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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"There's just so much competition for their attention," says Philip Meyer, a University of North Carolina journalism professor and author of The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age.

These so-called experts think you, young readers, have attention deficit disorder, and that writers had better inform you quickly and briefly before you drift off and start thinking about video games, YouTube or that Chicken McNuggets song.

Enter the Metro. You could've read four or five bite-sized Metro stories in the time it took you to get this far. The average Metro article runs fewer than 250 words, and some are as brief as 50. (A Terrell Owens cover story ran 58 words.)

"There was a time when people could devote several hours to reading the paper," says Metro publisher Eric Mayberry. "People don't have that luxury anymore. We're letting the market decide how they want their news."

From the end of 2006 through last September the Metro's total average circulation increased by 12,343 copies daily in an era when most daily newspapers are losing readers faster than the Sixers blow early leads.

The Metro now delivers an average of 139,388 free copies Monday through Friday. At an estimated 2.2 readers per copy, it has a total daily readership around 300,000. The Inquirer's paid circulation for the same period is around 338,000 daily, and roughly 662,000 on Sundays. The Daily News sells around 112,000 papers a day. (Before the Metro launched in 2000, Daily News circulation was about 162,000.)

The paid dailies argue that a free daily newspaper can't offer the same quality of information they can.

"I don't think being a free paper devalues the product," says Mayberry, a linebacker-sized, bowtie-wearing 41-year-old Wharton grad who was the former director of advertising for the Daily News before joining the Metro in December 2005. "People don't care. They say, 'I want to know what's going on, but why should I pay 60 cents?'"

(Last Friday the Metro reported that the Inquirer and Daily News will be raising their single copy price to 75 cents.)

Mayberry says he doesn't consider paid dailies competition. He believes most Metro readers wouldn't bother reading the Inquirer or Daily News either because they don't want to pay for the news, they feel disconnected from the content, or they get most of their information from niche sources on the Internet.

Instead the Metro is trying to get its product in the hands of the "right people"--i.e., the influential youth market.

"The reason this all works is because of Ron," Mayberry says, referring to the Metro's editor for the last two years. "Ron just gets it. He knows how to speak to our targeted demo."

Ten Metro staffers sit around the large conference table in a room with blank white walls on the 14th floor of 30 S. 15th St. In December they moved into this office space--which is about double the size of their old location on the ninth floor--and they haven't decorated yet. A framed print sits sideways on the carpet.

Varrial looks around the room full of predominantly fresh, young faces, and asks, "Does anyone have Nutter fatigue?"

Everyone groans their assent. One week into Michael Nutter's mayoral tenure, and he's already played out. The staff quickly moves on in search of what could become the lead story for tomorrow's cover.

The options are slim. There's a bar-hopping feature on Steve Odabashian, a piano-playing Andy Reid impersonator, and another about a hip-hop and hookah party at Byblos restaurant. The city's new top cop is making neighborhood visits, and the ping-pong Olympic trials are in town for the weekend.

"Adam took on one of the ladies, and she whupped him big time," says sports editor Jordan Raanan of writer Adam Levitan who's standing right behind him.

Room with a view: Editor Ron Varrial had been the sports editor at the New York Metro before he came to Philly.

Night news editor Josh Cornfield has a pitch. "I think this could be a good one for our people," he says. "Innovation Philadelphia. It was a John Street pet project supported by $2.5 million from the city. We're looking into whether Nutter will keep funding it."

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