Monday, March 01, 2010

As Tribune fades, Gannett hunts for Metromix fix

[Metromix is known for racy photos; above, Detroit Free Press]

Tribune Co., Gannett's bankrupt partner in the Metromix syndicate, has quietly backed away from the entertainment news venture known for photos of scantily clad women in nightclubs. And if one of my readers has it correct -- and they sure sound plugged-in -- Gannett hasn't had much luck finding a replacement for Tribune.

The partnership seems to have been unraveling since at least last summer, when alternative weekly Baltimore City Paper reported that Tribune's Sun was merging its Metromix site into the paper's online entertainment section. Sure enough, the Sun's Metromix site now redirects to When I spot-checked other Tribune newspapers, such as the Hartford Courant, I found the same switch. In all those cases, the sites look nothing like regular Metromix pages. The only sign of what they once were: the easily overlooked, "Powered by Metromix,'' off to one side.

A Tribune Co. spokesman did not respond to an e-mail I sent asking for comment. The Chicago-based company publishes The Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Sun and other dailies.

Metromix has been a high-profile linchpin of Gannett's portfolio of digital ventures, which include mammoth jobs site CareerBuilder, advertising services company PointRoll and consumer behavior tracker Ripple6. Gauging Metromix's fortunes is difficult, because Gannett doesn't break out revenues for the individual companies. Instead, GCI aggregates them in the digital revenues portion of its quarterly financial reports. In the most recent, for the fourth-quarter, overall digital revenue was actually down 7.2% from the comparable quarter in 2008. That's worrisome, of course, because digital is Gannett's best shot at revving up profits.

Retreat timing a puzzle
Tribune is struggling to exit from U.S. Bankruptcy Court, after investors piled on too much debt when real estate tycoon Sam Zell (left) took the company private in 2007. For that reason, it wouldn't be surprising to see Tribune jettison ventures that aren't producing. Still, the company's retreat from Metromix is puzzling for its timing; less than three months ago, Tribune and Gannett announced a big expansion that took the entertainment sites to another 27 U.S. markets.

Gannett joined the Metromix partnership in 2007. Jack Williams, then president of Gannett Digital, said in a statement at the time: “Together we can take the established and successful Metromix brand and deliver it -- with local authenticity -- to all the nation’s top markets. The concept is simple: make it fun, make it relevant, make it the place to go.''

'Tribune has bailed out'
But a Gannett Blog reader, Anonymous@8:56 p.m., claimed in a comment last week that Williams is no longer involved with Metromix, raising questions about who's shepherding the venture as Gannett hunts for a Tribune replacement.

"I was speaking with a very good friend of mine there and she told me . . . Gannett has been having trouble finding an investor for Metromix, and that since Tribune has bailed out on this investment, she said that Hearst was approached, but they are not interested."

Their comment continued: "If you ask the Digital team, they do not even support the product anymore, as all functions have been moved to Chicago. Our site deployed it and we feel like we could build a better product than what Metromix has put together. We are already starting to build our own social-entertainment site and we will promptly remove Metromix."

What's going on with your Metromix site? Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write jimhopkins[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the rail, upper right.


  1. Metromix is a true Jack Williams disaster. Gannett has invested millions upon millions of dollars in this joint venture and we have people running Metromix that report to NOBODY!

    I used to work in Gannett Digital (before being laid off) and most of these employees have wiped their hands clean of this shit storm of a mess.

    Kara Walsh the "CEO" of Metromix spend most of her time justifying her marketing budget and at the sametime she laughs that she has the best job since has "no real boss"

  2. Metromix, is the worst place for advertisers to run their banner ads. People looking at the pictures just keep clicking next to see the next photo of scantily clad women. No value for advertisers, their Click Trough Rate will be horrible. An advertisers worst nightmare, pay by CPM and get no return.

  3. Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.

  4. Metromix is a joke. Have you ever actually tried to find good information on one of the local sites? Give me a break.

    I'm repeatedly frustrated by how incompetent the online databases are. Try searching for an event, concert, class or restaurant on any Gannett site. It's near impossible - the calendars and listings are absolute shite, for both the main papers and Metromix. We can't even do basic information right! It's time to hang up the cleats.

  5. Metromix bashing is a popular sport within Gannett, and that's understandable. When a company treats its employees with distrust and contempt, when all the ideas flow down from the top, when innovation is discouraged, people are naturally going to complain. Having said that, I want to say that Metromix gets a bad rap. The potential is there for a good, useful site. I have used the site in my local market and I have used it in other cities when I travel, and it can be helpful finding a restaurant or showtimes. Caveat: It needs constant care-and-feeding, which makes it vulnerable to Gannett's insistence on understaffing its operations. And regarding the sexy pictures, well, that's where the eyeballs are. Ask Gawker Media and the, both semi-respectable media outfits which run their share of lewd party pix to goose pageviews. I hate Gannett as much as the next gal, but I hate the way some of my compatriots who comment at this blog reflexively bash everything this company does, forgetting that there are real people (i.e. not overfed execs) working hard on this projects.

  6. 7:14 -- Good point. Metromix in itself is not a bad idea. The Metromix guy at our paper is great. Sadly, I fear he'll be in a vulnerable position when the company decides this is just another failed initiative. Gannett has had attention deficit disorder for years, but it's become really obvious now that the money isn't easy.

    The overpaid executives need to do something to justify their salaries so they constantly overhaul things and launch new projects only to kill them within a matter of months.

    It would be comical indeed if there weren't real people behind all the projects.

  7. In Louisville, the C-J had built its own entertainment site around Velocity. Then the company comes in with Metromix, and that local identity was destroyed. Will be curious to see what happens if/when Metromix falls. I suspect the Velocity site will return quickly.
    In Louisville, locally created moms and pets sites were taken over with "national" branding from Gannett. Both were perfectly good local efforts, but Gannett thinks everyone wants to eat at McDonalds or Starbucks.

  8. A few factual corrections to the blog post and the comments that followed:

    1 - The CEO of Metromix reports to a Board of Directors, as most CEOs do.

    2 - Jack Williams is an active Metromix board member.

    3 - Metromix and Gannett are not “hunting for a Tribune replacement”. Metromix is open to exploring prospective new partnerships and investor opportunities, as most early stage companies are.

    4 - The spot check of Tribune markets missed the fact that Tribune’s largest Metromix site – Metromix Chicago – continues to operate as it always has; it also continues to be the local entertainment site with the highest engagement metrics in the Chicago market.

    5 – Regarding the statement “all functions have been moved to Chicago:” the central organization behind Metromix has always been based in Chicago.

    One statement that was correct is that Metromix recently expanded to 27 more markets. This along with continued enhancement of the existing sites positions the network to continue solid revenue growth in 2010.

  9. The Metromix sites are all over the place. If they want this to be a national brand all the sites should look the same. That isn't the case. It's marketing 101 - present a similar brand message across the board. Obviously Gannett and Tribune failed their marketing lessons. But who doesn't know that already.


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