Monthly Archives: October 2014

Norris Dryer

Norris Dryer died on Thursday, after several years of faring the unpredictable weather of one of the more dire forms of cancer. We should be thankful to the fates that they allowed him to witness Game 7 of one final World Series. Norris was a major baseball fan, once one of the most loyal fans at the Knoxville Smokies’ Bill Meyer Stadium.

The fact that he was a baseball fan might surprise those who knew him mainly through any of his three public personae. He was Knoxville’s foremost leader of the Green Party, its longtime chairman. He appears in the current ballot as the Green Party nominee for Congress. He ran two years ago, especially proud of the fact that, for the first time in history, his Green Party was listed on the ballot. He was never a contender the incumbent worried about, but he claimed he spent less per vote than other candidates. “The only difference between the Republican and Democratic Parties,” he once told me, “is how fast they fall to the feet of corporate America.”

He was until recently the longest-tenured violinist in the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, having first joined in 1967, before many of his colleagues were born. Seated at the far left of the stage, Norris was readily recognizable for lean figure and bald pate and a certain visible intensity that was his own.

He was for many years one of the most recognizable voices on regional public radio, a longtime announcer for WUOT known for his crisp intonation. He’s the only known person in history to have read the entirety of Cormac McCarthy’s Knoxville-based novel, Suttree, on the radio, 20-something years ago. The novel was a personal favorite of his.

Norris lived in a walkup apartment in the Old City and drove a yellow Volkswagen Thing. I’m pretty sure the only times I’ve seen a thing in our current century were when Norris was driving it. He was one of Knoxville’s characters most easily recognized from a distance. You didn’t even need your glasses.

He was one of our city’s more creative curmudgeons, and one of his notable pet peeves was that upon the renovation of Market Square, 10 years ago, the city restored and installed the historic City Hall bell, at some considerable expense, but did not bother to install any sort of plaque to tell people what it was and why it was there. People just stare at it and wonder, he said. All it offers is the name of a bell company in Baltimore and the date 1883. I agreed with Norris, and tried to look into the matter for him, on several occasions. In 2006, I wrote a column about the omission of the plaque. In years to come, I researched the bell’s background and volunteered some text for the purpose to the appropriate authorities. Eventually Norris and I learned that putting a little plaque on a brick and concrete pedestal is, when bureaucracy is involved, nearly impossible.

Norris never stopped asking me when that was going to happen. He was a man of persistent preoccupations. A quarter-century ago, he was frustrated that no one knew who Mulvaney Street was named for, and it was something he brought up frequently. To him, and to me, it was an intriguing mystery, enhanced by the fact that it formed the title of a famous memoir by poet Nikki Giovanni. The city, less charmed by that ancient mystery, chose to start calling it Hall of Fame Drive instead.

He had no family, but had many friends who appreciate his eccentricities. I last saw him about two months ago in Happy Holler, about suppertime on the back patio of Flats and Taps, and was startled at his appearance. For some months he had seemed to be getting better, but that evening he was thin and gaunt. I’ve rarely encountered anyone who looked like that outside of a hospital room. But his handshake was firm, and he defied a deadly illness he to enjoy a beer with friends on one more rare soft summer night. Those moments were important to him, and should be to us, too.

Satanic Verses: A British blues fan solves an old Knoxville mystery, long distance

That bluesy old old piano song has a name that always makes people laugh. First recorded in May, 1930, by East Knoxville singer Leola Manning, it’s better known now than it was then. Just in the last 20 years, it has made it onto at least three CD collections. A couple of local performers have interpreted it for nightclub audiences. YouTube has posted it more than once, and it’s gotten a few thousand listens. And, just lately, an international effort by Germany’s Bear Family Records is setting out to preserve that song and dozens of other recordings made at the St. James Hotel in downtown Knoxville.

Of the hundreds of recordings associated with that interesting moment in popular-music history, this is the title that jumps out at you:

“Satan is Busy in Knoxville.”

