‘We’re making a shift’: Job cuts and new plans for two Metro Corp. magazines

Photo: AP

Just before Christmas, there was some surprise news in the New England media world, when word broke that Carly Carioli, editor-in-chief of Boston magazine, would be leaving his position at the end of the year.

Soon after New Year’s, the other shoe dropped: A statement from Metro Corp., owner of both Boston and Philadelphia magazines, outlining a restructuring that includes the development of a new native advertising and “custom publishing” arm, dubbed CityStudio, and the elimination of seven staff jobs—including three editorial positions in each Boston and Philly.

The statement also touted the promotion of Tom McGrath from editor of Philadelphia to chief content and strategy officer for the company. 

In Boston, the disappointment followed an earlier wave of hope, after the glossy magazine had absorbed senior staff from the defunct alt-weekly, the Boston  Phoenix, and made other notable hires. Before coming to Boston, Carioli had been the last editor-in-chief of the Phoenix, which folded in 2013.

Senior editor S.I. Rosenbaum, another Phoenix alum, was among those laid off last week. The news came as a surprise. “There was a sense we were doing well. We were jazzed about editorial,” said Rosenbaum, who said there was a strong segregation between the company’s editorial and business sides—business was out of the Philadelphia office, and in the Boston office, marketing was downstairs, and edit was upstairs.

Also let go was Erick Trickey, a senior writer picked up in early 2015 from Cleveland magazine. When he joined, “there was a sense that they were putting together a good team,” Trickey said. “They certainly weren’t contracting.” (Disclosure: I was offered a position with the publication in the summer of 2015, which I declined.) 

The company has acknowledged that it moved to “realign” expenses after 2015 revenues came in below expectations, cutting costs in some areas to allow for investment in others. In interviews with CJR, company executives also characterized the moves as an effort to be more efficient about integrating digital and print operations.

What we’re looking to do is put content people across channels, so rather than have one wellness person that covers for print, another for digital, we’re making a shift,” said Rick Waechter, Metro’s president and chief operating officer. “We want one person heading up each channel” in both print and digital.

Waechter also pushed back on the idea that the company might be retreating from editorial investment. Over the last three years, editorial spending has gone up 20 percent, he said, with growth in digital and events coverage. We will have more spending in 2016 than three years ago, but less than in 2015,” in editorial, he added.

Together, Boston and Philadelphia will maintain a total edit staff of about 50. That edit staff, Waechter said, “doesn’t include custom publishing components we’re rolling into CityStudio”—reporters and editors won’t be involved with native advertising or other custom content, like the program guide for the Boston Marathon.

While both magazines will continue to publish in print, the moves signal that the company sees its future growth opportunities in digital and “custom” content.

“Digital revenue has grown significantly,” said McGrath. “We’re not unusual. We think there’s a lot more growth in that part of the business. Custom content is growing,” he said, while it’s “up and down in print.”

As for the layoffs, “For the human beings involved, this is a rotten thing,” Waechter said. “These are all incredibly talented people.”

Among those people is Trickey, who came to Boston after 12 years at Cleveland magazine. “I had a great year working with a fantastic team,” he said. “I wish it had gone on longer, but journalism is a tough business.”

Rosenbaum agreed. “I’m not privy to the business side. I just know what we were doing: Putting out a damn fine magazine. That’s not always enough in this era of journalism.”

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Valerie Vande Panne is an award-winning independent journalist, currently based in Boston. Her work has appeared in the Boston Phoenix, The Daily Beast, Mashable, and Salon, among other publications. She is a former editor of Detroit's alt-weekly, the Metro Times. Follow her on Twitter @asktheduchess.