Update: The Metro Times' Future In Doubt As Owners Put It Up For Sale

The company that owns the Metro Times told its Detroit staff this morning the paper is for sale, throwing the future of the 33-year-old alternative weekly into doubt at a time of great uncertainty for print publications.

Few details were available; employees were told not to speak to the media.

A lively presence in Detroit since 1980, the Metro Times has won numerous awards for its coverage of local news and culture. It discussed such touchy subjects -- for the mainstream media -- as race relations, sex, religion and social inequality in frank language that, especially in the early years, made the Detroit News and Free Press seem like relics of the Victorian Age.  


The Metro Times wrote about the Michigan Militia six months before the Oklahoma City bombing; reported details of General Motors Corporation to turn the Poletown neighborhood into as auto assembly plant; broke news of a plan to transform Belle Isle into a casino colony; revealed the use of  South African steel in the new People Mover stations when there was an anti-apartheid city ordinance and pierced the fog of coverage by Detroit two dailies about their application for the Joint Operating Agreement.

The paper also covered the local music scene like no other outlet, whether the genre was rock, techno, rap, jazz, blues or folk.

But like all print media, the Metro Times has suffered a loss of ad revenue to the Internet in recent years and, in turn, a dwindling staff. 

The longtime editor, W. Kim Heron, resigned in December, and at times this year there were only two or three fulltime staffers putting out the paper.

According to the most recent verified audit, the Metro Times weekly circulation is 52,286 copies. In June, it reported 285,803 page views to its website in the previous 30 days, and 122,609 unique visitors.

The paper is owned by Times-Shamrock Communications of Scranton, Penn., that owns newspapers, radio stations in several states and alternative weeklies like Metro Times in Orlando, Baltimore and San Antonio, which are also being put on the market today, the company said in a statement.

It is also selling four daily papers outside of northeast Pennsylvania.

“All of these papers have been strong, profitable investments for us for many years,” said George Lynett Jr., CEO of Times Shamrock Communications.

“We have enjoyed operating in these diverse markets and the decision to sell was difficult. It made sense for us to offer these more distant papers for sale to someone who could take them to the next level of growth.”

Chris Sexson, Metro Times publisher since 2008, remained upbeat.

“It will be business as usual for Metro Times during the sales process,” Sexson said in a story on the paper's website. “We are going to continue to serve our readers and advertisers who love the Metro Times brand, just as we have since 1980. We are excited about the future for us and Detroit.”

The Metro Times was started by two graduates of Antioch College, Ron Williams and Laura Markham, below, with

$5,000, at a time when such alternative weeklies were still considered part of the underground press movement that grew out of the counterculture of the 1960s.

But Williams and Markham had to balance their desire to cover the issues and trends that they believed the Detroit media had been ignoring with the necessity of selling ads. The paper was always free.

"From the very first issue we fought the divisive concepts of black and white, city and suburb, us and them. Eight Mile Road didn’t exist in our vocabulary — we were committed to create a journalistic voice that would be respected and welcomed into every home. We published to our own mythological urban construct: the Detroit metropolitan community," Williams wrote in Metro Times in 2000, when the paper turned 20.


"We challenged the bad citizenship of Detroit’s corporate leadership as businesses steadily turned their backs on the central city," he continued. "We told the suburbs that it was the most absurd of illusions to believe they could prosper while the city perished."

The Metro Times gave a voice to the city's activist public figures, such as George Crockett, Maryann Mahaffey, John Conyers, Coleman Young, Ken Cockrel, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Ernie Goodman, Morrie Gleicher and Grace Boggs. 

The paper published the city's most extensive listings of events.

Larry Gabriel, who has worked for the Metro Times off and on since 1985, recalled his early years with the paper, when it was catching on as a must-read for Detroit's young hipsters.

"The big thrill for me was when I would go downtown to a club such as the old Soup Kitchen in Rivertown," Gabriel wrote in 2010.  "Sometimes I'd see people standing under streetlights looking at a Metro Times. I would assume that they were looking at the 'What's Happening' listings to figure out what they were going to do next. I'd swell with pride that I had created that list."

Gabriel also touched upon the ongoing controversy about advertising in the Metro Times.

"The ads in the back of the paper for escort services and the personal ads with men seeking men and women seeing women were easy targets for those promoting an easy brand of fundamentalist morality, and an easy excuse for some potential advertisers for why they didn't want to appear in our pages."

Come back to Deadline Detroit for further coverage today.

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