It’s not about vice, as many chortlingly assume. After some nervous laughter, you may begin to wonder what it really is about. As it turns out, it’s a serious song, describing in some detail two apparently unrelated murders. The singer was a woman who made her living working in a school cafeteria, a young mother reacting to these horrors afoot in her hometown.

“In Nineteen and Thirty, in the beginning of the year, so many people was made sad,” it opens.

The singer, who also wrote the song, was one Leola Manning. Although she lived a long life in Knoxville, few paid much attention to her music until after her death. I first heard of her from maverick Texas performer Steve Earle, who had encountered her music while on tour in Europe, and became fascinated with her lyrics and her rare voice.

The available recordings are scratchy, and the words aren’t enunciated with radio-announcer precision anyway, but here’s how it’s been transcribed:

“When Frankling was out, earning his bread, no fear or troubles he had;

He was driving in the sun along the road

And a robber jumped on his running board

Who murdered this man nobody knows

But the Good Book says they’ve got to reap just what they sow

‘Cause Satan is so busy in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Not many hours later, a colored woman her name was True

She was found with her throat cut

From ear to ear below the Mountain View School….”

Those details are so specific I’ve always been convinced they described real crimes. Years ago, taking the opening line literally, I combed over both daily papers through the month of January, 1930, and found nothing resembling those incidents. Discouraged, I put it aside.

As if happens, I just didn’t look quite far enough. English blues aficionado John Newman solved the mystery from over 4,000 miles away.

I’ve never met Mr. Newman, but we’ve corresponded over the years concerning other Knoxville musicians. By comparing 1930 death certificates, available via, he found a couple of names that sounded plausibly familiar to “Frankling” and “True,” as music historians have transcribed the murder victims’ names, over the years.

On and other sources accessed through the Nottinghamshire Public Library, Newman learned, Lefford Franklin and Amanda Toole died in Knoxville in February, 1930, hours apart, both victims of murder. Newman thought maybe they inspired the lyrics to Manning’s song. He sent me the death dates. Naturally, I looked them up in the local papers.

Lefford Franklin, 28, originally from Jefferson City, was a deliveryman for the Swan Bread Co. which was, along with Kern’s, one of Knoxville’s big bakeries. He was finishing a day’s work, on Saturday evening, Feb. 22, dropping off $3.20 of bread at the W.E. Holland & Son’s corner grocery, on College Street at Eubanks. (Now, I think, that’s the quiet corner of College and Iredell Street.)

Franklin’s emergence as a bread-truck driver may call for a reinterpretation of the song’s reference to “bread.” Although it’s hard to be sure what verb Leola uses, he wasn’t just earning his bread, he was delivering it.

As Franklin was leaving Holland’s store, a man jumped on the truck’s running board, entered the cab, and in a struggle with the driver, pulled a .44 pistol and shot Franklin twice so close that it burned Franklin’s clothes, piercing his heart. The truck hit a wall and turned over. A stray shot hit a Knoxville College building. After leveling his gun at a witness who fled down a service alley, the killer vanished.

The assailant was described as a black man, and the police first picked up a neighborhood white man who had blacked his face with burnt cork, but then released him and arrested an actual black man. Whether that man was convicted, I don’t know. The book that might direct us to his trial is missing from the Knox County Archives.

Newman’s assumption that what everybody thinks sounds like “True” might actually be “Toole” bears out. Listening to one of the conveyed versions of the recording, I think I can even hear the L at the end. And, of course, it rhymes with “Mountain View School.”

An Amanda Toole lived on Jasper Street, just south of Dandridge Avenue. At 42, she was a woman who did as she pleased. She was married, but also entertained gentleman callers. The day she disappeared, she’d been drinking.

A pedestrian along a path found her body in a wooded area behind the Mountain View School, the brick elementary school at the corner of Dandridge and a since-erased street called Crowder. It was a particularly awful scene. Later, another pedestrian found the bloodied “white-handled razor of fine quality” not too far away.

Her husband was detained for questioning, then released. Later, another man was arrested for the murder, but on the plea of defense attorney Webster Porter, who was also editor of the black community’s East Tennessee News, he was released a week later. It was “a crime against justice and freedom to hold him a week without a hearing,” he said, persuading a judge.

