A New Kind of "Joint Operating Agreement."
Earlier this year, in perhaps the first partnership of its kind, Metro Times signed an operating agreement with Keith Dye, editor and publisher of CityView, a five-year-old tabloid aimed at Detroit’s African American community. Under terms of the agreement, Metro Times provides CityView with production, sales, business, copy editing, calendar database, and delivery services in return for a split of the paper’s gross revenues. Metro Times also has an option to buy a minority stake in CityView.
“The goal of the partnership was first, to save CityView,” says Jim McCarter, publisher of Metro Times. It was not very healthy when we hooked up with each other. Keith used to do this by himself and with freelancers. Now he has a full-blown staff.”
After moving its operations to the Metro Times offices on May 1, 1999, CityView switched from monthly to bimonthly publication until September 1, when the paper went weekly.
Dye says the arrangement allows him to focus on editorial. “The change has been great. We have made improvements across the board. We went from a circulation of less than 20,000 to more than 40,000; from a monthly to a weekly; from 12 pages to more than 24 pages; and from 120 to 400 [distribution] locations. There has been a great improvement and I’m very pleased with they way things have been going so far.”
Dye and McCarter insist that CityView will remain true to its audiences’ interests despite its alliance with the white-owned Metro Times. They say the arrangement will only enhance CityView’s ability to provide news and commentary for Detroit’s African American community. Says McCarter, “We want [CityView] to have a separate identity; we don’t want it to be the ‘black Metro Times ‘.”
Dye concurs: “We’re not going to take it in an alternative direction. The black press has a particular format that is unique to it,” he says. “We have simply added an alternative format that gives a unique twist to the paper.” By expanding the entertainment section, CityView will focus more intensely on local and national music aimed at a young African American audience. The partnership has also resulted in expanded listings and classifieds sections.
“Now we can seriously consider more investigative pieces,” says Dye. “Our focus will continue to be the African American community, but we do hope that other races and ethnic groups will turn to CityView for what’s going on in metro Detroit.”
McCarter echoes Dye’s excitement about the partnership: “I think that the black papers [in Detroit] are more like community newspapers; they didn’t have anything that took an approach like an alternative newspaper — like CityView — and that’s a big deal. But the aim of the paper hasn’t changed at all.”
Dye is hopeful that the success of the CityView-Metro Times partnership will inspire other alternative papers to form alliances with the black press. “I think this is the first partnership of its kind. This possibly could serve as a model for the relationship between the African American and the alternative press where the two have mutual interests. I am excited about that possibility.”
Don Farley, Group Publisher of Alternative Media Inc. — the division of the Times Shamrock Company, which owns Metro Times — praises both the partnership and the vision of Jim McCarter: “My thought on the project was that if Jim had such a passion about it, my gut made me think it would work. I’m fully behind it. I think that it’s an excellent idea, especially because Detroit has a large African American population. I’d like to try [a similar partnership] in Baltimore, too.” Farley isn’t worried that partnerships with alternative papers will intrude on the independence of the black press: “I would only look at it as being something that would be welcome.”
Both papers are very open about the mutual benefits of the partnership. Proclaims Dye on the CityView website: “That means a wider selection of news, culture and entertainment for you. And while both papers keep separate identities, they combine to cover the region so you won’t have to seek other papers to satisfy your needs. ‘Nuff said.”