So, Is the Knoxville Mercury “Just a Downtown Paper”?

In Editor's Notes by Coury Turczynleave a COMMENT

Here’s the refrain I’ve heard for a good chunk of my career at Metro Pulse, and now at the Knoxville Mercury: “You’re just a downtown paper.”

Implicit in the accusation is that our editors and writers simply do not care what happens outside of the city limits, or even beyond the Central Business Improvement District. Part of that has to do with how Metro Pulse started in the early ’90s—as a small bi-weekly paper mostly distributed downtown—and with one of its major areas of focus at the time: figuring out how to bring new life to our stagnant center city. 

A lot has changed since those days, obviously—downtown’s now a true destination for people in the region (and beyond), and there’s a renewed sense of pride in the city among its residents. Consequently, a lot of Knoxville’s cultural offerings are located  (wait for it) downtown, which we cover. But we do make it an actual part of our mission to venture beyond those environs to find the stories we think are important, from Walmart’s plans for a Northwest Knoxville public park or a drive-in theater in Maryville, to pioneering hemp farmers in Cocke County or local residents who once had to get married outside of the state entirely. Metro Pulse did, too.

Still, we are sometimes told that what we do is less important or not credible because of a perception that we’re just downtown boosters. As in this letter that arrived soon after our Top Knox winners were announced:

This is no surprise. [Top Knox 2015 Readers’ Poll] Different owners same results. Your readers’ poll is a joke. It’s funny all the winners are downtown and advertise with you. That’s why your ads downtown make up 99 percent of your customers. Everyone else in Knoxville knows how you play. What a joke.

Breanna Countryman

Is she correct in her analysis of the results? Well, no. Out of all the categories, here’s the breakdown of where Top Knox winners (not runners-up) are situated around town:

• West: 26 percent

• Downtown: 24 percent

• Multiple Locations: 16 percent

• North: 12 percent

• South: 6 percent

• UT/the Strip/Fort Sanders: 5 percent

• Other (including category winners without locations): 9 percent

• East: 2 percent

My guesstimate is that this roughly corresponds with the density of businesses in each of those areas—parts of town with more businesses will have more winners. This also means that 76 percent of the winners are not located downtown.

While we’re at it, let’s take a look at the distribution of the Knoxville Mercury. Here are the percentages for where we place our papers:

• West: 41 percent

• South: 25 percent 

• Downtown: 13 percent

• North: 10 percent

• UT/the Strip/Fort Sanders: 7 percent

• East: 4 percent

So, 87 percent of our potential readers pick up the Knoxville Mercury outside of downtown. As we expand our distribution network, that number will go even higher.

Do “all the winners” advertise with us? Not yet. But if our readers did indeed keep our advertisers in mind when they filled out their ballots, we’d say that’s a strong argument for taking out ads with us—it will earn your business a healthy mindshare among the smartest, savviest group of consumers in town.

Meanwhile, our goal is to expand our editorial reach and cover the East Tennessee region—to bring our focus to what needs to be done in the area to improve our quality of life. And that will require more resources (reporters, and the money to pay them) than we have right now. But we’ll get there—with your help.

Editor Coury Turczyn guided Knoxville's alt weekly, Metro Pulse, through two eras, first as managing editor (and later executive editor) from 1992 to 2000, then as editor-in-chief from 2007 to 2014. He's also worked as a Web editor at CNET, the erstwhile G4 cable network, and HGTV.

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