By now, most readers have heard that the spate of mergers and acquisitions raging across the alternative newspaper industry has come to Detroit. Art Howe, president and publisher of Montgomery Newspapers in suburban Philadelphia and that city's alternative City Paper, has signed a letter of intent to purchase Alternative Media, Inc., which includes the Metro Times, the Orlando (Fla.) Weekly and the San Antonio (Texas) Current.
"This is the industry of the future, I believe, for publishing," said Howe after meeting with MT staff Monday afternoon. "I decided it would be more fun and a lot more interesting to build a superb group in my own vision than to be consolidated by somebody else."
Howe says that vision means publishing newspapers that are "compelling, fun, provocative and must-reads in the communities they serve." He says he has no plans to change the Metro Times at this point.
The sale price is confidential but it is expected that the deal will be closed by the end of the year. Metro Times founders Ron Williams and Laura Markham cited personal concerns as the motivation for selling now.
"I've been growing this company for 19 years without any kind of real break and ... I'm tired," says Williams.
Markham's husband works in New York, and her own travel schedule made making a family with their two children difficult. She also has a doctorate in psychology but has never really worked in that field. She looks forward to opening a practice on the East Coast. "It's a privilege to be able to do meaningful work, and I consider myself lucky to have had 19 years with Metro Times."
Montgomery Newspapers is a 32-paper chain. Howe intends to lessen his involvement in Montgomery and retain his position with City Paper when he becomes CEO of AMI. It is not clear whether City Paper and AMI will become one corporate entity.
What is clear is that Howe -- who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1986 while at the Philadelphia Inquirer for a series of articles on the IRS -- sees mainstream media as a fossil of the past. "Alternatives have a willingness to take chances. They're fresh; they possess a hell of a lot more energy than dailies. Most of the media is so goddamn boring; it sucks, television; frankly, the Internet sucks for the most part; metropolitan newspapers, dead. The model is completely broken, and they know it."
Howe lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and three children. To Metro Times readers, Howe says, "You have a wonderful newspaper that's going to continue to be wonderful."