The Knoxville News Sentinel and Scripps: A Cultural Wrecking Ball Struggling to Maintain Relevance

Ever have that one friend who uses the same move over and over in a fighting game? Who elects for mutually assured destruction over teamwork? Meet the KNS.

The Knoxville News Sentinel (KNS), and Scripps as a whole, is facing a bit of a conundrum. Print media, with regard specifically to news intake, is dying a long and painful death. I really can not overstate how long, arduous, and painful this death is. If the KNS were a terminal patient with a tangle of tubes, pumps, and pneumatic breathing devices keeping it on the skirt-hem relevance — Scripps would be the sobbing widow-to-be frantically burning money in an attempt to spend one last glorious day with the fading remains of their loved one.

This was most apparent when the decision was made to change an aggregate of Scripps publications to partial-paywall publications, allowing access to ‘Premium Content’ (words that don’t follow an inverted pyramid layout) for those who subscribe to the paper. The funny thing about this move is that it directly points to online access, as a media, being the biggest competitor to print. It also shows that Scripps is desperately struggling to make an entire arm of news-specific print media a viable and profitable option. It’s a tough call: do you keep funneling money into an entity that is currently living off the breadcrumbs of Want Ads and Ted Russel Ford half-page ads — or do you become the Bad Man who killed print news for a town?

What is more interesting about this shift is the rise of the alternative publication market.

Quick question for you, just to break the fourth wall: When was the last time you saw someone leisurely reading the Sentinel while out on the town? Would you say that the number of times you saw this action was more or less than the number of times you’ve seen someone reading a Metro Pulse?

Killing off Metro Pulse wasn’t just a bad idea due to the obvious repercussions to Knoxville culture and writing — it also completely demolished any ability that Scripps had to reach the coveted 18-35 year-old demographic. It also directly impacts the businesses who advertised through Metro Pulse and removed a staple of Knoxville, The Metro Pulse ‘Best Of Knoxville’ Awards. Way to win hearts and minds.

Scripps is essentially making the same error that the music industry faced in 1996: an unwillingness to find a marketing approach that embraces new media. “People will always want a physical copy of music to hold in their hands.” The problem was that they would not. “People will always want a physical copy of the news to hold in their hands.” The problem is that they do not. The current marketing demographic for the KNS is the same for most local papers in mid-markets: older individuals (P1) and the bored (P2). That isn’t to suggest that local news isn’t important: it’s pivotal — specifically with regard to local politics. The solution to this problem isn’t to place opinion stories behind a paywall or to cripple the slowly-awakening culture of a community by taking away a staple sister publication. Additionally, taking away the publication at the forefront of alternative Knoxville culture isn’t the solution — it’s a symptom of the disease.

There was a quick push to let Knoxville know that they would not be left out in the cold with regard to culture. As part of the release regarding Metro Pulse on Wednesday, a tangible effort was made to state that would be the primary source for future arts and culture news. Calling this move insulting is, at best, an understatement. Metro Pulse was not simply a directory listing of who is playing at the Pilot Light for any given week; however, that’s how it appears to be viewed. Metro Pulse provided absolutely wonderful pieces on politics, culture, music, food, and the people who make up this confusing town that somehow thought making an artificial creek on top of an actual creek (Second Creek; World’s Fair Park) was a good idea.

As I write this, it is currently 10:00pm on Wednesday. Let’s see what Knoxville culture stories is propagating through their Facebook:

  • GoVolsXtra | Enter to win UT-Missouri tickets (cross promotion with KNS)
  • [Link] Were you annoyed by the sudden, inexplicable appearance of U2’s “Songs of Innocence” album on your iPhone? Well, Bono says he’s sorry.
  • [Link] Check out the PumPecApple: Three pies baked in a cake, stacked and iced!
  • [Link] Harry Potter spinoff ‘Fantastic Beasts’ will be ‘at least’ a trilogy.
  • [Link] Netflix to stream all of ‘Friends’ starting Jan. 1, 2015

I’m going to cut it off there. It took eleven posts before I hit the first post actually about Knoxville — restaurant health scores for Oct. 13th. That was posted yesterday at 2:25pm. Five posts later, another football post.

I struggle to find a comparison between a publication that has been with Knoxville for over 20 years and an absolutely horrid excuse for journalism that has nothing to do with its namesake. Perhaps it would be in the interest of those operating the Facebook to consider posts about Knoxville and those who make up its populace before posts wishing Usher a happy birthday. In a land of steak, Scripps took away all knives and forks but assures us that the spoons provided should be able to handle our eating needs.

This is more than “just an arts and culture paper”. Be it out of lack of knowledge or lack of concern, Scripps (and the KNS by proxy) are responsible for a magnitude of damage to Knoxville. Small niche businesses are impacted because their demographic is not the KNS. Local non-commercial stations like WUTK are impacted as one of the station’s tags, “Winner of the Metro Pulse ‘Best of Knoxville’ award (x) years in a row” is no longer a relevant statement — not to mention the mountain of cross-promotion that both medias provided one another. I fail to have even the slightest trust in the culinary opinions of a media outlet that has covered everything /but/ Metro Pulse today. Your parent publication created this issue — have a sense of ownership. Open a dialog. That’s what social media is for versus “McDonalds invites icky questions about its food”.

Scripps isn’t concerned about you, Knoxville.

Perhaps it is time to return the sentiment.

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