Every local publication is Metroland now

Metroland copies left in distribution stand

A bunch of people have asked us what we think about the recent situation surrounding Metroland. We've mostly steered clear of the topic because the status of the weekly was up in the air. But it's been two weeks now since it last published. And while there's still some hope Metroland might find a way out of all this, maybe a new backer of some sort -- it also sounds like this very well could be the end.

If that's the case -- that Metroland has published for the final time -- it will be sad. Because it'll be the end of a four-decade run. Because the local media scene will have a hole in it. Because people will lose their jobs.

It will also be sad because, in a way, every local publication is Metroland right now.

The solution is usually harder than it looks

The news that Metroland was in serious trouble wasn't a surprise. The rumors have been out there for years -- that checks had bounced, that payroll had been missed, that there were larger financial problems. (You'll no doubt be shocked to learn that media people like to gossip. A lot.)

Were there things that Metroland could have done to avoid ending up in this spot? Probably. From the outside, at least, it appeared slow to embrace the web and social media. Maybe its content stuck a little too closely to the 90s-era alt-weekly playbook. And it's theoretically possible it could have diversified its revenue streams.

Things on the inside of any business or organization or government are almost always more complicated than they appear from the outside.

But it's also probably true that those of us on the outside don't really know what could have -- or should have -- been done. Things on the inside of any business or organization or government are almost always more complicated than they appear from the outside. All those solutions that are obvious to those of us watching at home are also obvious to people in the thick of it. The difference is that the people on the inside can see all the realities and frictions and tangles that make implementing those obvious solutions a hell of lot of harder than they first appear.

And it might not have mattered

Even so, Metroland could have done everything right and still met this fate. The last decade has been a rough one for the financials of media businesses of all sorts. This has been especially true of alt weeklies, as some of the biggest names in the category have crashed. But pretty much every type of old-school media outlet (and even some new-school ones) has been kicked in the shins repeatedly.

The internet is the universal solvent of media. And as a culture and an economy, we're basically just dumping everything in a huge vat of industrial-strength internet and waiting to see what happens.

You know the reason why. The internet is the universal solvent of media. And as a culture and an economy, we're basically just dumping everything in a huge vat of industrial-strength internet and waiting to see what happens. Craigslist was an early example of the result when the internet and traditional media come into contact with each other: a significant chunk of revenue for dailies and weeklies -- classifieds and apartment listings -- just melted away. And the rest of the popsicle keeps getting bitten off piece by piece -- search ads on Google, ever cheaper online banner ad networks, targeted Facebook campaigns, sponsored online content, ad blockers, the complications of publishing to mobile platforms, and on and on.

If you're a media org that relies on actually printing things out on paper -- and getting people to pay you for putting ads on that paper -- it's going to get worse. Because ad spending on print is still very much disproportionate to the amount of attention people are giving to print (slide 16 in that deck). This isn't the bottom.

Well, you say, Metroland just wasn't big enough, or sturdy enough, to make it through the crash. Maybe. But look at the Times Union, which is in a class very much of its own locally. Its reach far exceeds that of other local competitors, it's able to turn out content on a scale no one else can approach, it's backed by a large and stable corporation. Even with all those advantages, the TU has still gone through multiple rounds of buyouts and the people who remain there haven't had a raise in something like forever. That's not to say the Times Union is on the verge of collapse -- far from it -- but it's clearly not as robust as it once was.

But there are so many possibilities... right?

Of course, the upside to the internet is that it affords media organizations the opportunity to try all sorts of new things, and at relatively little cost. And some newer orgs, not weighed down by old business and publishing models, are building empires by embracing the current state of things. This is mostly happening at national and international levels, because there's the potential there to amass the really big audiences that can open opportunities for the really big advertising money. (It also doesn't hurt that Vox, Vice, and Buzzfeed are floating on pools of venture capital. Let's see how things go after that dries up.)

It's just that now everyone is fighting everyone else for the attention of readers/viewers/users -- even the people right in your own backyard. And this is an odd situation for local publications. For so long the main daily competition was the people across town. But now its those people (to the extent they still exist), PLUS a zillion other outlets from all over, PLUS baby pictures on Facebook and dog videos on Youtube and snaps from friends. Oh, and a lot of that competition for attention also now increasingly is attached to ad space inventory that's competing with your own.

