shut down Metro Pulse last fall, I feared the demise of quality alternative journalism in Knoxville.

So it has been tremendously heartening to me to have witnessed the resolve with which Metro Pulse’s erstwhile editors have pursued the launch of a worthy successor publication. Coury Turczyn, Jack Neely, and Matthew Everett all spurned severance packages from Scripps that included a non-compete agreement. For the past five months they have devoted themselves, uncompensated, to make the Knoxville Mercury the reality that it has become today.

Equally heartening has been the way in which Metro Pulse’s loyal readers and community benefactors have rallied to support their efforts. Close to $500,000 has been raised or pledged to get the Mercury started on a firm financial footing.

Kim Trent of Knox Heritage also deserves a lot of credit for sponsoring the fundraising on behalf of a newly formed nonprofit entity, the Knoxville History Project. Jack Neely, whose name has become synonymous with Knoxville history, will head the nonprofit as well as contribute to the Mercury, which has been formed as a wholly owned subsidiary. Tax-deductible contributions to the Knoxville History Project are still welcome, and as Metro Pulse’s former owner and publisher, I have been pleased to make a substantial one myself.

When I sold Metro Pulse to a third party in 2003, little did I dream it would end up in the hands of Scripps’ News Sentinel, which was never a good fit. Pedestrian daily newspaper chains just aren’t simpatico with more insightful and colorful alternative weeklies. I’ll have to say, though, that the Scripps bosses allowed Metro Pulse more editorial freedom than I would have supposed—until they decided to pull the plug on it.

What was deplorable about the shutdown was the draconian way in which it was effected—with no notice and no opportunity for anyone to preserve it or even use its name. Email accounts were summarily cut off, which in my own case, as a continuing contributor, meant the loss of hundreds of sources of grist for my column mill as well as personal contacts. As someone who is anything but systems-savvy, it’s taken me months to re-establish my connections with the rest of the world.

The new scheme of things at Mercury is a welcome return to more hospitable environs. I’m very impressed with the team that Metro Pulse’s longtime editor Coury Turczyn has assembled to complement him in running the publication. Charlie Vogel, as publisher, brings a wealth of experience in sales management that includes a stint as publisher of one of Whittle Communications’ more successful initiatives back in the day. Jerry Collins, as operations director, is an information technology guru who has held senior positions at FedEx and TVA. Matthew Everett, who was in the forefront of the fundraising effort, can now return to being a journalist as senior editor and overseer of an events calendar that will once again be the go-to source for Knoxville happenings of every ilk. Veteran art director Tricia Bateman has experience ranging from agency work to books and multiple magazines.

The roster of editorial contributors is too lengthy to recite but will mostly be familiar to Metro Pulse readers. Turczyn is also in the process of bringing a full-time staff reporter on board in addition to a part-time staff writer.

There’s no denying that these past several years have not been good ones for print media generally. And it never ceases to amaze me just how much stuff on just about any subject has become instantly accessible online without even delving into the realm of social media, which I don’t.

Yet as old-fashioned as I may sound (or be), I believe there’s still a role for insightful local publications to enlighten their communities and contribute to their well being.

While the subjects of featured articles will necessarily be selective, you can safely bet that the Mercury’s calendar will provide the most comprehensive guide extant to Knoxville’s arts and entertainment as well as myriad other happenings. This coverage of events will hopefully drive advertising by their sponsors and by the restaurants and other establishments their patrons are likely to frequent.

When Metro Pulse came on the scene in the early 1990s, downtown Knoxville seemed headed for extinction, except as a place to work in an office or go to church.

Its revitalization over the past two decades as a place to live and enjoy a host of urban amenities is testament to the same forces that I believe will propel the Knoxville Mercury to success as an important contributor to the city’s vitality.

Joe Sullivan is the former owner and publisher of Metro Pulse (1992-2003) as well as a longtime columnist covering local politics, education, development, business, and tennis. His new column, Perspectives, covers much of the same terrain.

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