The Nashville media market can identify with the so-called circle of lifethe death of one entity giving rise to anotheras the floundering In Review gradually yields its staff, vision, and market niche to the Nashville City Paper.
Over the last month, the City Paper, a start-up daily, has devoured In Review’s masthead, luring away the weekly’s film critic, business manager, art director, and last two managing editorsWill Williams and now Ham Paine, who is scheduled to join the paper this week. Having already lost its advertising sales manager to a local radio corporation, In Review announced last Friday that it was suspending publication. Editor and publisher Boyer Barner now plans to shop the paper he started more than five years ago.
“In order to get to the next level by increasing distribution, adding pages, getting fully staffed, and aggressively marketing the paper, we must move beyond bootstrap financing and find a buyer,” Barner wrote in an e-mail to the Scene.
He’s going to have a tough time. In Review’s financial struggles have taken on an epic quality over the past 18 months, as it’s endured lawsuits, overdue bills, and never-ending turnover of staffers and free-lancers. In addition, the weekly has never reported a profit and does not seem to be on a clear path to doing so. On the editorial end, In Review has always had a youthful, irreverent feel with a refreshing emphasis on local issues; however, it has long labored to break news and create a consistent buzz.
But while he’s not naming names, Barner tells the Scene that he has found two parties very much interested in buying the paperone local and one from out of town. And Ned Horton, the multimedia entrepreneur Barner hired to help him sell the paper, says that he also has talked to local radio executive Michael Dickey about purchasing In Review. And while Barner has talked to Gannett about a possible arrangement, multiple sources tell the Scene that the deal has fallen through.
Horton says that it makes more sense for a prospective publisher to buy In Review rather than to start something from scratch. “There’s a lot of equity in that name, and if you were to start something today, it would take a couple of years to equal that,” he says.
Meanwhile, Barner, who has fought tirelessly to keep his paper both afloat and relevant, might be out of a job if his paper is sold. Horton says that the paper’s founder recognizes that the new buyer may not necessarily want to retain his services. “He’s indicated to me he’ll go with whatever the prevailing party wants to do,” Horton says.
On the flip side
Meanwhile, the gang at the Nashville City Paper, having just finished their first four weeks of business, are enjoying the honeymoon that comes with a recent launch. Their papers are scattered free-of-charge in most West Nashville neighborhoods and, more scarcely, in East and South Nashville. Judging by the rows of papers that cover driveways, many homeowners have not embraced the arrival of an unsolicited new daily. But if the paper keeps improving, as it has so far, expect that to change.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done, but we have to keep raising the bar every day,” says Scott Huler, the paper’s consulting editor. “Over the next six months we have to get better every day. We have no options; it’s that or die.”
To be frank, the paper’s gamut of local news stories can be rather dull, and it does not yet have the crew of columnists that has long buoyed In Review. But even in its infancy, City Paper reports things readers can’t find in The Tennessean. Last week, in a story about the resignation of Metro schools director Bill Wise, reporter Colleen Creamer quoted board members who actively hope Wise’s successor would be able to think more like a businessman than a career educator. In fact, school board member David Kleinfelter explained to the City Paper how Seattle officials appointed an investment banker to run its schools and suggested that was an example Nashville might want to emulate.
The Tennessean’s coverage of Wise’s resignation, however, was far more predictable. Reporter Diane Long essentially wrote Wise’s career obituary with little other analysis. Fortunately, the City Paper was there to pick up the slack. It doesn’t do that enough, but give it time.
Former Tennesseean star reporter Will Pinkston may be returning to Nashville. The Wall Street Journal announced last week that it will be closing its six regional editions, including the Southeast edition where Pinkston had worked for the last year and a half. He says he is considering a range of options, including applying for an open job at The Tennessean.... Paul Ladd, columnist for the Green Hills News and reporter for WLAC, has just been named spokesperson for the Department of Human Services.... If In Review goes belly up, don’t expect their incisive media critic to be out of work too long. Attorney and free-lance writer Henry Walker says that he has talked with both the Nashville City Paper and the Nashville Post about hopping on board. Still, he is professing his loyalty to In Review publisher and editor Boyer Barner. “I’m going to stick with Boyer so long as he’s got a paper to put out,” Walker says.