So great was the promise that outlets actively worked to encourage and train their audiences to share and find their content on the platform. The problem is that Facebook now owns that audience -- and if you want access to it, Facebook would like you to pay. Or perhaps you'd just like to work for Facebook directly.

Sometimes this competition doesn't register itself as such right away. So many media orgs saw Facebook as an ally as it directed torrents of traffic toward their content. So great was the promise that outlets actively worked to encourage and train their audiences to share and find their content on the platform. The problem is that Facebook now owns that audience -- and if you want access to it, Facebook would like you to pay. Or perhaps you'd just like to work for Facebook directly.

The situation with Facebook points to a dystopian future for the internet and media organizations, one in which Facebook (or Snapchat or whatever) essentially is the internet for most people. Let us hope Mark Zuckerberg and the Newsfeed algorithm are benevolent overlords.

So, local...

troy record composing room circa WWI
The composing room in the old Troy Record building, roughly a century ago. / photo via NYS Archives

Where does all this leave locally-focused media outlets, like the Times Union, or the Troy Record, or Metroland, or (gulp) AOA? Well, there's a probably a spectrum of possibilities, and it ranges from something like "stripped down and constantly forced to adapt" on one end to "absolutely hosed" on the other.

Orgs like the Times Union -- backed by a large corporation, a dominant force in its local market -- will probably end up being OK. They still have (relatively) big audiences, and they (should) have big enough infrastructures for tech and sales that will allow them to adapt and connect with advertisers of varying sizes. (Somebody's gotta write and deploy that sponsored content, or whatever the next thing is.) The transition will continue to be painful, but they'll make it in some form.

Everyone else? Yikes. The issues of scale on the modern internet are not in our favor. There might be a way to make it by being super careful about costs and trying a bunch of different approaches to both content and revenue generation. We've seen that in part here at AOA: We've kept overhead very low (example: no office), and tried to supplement our ad revenue with events. But it's a scrape. And at some point being small and light prevents you from doing the sorts of things you need to do to adapt, like building out new forms of publishing or experimenting with new ways of making money. You can only pedal so fast on a bike.

A lot of smaller outlets are still moving forward based in part on long-ago established momentum -- pre-existing relationships, niches where they don't face much competition, ad buying habits that just haven't changed yet, older readerships that still like the actual paper or the dinnertime news. That momentum is bound to run out eventually. And when it does, that will probably be the end for many outlets -- no matter how hard they try.

What happens when they're gone? Maybe something different -- better even! -- grows into the resulting empty space. But it's not going to happen right away. And it's far from guaranteed.


You are asking all the right questions.

Great analysis (and writing!). One caveat: As in the past, media does have niche markets, which include high-touch smart local, that open alternative possibles to mass scale. It's not all about the clicks. Any more than the old New York Daily News was the only model out there during the heyday of the tabloid.

Really well written. Maybe when you folks find some free time (ha!) you could host a forum where we hear more about your own experiences and continue the conversation. Would be interesting.

On this:
(It also doesn't hurt that Vox, Vice, and Buzzfeed are floating on pools of venture capital. Let's see how things go after that dries up.)
Not only are there concerned mumblings about venture capital in general, but also ad tech specifically. Something to watch.

Well done. Depressing, but well done.

Beautifully written and spot on. I for one never cared if Metroland lived or died, it wasn't for me, but any loss to a central repository of local goings-on is a loss, and for whatever reason the T-U never figured out how to do that in any relevant way. You folks and Nippertown filled that niche quite nicely for me, but I can see that it's a challenge to turn that into revenue. By building community in small ways, you're really doing something different from what the major media outlets did. With that comes loyalty and something very attractive to certain types of advertisers.

The Facebook problem is definitely a problem, but I'm not sure that it IS the internet for the younger generation. My daughters and their college-ish age friends barely have a presence on FB. As we did at that age, they just seem to pull event information out of the ether.

Going through the tumble-dryer and wondering if you're the sock that makes it into the basket or the sock that disappears is definitely not fun. But I feel like AOA is a basket-sock.

Thanks for this!

For me AOA fills exactly the niche (i.e. What's to do/see/eat/read/hear/watch in the Capital District) that Metroland used to. Now if you only started offering a crossword puzzle...

Perhaps a bit of optimism, or at least proof you are on the right path with regard to your questions.

'Facebook (or Snapchat or whatever) essentially is the internet for most people'

Remember when that was AOL? Where are they now...We in the internet business were terrified they were going to own the internet as we knew it.

The only constant is change.

