MOUNT VERNON – The Mount Vernon News was locally owned for more than 80 years. That changed Saturday, when the company announced it had been sold to Metric Media LLC, a Chicago-based company that operates more than 1,000 news websites across the country.
The newspaper announced in its Aug. 1 edition that it was entering a "new era" and that its new owners "understand the role of the community newspaper in today's media landscape."
While Metric Media currently owns 1,227 regional and business news websites across the country, the Mount Vernon News is the first print title it's acquired.
"The News has been and will continue to be the official record of what's happening in Knox County and the surrounding area," the company said Saturday, "but improvements are underway to bring the News to the next generation of readers and advertisers."
The Mount Vernon News was founded in 1939 through the merger of the community's two local newspapers, the Democratic Banner and the Republican News, which had co-existed in Knox County for 97 years.
The Culbertson family, of Mount Vernon, initiated the merger and proceeded to run the company for eight decades. Kay Culbertson served as the newspaper's publisher for 28 years before selling it this summer. She and assistant publisher Liz Lutwick will reportedly remain with the company in a consulting capacity.
Attempts to reach Culbertson for comment on why she sold the newspaper were not successful. She said in Saturday's statement that it's been her "good fortune" to be the publisher of the Mount Vernon News since 1992.
"I am going to miss seeing our staff members, friends and loyal readers," she wrote. "I wish you all well and hope you stay safe through these turbulent times. My hope is that Metric Media will continue the tradition that we have brought to you these many years."
For years, the Mount Vernon News has printed six days per week, Monday through Saturday, with the exception of a few holidays. While it did not say last week that its printing schedule would change, it notified readers online Monday that it would be moving to publication twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
"We promise to deliver more local news in two days than what you received before in six days," Publisher Kyle Barnett said in the online announcement.
It's unclear what the transition will mean for News employees. It's also unclear how it will impact the News' role as a community partner, both organizing and participating in local events.
In response to a series of questions regarding the transition this week, Barnett told Knox Pages that Metric Media is "excited to build the product back up with more local news."
"We hope to earn the trust of Knox County as the Culbertson family did over so many years," Barnett said in an email.
While Metric Media is based in Chicago, Illinois, the company said in Saturday's paper it plans to open an office in Mount Vernon. It's unclear if the newspaper will move from its current location at 18 E. Vine St.
The paper did not say if subscription rates or pay methods would change as part of the transition.
"We may be scaling back our printing, but we are going to bring increased coverage each and every week to what is important here in Mount Vernon," Barnett told readers Monday.
Barnett said the publication would continue to cover everything from local government to sports, and it would also produce feature stories on local individuals.
The newspaper's new owners have pledged to give it a "fresh look" with "larger pictures, different layouts and more local coverage."
"The new look will be visually pleasing and easier to navigate," Saturday's statement read. "You'll see more photos and stories rich with detail written by your neighbors, plus deals and specials available from all of your favorite local businesses. In addition, the News will be adding new features and pages, all with unique advertising opportunities."
The newspaper's new owners also plan to revamp the website "with the addition of more local content." They pledge to "continue to keep our readership up to date with breaking news, incorporating technology to assist readers and enhance stories," and to take down the paywall.
"This will allow all to share these great stories about the amazing people, organizations and businesses in this community," Barnett wrote.
The e-edition will reflect changes made to the print edition, he added.
Metric Media has been criticized nationally over the past year for its editorial approach, including from the Lansing State Journal, the New York Times, and the Columbia Journalism Review. Critiques include that the company's news outlets offer “political messaging” and that they are “partisan outlets masquerading as local news organizations.”
Barnett did not respond to questions this week regarding the company's editorial approach, or how it might play out in Mount Vernon.
Metric Media's mission statement, according to its website, is to "restore community-based news as the backbone of Democracy, to give citizens a voice on equal footing with government, corporations, and other powerful interests, and to make facts and data the center of every story."
It claims to work with "hundreds of freelance reporters around the country who adhere to strict journalistic standards – no political bias or favoritism, no unnamed sources, and a commitment to reporting only facts."
Barnett asked readers Monday for their "patience and feedback" during the newspaper's managerial transition.
"Please give us the next 30 days to show you what community news can be like again," Barnett said.