Critic Notes Metro Times' Improvement, But Questions Ads Masquerading As News

July 17, 2014, 10:58 AM

In the Columbia Journalism Review online, Detroit-based writer Anna Clark takes a look at this region's new "superweekly" -- the merged Real Detroit Weekly and Metro Times -- and finds the paper has made improvements by covering important issues in an aggressive manner.

Clark also reports that the MT braintrust has been less than transparent in explaining what appears to be paid content masquerading as news coverage. 

The newly-formed ownership team called Euclid Media Group scooped up Metro Times in December, Clark writes, along with the alt-weeklies in Cleveland, San Antonio, and Orlando. And rather than squeeze out what life was left in Metro Times, the new owner touts its commitment to “hard-hitting, culturally savvy alternative journalism.” A new staff member was hired for an “investigative reporter” position. Valerie Vande Panne, an award-winning journalist and former news editor of High Times, was brought in to lead the charge as editor in chief.

And indeed, Metro Times has lately been publishing much more rigorous features on the region’s most pressing news, from the controversial incinerator in Midtown Detroit to an analysis of the region’s patchy public transportation to the politics behind the building of the new, publicly-subsidized Red Wings Arena...In comparison, when the city filed for municipal bankruptcy a year ago, the Metro Times cover story was a rehash of what other media said about the city, including jokes about Detroit told by late-night comedians.

Then, in May, Metro Times did a quick merger with Real Detroit Weekly. Clark writes there were advantages to MT, but also:

The deal also brought with it baggage—namely, Real Detroit’s outstanding contracts with advertisers, among them promotional packages in which companies had been promised editorial coverage.

Including, apparently, cover stories. “Elektric City: Lights, Music, and Magic” was the cover story of the June 25 issue of Metro Times. It featured a three-year-old nightclub in suburban Pontiac owned by a local entrepreneur who also owns several local restaurants, and has been a longtime advertiser in both Metro Times and Real Detroit. For a sense of the story’s blandly promotional tone, take the second paragraph:

Glowing bright, fluorescent blue on weekend nights, the marquee is a beacon to all those who wish to dance, to those who love electronic dance music, and to those who just can’t get enough of lights, confetti, and pounding bass.

The article has no reporter’s byline. Instead, it is “brought to you by Metro Times Promotions.” Nowhere does the text acknowledge that the nightclub is a regular purchaser of full-page ads in the publication.

Read more:  Columbia Journalism Review

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