I'd like to know who wrote this (did I miss the byline somewhere?). It was a very well-written and insightful essay, and without actually knowing Metroland's situation beyond the rumors, closer to the truth than you may know. With more resources (that just weren't there), Metroland could have done a lot to improve its content and its digital presence. And I can tell you with some inside knowledge that it probably wouldn't have mattered, in terms of the business model.

Metroland has had financial issues for as long as I remember. Friends who worked there in the late eighties / early nineties complained of payroll checks bouncing. Not much was ever really done to fully rectify that situation. More ad revenue and some physical changes to the paper itself pushed it through it seems, but Stephen Leon, although a very intelligent individual with a great journalistic pedigree, should have held that needed fix as paramount. Then he needed to look a little farther down the road to see the changes looming on the horizon that were coming to print media and position it accordingly. Too late now for any gradual change.

I hope something resuscitates the Metroland. It is a special paper, a people's paper that still leans left and green - unlike all the corporate crap or 7th grade English papers that serve as news paper filler these days. It is a weekly that helped me to think of Albany as a real city, a la DC's city paper or Boston's Phoenix. Without a publication like this, we might as well all move to Clifton Park, shop at Walmart, and only see concerts at the Knick...

Now you can hire Byron Nilsson as the AOA food writer.

Excellent piece.


Can we all put our heads together to figure out the next business model and format for local media?

Well done. Thanks. Very sad about Metroland. It will be missed...a lot.

"And the rest of the popsicle keeps getting bitten off piece by piece -- search ads on Google, ever cheaper online banner ad networks, targeted Facebook campaigns, sponsored online content,... " and "Facebook points to a dystopian future for the internet and media organizations, one in which Facebook (or Snapchat or whatever) essentially is the internet for most people."

everybody please read Jaron Lanier's Who Owns the Future?

Thank you, everyone, for all the responses.

@Stephen: Thank you. I wrote this post. And I have a feeling we share some similar frustrations with the difficulties of trying to adapt while operating with constrained resources. It's kind of like the old line about trying to rebuild an airplane while it's still flying.

@Paul Bass: I agree, it's not all about piling up huge numbers. And I think there is probably a way, somehow, to carve out space for something small. But the game is getting harder to play at that size.

@-B: Mary and I have talked a bit about trying to put together some of the stuff we've learned while doing AOA. It's just that 1) time and 2) we haven't really been sure how many people would be interested. You know, it's kind of a niche thing.

@Carl: "The Facebook problem is definitely a problem, but I'm not sure that it IS the internet for the younger generation." That's a good point. I get the impression the picture for internet use among younger people is a lot more varied and nuanced than the way people talk about it. The popularity of message of apps and things like Snapchat are really interesting.

And, thank you, I hope we're an in-the-basket sock.

@Rebecca: Do people still do crossword puzzles on paper? (I'm really asking because I have no idea -- I figured all that stuff was in apps or something now.)

@komradebob: It's true, the indomitable empires rarely are that. It's just that it seems like Facebook has built itself to a level we haven't seen, yet. And its ability to deliver advertising to people -- and what it could do in the near future -- is kind of awe inspiring and frightening.

@Danielle: I'm looking forward to talking about it the next time we see each other. (And congrats on your new job.)

Sigh. Sigh. Sigh.

There's a reason I'm currently in PR after a decade as a journalist (including surviving two layoffs.)

Frankly, the loss of Metroland sucks. So does the gutting of the Record and the Saratogian. More media is good.

Unfortunately, most of us journos would like to get paid. I personally don't require a lot - but being able to pay my rent, put gas in my car and eat more than ramen are all things that are very important to me as someone in my 30s. And yet.... there are so many expectations that we should work for free or peanuts just for the sake of a byline. No! I will not.

Here is a fun flow chart: http://contently.net/2015/06/05/play/flowchart-work-free/

One of the things I really admired about Mary and Greg when I first sat down with them to talk about contributing to AOA (back when the site was still in its infancy) was their belief in paying contributors. It wasn't going to be big bucks, but the point was that they wouldn't expect people to work for free.

I could go on and on.

In summary, regardless of whether you agreed with Metroland or not, regardless of the myriad number of issues that might have gone on distinct from the problems of today's media landscape -- the loss of another voice in the community is frankly, a bummer.

