The locks were changed that afternoon.
For Jack Neely, former associate editor and writer of long-time column “The Secret History,” this meant the loss of hundreds of in-progress documents and half-finished stories, in addition to his job. Immediately after being notified, Neely wondered what steps to take next.
“I was carrying my stuff out and thinking, what the hell am I gonna do now?” Neely, who had worked at Metro Pulse for 19 years, said. “And at the same time thinking, Knoxville needs something like what we were doing, whether we were doing it or not.”
In the days afterward, Neely met with Metro Pulse’s former editor-in-chief Coury Turczyn and former arts and entertainment editor Matthew Everett to discuss the feasibility of creating an independent paper of their own. The tremendous community support and outrage on their behalf fueled the decision to move forward with the project.
“We almost didn’t have a choice,” Turczyn said. “As soon as we got fired people were like, ‘You’ve got to start over right now, and it’s got to be a print paper. Get to work.’”
So they did — first refusing severance pay that would tie them to non-disparagement and non-compete clauses in their contracts with Scripps. Then, they recruited Tricia Bateman, a nationally recognized art director for HOW Magazine; Jerry Collins, a business manager with experience at Tennessee Valley Authority and FedEx; and David Doyle, a former Metro Pulse columnist, as a web designer and IT expert.
After months of planning like it was their full-time job, the group created the Knoxville History Project, a non-profit focused on local Knoxville stories with a for-profit subsidiary: the Knoxville Mercury, whose name comes from an 1850s-era local paper.
The hybrid set-up allows the Mercury to be supported by donations in addition to traditional advertising. So far, these donations have taken the form of office space, copy machines, wireless internet service and even 5 pounds of Benton’s Bacon.
The group also raised more than $61,532 from its Kickstarter page, well surpassing the original $50,000 by the Jan. 9 deadline.
“Crowdsourcing gives us this manifold ownership,” Neely, who will serve as director of the new nonprofit, said. “It means a lot to me that these folks who have different points of view, different political parties, different everything are out there helping us come back.
“It’s not any one powerful person imposing this paper on the public.”
After Metro Pulse folded in October, several journalism start-ups, like the Hard Knox Independent and 411 City Guide, cropped up in the Knoxville community, which Neely said could be filling voids left not only by Metro Pulse, but now-defunct publications like the Knoxville Journal and Knoxville Voice.