Metro Newspapers’ Split Complete

Target alternative, community audiences

From his new offices at 1095 The Alameda, David Cohen overlooks “the best bakery in all of San Jose,” a privilege that, ironically, befits the new owner of Silicon Valley Community Newspapers (SVCN), LLC.

That’s because the bakery was recently named one of the city’s best by Metro Newspapers, the Bay Area’s alternative newspaper group and Silicon Valley’s largest community publishing group — and, until recently, SVCN’s parent company. On Dec. 18, Metro completed the months-long division of its alternative and community newspapers into two separately owned and operated companies.

Dan Pulcrano, who had been chief executive officer of Metro Newspapers and executive editor of its four alternative weeklies, became principal owner and CEO of Metro Newspapers, as well as publisher of its flagship weekly, Metro Silicon Valley. Cohen, who had been chief executive officer of SVCN, Inc. and publisher of its six community papers, took over as principal owner and publisher of the company.

Alisa Cromer, who resigned as publisher of Seattle Weekly in November, has joined Metro on a contract basis as interim group publisher to help with the restructuring, Pulcrano says. The position of group publisher is open, but no decision has been made on a permanent hiring.

The formal separation by the two long-time friends and business partners culminates nearly 17 years of growth in two distinct types of publishing.

“(My employees) have a new sense of pride in their work,” Cohen said of the establishment of two financially and creatively distinct publishing companies. “[The community papers] had satellite offices, which didn’t deserve being called ‘satellites.’ It made them sound less important. Now, we have a headquarters for these community newspapers.”

Pulcrano says Metro/SVCN was one of the first companies to successfully embrace both community papers and alternative weeklies.

“When we did it, it was considered a very innovative idea,” he says.

Practical, too. The artistic drive behind Metro’s alternative publications helped shepherd original, award-winning reporting into its community newspapers, he says. In return, the community papers lent respectability to the alternative newspapers, allowing their ad staff to approach banks and other traditionally conservative advertisers — and win those accounts.

With maturity has come the need for new independence. While Metro Newspapers was financially successful, with a pre-division value of $20 million, there were growing pains, Pulcrano says. The split between Metro and SVCN is an amicable divorce along basic publishing philosophies. While both alternative and community newspapers strive to inform and entertain their readers, they usually achieve it by different means.

Cohen describes his ideal community newspaper as “fiercely local” with regard to coverage of school, government and city development

“I want it to be the town green, where people hang out, where they develop a sense of community.”

By contrast, Pulcrano’s vision of an alternative newspaper includes “great writing, artistic development, an independent perspective. We like to break new ground,” he adds. “We always have. The Metro’s papers hope to do so even more frequently now.”

An alternative newspaper, which is supposed to be edgy and adult, gets “watered down” when held to the standards of a community paper, Pulcrano says. Likewise, community newspaper readers may be offended by the advertisements and opinions published in their sister alternative publications.

And, he says, a mixed ad staff often has a difficult time selling space in two divergent kinds of publications. A community newspaper requires a different sales pitch from an alternative, and each caters to a different readership.

In the end, however, both alternative and community newspapers fill vital niches that large daily papers just don’t have the time or space to examine.

The division also reflects the personal development of the two publishers, according to Pulcrano.

“I think both of us enjoy running our own companies,” he says.

In the short-term, SVCN may add jobs to the advertising staff, but for now, Cohen is appointing only one new employee — a director of editorial projects.

“I really want to get a grip on what’s going on,” before making more staff changes, he says.

For his part, Pulcrano has not instituted any major changes at Metro Newspapers. He hopes the papers “can kind of refine its alternative identity” in the communities it serves.

Metro Newspapers publishes Metro Silicon Valley, Metro Santa Cruz, North Bay Bohemian and Oakland’s Urbanview. It also operates two Web-based businesses, Metroactive, a Bay Area-wide arts and entertainment service, and Boulevards, a network of city information sites encompassing more than 20 major addresses.

SVCN publishes the Campbell Reporter, Willow Glen Resident, San Jose City Times (a legal newspaper), Cupertino Courier, Sunnyvale Sun, Los Gatos Weekly-Times and Saratoga News.

Metro’s four alternative papers reach an estimated 500,000 readers in seven counties. It 100 people, distributes nearly 200,000 copies weekly and anticipates 2002 revenues of more than $10 million.

SVCN delivers community newspapers to 100,000 homes with 200,000 readers in the communities of Los Gatos, Saratoga, Campbell, Cupertino, Sunnyvale and the San Jose neighborhood Willow Glen. The company employs 50 people and anticipates 2002 revenues of $8 million.

Anne Hinch is a freelance writer based in Knoxville, Tenn.