Pushing Paper

Amid a flurry of sale rumors, Philly's Metro turns 8. Will the free daily make it to the decade mark?

By G.W. Miller III
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jan. 23, 2008

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"I want to see them smiles today!" Bowens bellows to no one in particular while constantly bouncing, twirling, running and teasing like she does here every business day.

Her laughter and spirit are contagious, and soon a crowd gathers around her. They're lively and laughing and talking about the photo of Terrell Owens crying on the front of the Metro.

When 3-year-old Jalin Elias sees Bowens, he raises his little arms in the air and runs toward her.

"How you doing, darling?" Bowens says as she lifts the smiling boy in the air.

They spin while Bowens holds Jalin to her chest.

"He looks forward to seeing her every day," says Jalin's mother Ann-Marie Elias. "If he doesn't see her, he gets all upset."

Like Bowens, the Metro has become a part of many Philadelphians' morning routine--an easily digestible 20-minute introduction to what's going on in the city and around the world.

The Metro that's produced by 11full-time editorial staffers today isn't the newspaper for the working-class masses that launched eight years ago this week.

The Metro is actually cool.

Or at least it tries to be.

Over the last two years the Metro quietly reinvented itself as a daily niche publication attempting to reach young Philadelphians through stories about indie bands, the future of the city, pseudo-mayoral candidates with mohawks and the anticasino movement. They even published a front-page story about a New Year's Eve party that ran out of alcohol and another about a clash between crusty punks and police at the First Unitarian Church.

"The Inquirer doesn't care about stuff like that," says 30-year-old Metro editor Ron Varrial. "Who'd have thought a daily newspaper would put a story like that on the front page?"

With the new emphasis, circulation increased nearly 10 percent, bloggers wrote about their coverage, and Philadelphia magazine even recognized the Metro's political reporting in its best-of issue.

The Metro, which has had numerous iterations over its brief lifespan, seemed to be finding its way.

But with the news last week that the three U.S.-based Metro papers (in New York and Boston, as well as Philadelphia) may be sold off by their Luxembourg-based, Swedish-bred parent company, is all this transformation coming too late?

If so it would be a shame. The Metro has survived a lawsuit, a massive blizzard, staff upheavals, a divorce from its major partner, a revolving door of editors and publishers, the growth of the Internet, a steep circulation drop and biting criticism from longtime journalists about the superficiality of its content.

But the paper is bleeding money, and some say the Metro's core audience--public transit commuters--isn't the niche its editorial content is trying so hard to reach.

If you've made it this far into this story, you've already defied conventional wisdom that says young people won't dedicate time to read long stories in newspapers. Many in publishing believe the Facebook generation is unable to focus on a full daily edition of The New York Times or The Washington Post.

Daily views: The Metro's busy covers have been a morning-rush mainstay since 2000.

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