Great piece, Greg. Really thoughtful and well put together. As a freelancer for 30 years I struggled with pulling back from print, but I wasn't seeing any other path. I've landed in a great spot, but have remained a student of the media and it breaks my heart to see so many changes happening so fast around here. But we will all have to deal with it. Thanks for making AoA a great voice.

Well said. Quickly, as someone who moved to the area six years ago and was not around for Metroland's heyday, and as someone who runs a free newspaper, here are my quick observations as to why alt-weeklies, like this one, are fading:

1. They did not court the next generation of readers. This paper is pretty nonexistent on college campuses, for example, and the stories just don't apply to such readers. College students will read newsprint, if the stories are helpful for them.
2. The layout is very 1990s and grey. It's just a wall of text and boxes. I notice even the king of the alt-weeklies, the Village Voice, is a bit crammed together lately.
3. National-type stories in a weekly, local paper just don't work anymore in this age of the Internet.
4. Google News does not care about the types of stories these papers publish. They are mostly first person essays and rants that just can't compete with, say, the quality of writing on Vice.com.
5. The sex ads. They alienate more people than they attract in today's PC world. They also seem so retro. 1-900 phone lines? Stuff like this scares off the younger crowd; its creepy to them.

If the Metroland folks are reading this, can I have some of your racks? Over the years, I have recycled other defunct papers' racks, unfortunately. Don't blame yourselves. It's a tough market!

@greg The crossword puzzle was the only thing Metroland offered for me (and the work pal who would solve it with me) at this point.

I Will say that I used the Metroland to look up movie times, see concert dates, and for potty training my dogs. LMFO that this liberal POS throwaway wrote incessantly about people like me paying my fair share of a taxes ultimately fell apart and were closed down for.....get this.....still laughing....failure to pay taxes! How am I gonna sort out my sexual hang ups without reading that back page???how am I going to connect with the girl in line at the Subway shop without that other page.... How am I going to enlighten myself without reading those articles by that lady with the French name that walked everywhere and babbled endlessly about nothing? Still sad to see it go.... Going to have to start using NY Times to teach my dogs to crap! It was good for keeping track of the days of the week because it seemed to come out on Thursdays! AllOver Albany kicks butt! Despite its tendency to suppress free speech and not print things it finds offensive or against its values....strong censorship is the hallmark of a liberal free thinking mind! "I will fight to the death for your right to agree with me" gotta love it.... Next up to collapse.... Colleges!

A cogent and timely piece.

Re finances: most of the fulltime staff was compositional, most of the writers freelance. I learned early on not to wait for or depend on my $75 checks; I continued to write despite their absence. METROLAND had a world view and civic goals with which I agreed. I believe most of the other writers also found more reliable ways of supporting themselves without giving up their journalistic passions. Besides, it gave us all something to gripe about, a sense of commodity.

Peter Iselin took me on in 1986, giving me a weekly forum in which to rant like a less-cranky Andy Rooney. Stephen Leon afforded me the same space. I loved being the comic relief amid so much earnestness. I also loved writing; over the course of twenty years, the editors nudged and tutored my inchoate ramblings into a form consistently readable by humans, no small feat.

So thank you, METROLAND, for being a positive voice in a city that breathes negativity, for entertaining and informing, for teaching me writing discipline, and for giving me a public forum in which to be to be silly and creative. The hole created by its loss is enormous, and it will most likely be filled by clickbait and other "media" that does nothing to reflect our city or our lives.

P.S. for all the trolls who say good riddance to a liberal rag filled with sex ads: METROLAND never lied to you; you should try facts sometimes, they're good for you. And while you're at it, try sex too; it's fun.

This is the thoughtful obituary Metroland deserves. Thank, Greg.

Nice piece. Though I always find it amusing how much people in the media like to pontificate at length about the media as they grossly over estimate the general public's overall interest in hearing about the media.

Metroland's main role for many of its readers was the ads/coverage/listings related to music, movies, restaurants and the arts. This will be sorely missed. I think this presents a prime opportunity for a new entity to fill this niche for the area, mostly likely as an online presence (though I'll always prefer it to be in hardcopy form). All Over Albany I'm looking at you...

I'm persuaded that there was a moment -- a 400-year moment -- when journalism could be funded with ad revenues, but that the pairing was never a natural fact, just so. Best to stop lamenting, purge nostalgia, and find an unsentimental way to get on with things.

Also, Metroland survived in later decades on the idea that it was, as an "independent," simply good by definition, thus could attract an abstract loyalty. Hey, it's free and timely and "hip" and in front of me, so right on! For two minutes.

