When the financially struggling Metro Times was purchased in December, the new owners pledged to resurrect the in-depth, dogged journalism that once made the 34-year-old alternative weekly so popular.
Then came a series of questionable moves that has demoralized some staff members and raises questions about the sincerity of Euclid Media’s pledge. In May, the Metro Times purchased Real Detroit, a competitive alt-weekly that was primarily entertainment, scantily clad women and ads. Promotions were often disguised as journalism.
On June 25, the Metro Times ran a promotional cover story about a suburban bar that pays big advertising dollars to both weeklies. Traditionally, the cover story is reserved for a well-researched, hard-hitting feature. Instead, the story was paid by an advertiser.
“The article has no reporter’s byline,” wrote Anna Clark for a critical response in the Columbia Journalism Review. “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.”
A similar promotional story also ran recently.
Valerie Vande Panne, an award-winning journalist who became editor-in-chief of the Metro Times in April, said her ethical standards are high, and she does not plan to run advertorials that aren’t clearly marked as such. And they won’t run on the cover under her watch, she said.
Panne also posted a link to the Columbia Journalism Review story on Metro Times website.
Those standards aren’t as high for John Badanjek, former owner of Real Detroit and new partial owner of the Metro Times. Badanjek said advertorials were common in Real Detroit and recently ran in Metro Times because of contractual obligations.
“We’re still sort of finishing them up,” Badanjek, considered a brilliant ad man, said.
Last month, the company laid off four Metro Times employees .
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.