Less than nine months after the new owners of the beleaguered Metro Times hired an award-winning journalist and Michigan native to lead the transformation of the alt-weekly into a journalism powerhouse, the new editor-in-chief said Thursday she is “happy” to be leaving the publication.
Valerie Vande Panne, a Grand Rapids native with an impressive journalism resume, tweeted that she was parting ways with the storied weekly, which was purchased in December 2013 by Cleveland-based Euclid Media.
Happy to say I am leaving @MetroTimes.
— Valerie Vande Panne (@asktheduchess) January 8, 2015
Vande Panne said her departure was prompted by “differences in editorial vision and management style,” but she declined to elaborate. Euclid Media didn’t return any calls as of Friday morning.
“I loved the work I did, and it was a delight to work with the Metro Times team,” Vande Panne told me. “I feel really good about what we were able to do.”
No doubt, the quality of journalism improved during Vande Panne’s tenure. The Metro Times featured investigative stories about Detroit’s bankruptcy, the tax-financed Red Wings arena, Gov. Rick Snyder’s mangled education program and the city’s abysmal public transit.
But internally, the Metro Times is struggling, according to three staffers I interviewed for this story. Morale is low, especially after the publication and Real Detroit merged into a “superweekly” in May. Loyal employees were laid off, and the transition has been anything but seamless. The line between journalism and advertising also blurred when the Metro Times began running promotional features – even on the cover – without indicating they were ads.
The nationwide boom at alt-weeklies in the late 1990s ended with advent of online news and advertising a few years later. In 1999, the Metro Times was estimated to be raking in $8 million in annual revenue – more than twice what it makes now. At that time, the Metro Times circulated 110,000 copies, compared to roughly 50,000 today.
The Metro Times has not indicated yet whether they have begun a search for a new editorial-in-chief.
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.