But the writing sucked in that masturbatory English-major way and nobody has looked forward to the next edition for a very long time. Time to go. More than time.


Mr. Q, spot on as usual. The capital district is truly a place that breathes negativity. It's a homey forced labor camp with internet. The gulag is cuomo and his cronies. Please consider writing a regular piece for AOA. Your rants are sorely missed.

Maybe some people aren't upset that the Metroland has closed. However, to me, it means that there's one less group of watchdogs out there keeping our local politicians and public servants accountable. Having found out about many incidents of local corruption and questionable ethics over the last few years through the local newspapers, I'm not sure that this downward trend is a good thing.

The upside is we won't have to see another Metroland "fashion" issue ever again. Yaaaaaaaay!

Looked forward to the weekly crossword, where can I access the crosswords that Metroland featured?

As someone who worked there for 13 years, it's always interesting to read what people thought was going on. (Back when we had a lot of trade, what was going on was a lot of after-work drinking on Wednesdays. Ah, the good old days.)

A few random points:

The late 80s-early 90s M'land was the Peter Iselin era. After the bankruptcy, it became the Stephen Leon era. For a long time it made money. Until it didn't.

Metroland's disastrous web presence was a decade-long clusterf*ck. I may write about that someday. I probably won't. The appearance and success of AOA and Nippertown should have been a wake-up call. It wasn't.

I will defend the last fashion issue, which was 2 years ago, because Erin Pihlaja reinvented the format. She set up a template that could have been expanded on, but after she left there was no one to do it.

No, I don't know what's currently going on. Someone should ask Steve.

I'm very late in adding my comment here, but thanks for the goodbye story about Metroland. As a 45-year-old who has always been in this area, I have relied on Metroland for 20+ years as a source to learn about a band playing, a restaurant to try, an event to attend. I've seen and become fans of Super 400, Bloom, the Wait, Eastbound Jesus, Great Day for Up, Coal Palace Kings, Stellar Young and many others specifically because I saw some blurb about a show in Metroland and checked them out. Likewise a bunch of restaurants and eateries. Not living in Albany, I would have had no idea to look for Hudson River Coffee House, for example, till I saw a mention of it. I agree w/ other posts that the website was pretty dreadful and so I relied on the print edition, and really will miss it. I'm not the most social media savvy person but certainly not totally out of touch, and I do enjoy this site (All Over Albany) and others mentioned such as Nippertown. But I don't see anyone else providing a complete and handy list of what the heck is going on in our area! I happen to be looking to get out tonight 01/06 and I really have no idea where to find some ideas - without checking in on multiple sites and maybe checking the Low Beat website, or the Ale House website, or hoping for a facebook tip, etc. - shotgun approach. So thanks for the article, I will miss what Metroland provided, and I encourage AOA or others to try to replace some of the essential things Metroland did that are now left, in my opinion, pretty well unattended.

Hi there. Comments have been closed for this item. Still have something to say? Contact us.

The Scoop

For a decade All Over Albany was a place for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. It was kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who could help you find out what's up. AOA stopped publishing at the end of 2018.

Recently on All Over Albany

Thank you!

When we started AOA a decade ago we had no idea what was going to happen. And it turned out better than we could have... (more)

Let's stay in touch

This all feels like the last day of camp or something. And we're going to miss you all so much. But we'd like to stay... (more)

A few things I think about this place

Working on AOA over the past decade has been a life-changing experience for me and it's shaped the way I think about so many things.... (more)

Albany tightened its rules for shoveling snowy sidewalks last winter -- so how'd that work out?

If winter ever gets its act together and drops more snow on us, there will be sidewalks to shovel. And shortly after that, Albany will... (more)

Tea with Jack McEneny

Last week we were fortunate enough to spend a few minutes with Jack McEneny -- former state Assemblyman, unofficial Albany historian, and genuinely nice guy.... (more)

Recent Comments

My three year old son absolutely loving riding the train around Huck Finn's (Hoffman's) Playland this summer.

Thank you!

...has 27 comments, most recently from Ashley

Let's stay in touch

...has 4 comments, most recently from mg

A look inside 2 Judson Street

...has 3 comments, most recently from Diane (Agans) Boyle

Everything changes: Alicia Lea

...has 2 comments, most recently from Chaz Boyark

A few things I think about this place

...has 13 comments, most recently from Katherine