publisher Chris Ferrell announced to the staff this morning that he'll be leaving the paper soon to start a new media company. Dubbed "Boy Wonder" by this newspaper during his time in the Metro Council, Ferrell took over as publisher here Jan. 1, 2005, succeeding founding publisher Albie Del Favero, now publisher of The City Paper
"A local investor has offered me the opportunity to build a new media company," Ferrell says. "I'm going to be looking at acquiring and starting new publications in markets around the Southeast." Asked whether the company is a new media company (no compound adjective) or a new-media company (a little hyphen can dramatically change meaning), Ferrell declines to say. And asked whether any of his new ventures might be in Nashville, he says with a grin, "Nashville is in the Southeast. Given the fact that I'm going to continue living here and this company is going to be headquartered here, it obviously would make sense to have publications here." He says he will be announcing more details in the coming weeks. Filling his corner office while the search for a new publisher is underway will be corporate group publisher Stuart Folb.
Ferrell announces his pending departure on the eve of the Scene
's biggest annual issue, next week's Best of Nashville edition. He will stay on through that, hosting next week's annual party at the Country Music Hall of Fame to celebrate what is always an issue dense with copy and advertising hailing the city's favorite people, places and things.
"I have worked with some of my favorite people in Nashville for the last three years, and week in and week out we put together a paper that matters to this city in terms of our coverage of news, our support of the arts and of culture," Ferrell says, sitting on this editor's thrift store couch drinking coffee from a chipped mug. "And that's across the board—from our edit staff to our marketing and promotions department to supporting our advertisers and causes that they support. I have loved my time at the Scene
. This was just too good an opportunity for me to pass up."
As we wrote in this story
almost three years ago, Ferrell, 38, is a young old hand who over time positioned himself uniquely at the nexus of business and technology, politics and religion—and now publishing—in Nashville, a city where disparate social spheres overlap and interweave. A graduate of Furman University with a master's in divinity from Vanderbilt (and a Ph.D. in the works), Ferrell is a lifelong Baptist—but he's also been the honorary grand marshal of the city's gay pride parade. He's a businessman who voiced support for a living wage, and a council member who championed affordable housing before it was cool. He was also instrumental in securing funding for a domestic violence shelter here, successfully urging the government to donate property for the site.
Running for a seat on the Metro Council in 1995 at the tender age of 26, Ferrell was the youngest person ever elected to that body (until Jason Alexander beat his record in 1999). Ferrell cleaned up in the countywide race and was easily reelected in 1999. After term limits ended his council career, Ferrell ran for vice mayor but lost to Howard Gentry. He then surprised local political watchers by abandoning a 2002 run for what's now Jim Cooper's congressional seat, citing the demands of raising a family.
During his professional career, Ferrell has worked for two Internet companies, Telalink and CitySearch. He's run a marketing firm and, before becoming Scene
publisher, a company that provides performance improvement, customer service and management training workshops for hospitals. In short, he's a businessman and a preacher, a politician and an Internet pioneer.
And, by all accounts, since Ferrell has been publisher, this newspaper has enjoyed two of the best years it's ever experienced in terms of revenue and profitability. Del Favero and founding editor Bruce Dobie together transformed the Scene
in 1989 from an irrelevant shopper into an irreverent, well-read weekly. Since then, the paper rose in popularity and profitability before Del Favero and Dobie sold a majority interest in it to a newly created company now known as Village Voice Media, which now owns New York's Village Voice
as well as the Scene
and 15 other alt-weeklies around the country.
As a dejected staff filtered out of the conference room in the Scene
's new Gulch office this morning, the fair-haired Ferrell received pats and hugs and informal salutes, tributes to him and to a management style that has motivated rather than maligned, encouraged rather than intimidated and fostered team work over selfishness.
We'll miss you, Boy Wonder.