Commercial Appeal Adds Three Alt-Weekly Vets to Staff

By Steve Davolt

Memphis’ daily newspaper, the Commercial Appeal, beefed up its staff in 2006 by hiring three seasoned alt-weekly veterans in the space of a few months. According to executives at the paper, the new hires don’t reflect a conscious recruitment strategy, but the addition of investigative reporter Trevor Aaronson, music writer Bob Mehr and former C-Ville Weekly publisher Rob Jiranek represents three small steps in the CA’s efforts to adapt to the Internet age.

“We’re thrilled to have two first-class reporters join our newsroom from the alternative press,” says Editor Chris Peck of the paper’s acquisition of alt-weekly scribes Aaronson and Mehr.

“We were looking for a projects reporter who could write with style and we found him in Trevor Aaronson,” Peck says. “His enterprise reporting at New Times in Miami and (Broward) Palm Beach fit exactly with what we needed.”

Aaronson spent a year at Tampa Bay’s Weekly Planet (now Creative Loafing), before joining the New Times weeklies in South Florida, where he earned a reputation for in-depth investigative stories. Among his many accolades during three and a half years with New Times, Aaronson received a second-place award for feature writing in the 2005 AltWeekly Awards contest.

“When this position came up, it was the best of both worlds,” says Aaronson, because the Commercial Appeal has given him “the space and time to write in-depth, narrative stories.” Since joining the paper, Aaronson has made a big splash with a series of stories exposing violations at Memphis-area strip clubs.

Ace music writer Bob Mehr held positions at the Phoenix New Times, the then-Village Voice-owned Seattle Weekly and the Chicago Reader before the siren song of the Memphis music scene was too seductive to resist. He arrived at the Commercial Appeal at the end of October.

Mehr says the paper hires young journalists for their writing ability, in-depth reporting and critical eye. “Ultimately, they prize young energetic reporters who can tell stories,” he says. “And there’s nowhere better to find them than in the ranks of alt-weeklies.”

On the business side, the Commercial Appeal hired Rob Jiranek, former publisher and co-owner of Portico Publications, a Charlottesville, Va., publishing concern that began with the C-Ville Weekly and grew to include two more alternative weekly newspapers, including the AAN-member Free Times in Columbia, SC. He also served as AAN treasurer.

Now the Commercial Appeal’s vice president of sales and strategic planning, Jiranek is very much a part of the paper’s campaign to reinvent itself for the Information Age. “It’s happening throughout the building,” he says. “We’re blowing up the newspaper.”

Steve Davolt is a writer in Washington, D.C.