Whether justice was done in either case, I don’t know. But we do now know that Leola Manning’s “Satan is Busy in Knoxville” is as much a piece of nonfiction journalism as was her other best-known song. “The Arcade Building Moan” described a fatal fire on Union Avenue just a few weeks after those murders.

Within 10 weeks of when they all happened she wrote her songs about these horrors and recorded them at Brunswick-Vocalion’s project at the St. James Hotel, on Wall Avenue near Market Square.

Her recordings were released on 78 rpm records, but didn’t get far. Leola Manning’s six sides sold an unknown number of copies, to be heard by an unknown number of people, in that first year of the Great Depression.

She had enough of recording, went home to East Knoxville, and devoted the rest of her life to church and family. She apparently never recorded again, and in fact never told her family that she’d ever cut a record. But she stayed in touch with local musicians. Eccentric jazz fiddler Howard Armstrong knew her well. And here’s a coincidence. Among her local favorites were the famous black gospel group Swan’s Silvertones, who first started singing together in the late 1930s, and appealed to her religious sensibilities. They got their name from their sponsor, Swan’s Bakery.

Leola Manning married Eugene Ballinger, a guitarist she sometimes worked with—some people think that’s him accompanying her and the piano player on the record–and for the next 60 years was known not as a singer, but as a loving mother and a guardian angel of the homeless and desperate along Central Street.

She died in Knoxville about 20 years ago, apparently unaware that people had just begun listening again to the music she made so long ago.

Satan’s been plenty busy in Knoxville in the 84 years since Leola Manning made that memorable recording, but there’s been no one to remark about it quite like she did.

October Notes

First, I want to thank my genius son, Sam, for this website. He tried to talk me into a website four or five years ago, and reserved the address for me. Thanks, I said then, but I already communicate with the public as much as I want to. Things are different this week, and I’m grateful Sam had the foresight to look out for old Dad.

I’ll be posting here at least weekly, for as long as you want, and perhaps longer.

I’ll open Blog One with some probably ineffective rumor control. Word in the ether is that I am (a.) expecting employment with the daily paper, (b.) writing scathing blogs under a pseudonym, or (c.) deathly ill, or perhaps dead already. None of these are true.

Of course, my denying them will convince some that all three are true.

I have no secret identities, except the ones I sometimes used at Metro Pulse over the years, that is, drama critic George Logan and Edwardian historian Z. Heraclitus Knox. I think there was some other fellow, too; I don’t recall for certain. But I don’t own a cell phone or a Facebook account, and I have never tweeted or texted or twerked in my life, although if you have a photograph of me doing one of those things late at night at Preservation Pub in some prior decade, I may not be in a position to argue. I’m not opposed to any of the electronic practices of our times, but have not prioritized them in my personal budget.

The first blogs I ever wrote, 15 years ago on the website K2K, were publicly critiqued in Knox County Commission, as evidence that journalists were, as imperfect human beings, biased, and perhaps that experience left me jumpy about it. The only blogging I’ve done since then has been via my seldom-seen Metro Pulse blog, the frequency of which was always limited by my ability to find my crib notes about how to blog. I’m terrible at remembering procedural sequences, whether it concerns blogging or starting a chain saw. And then there’s the matter of my most recent password, which I often had a hard time finding even when it was taped to my wall.

My ignorance of modern marvels owes something to the fact that it’s been some years since I’ve had a motive to find something to occupy my time. For the entirety of this century, Metro Pulse and books and talks and other freelance responsibilities have consumed nearly all my waking hours. I’d work a regular working week downtown, lucky when I could catch the 5:50 bus. Then every Saturday found me in the McClung Collection, often researching a Secret History that I decided was timelier than the one I’d just completed. Then every Sunday I was writing clues for the Metro Pulse crossword puzzle Ian Blackburn had prepared.

The only times I could keep Metro Pulse down to a 40-hour week were the weeks I was on vacation. Working on vacation was always my choice. I had such a backlog of stories, too many to tell in one lifetime, that I felt I couldn’t waste a single issue, and I didn’t want to annoy readers with a lame “Jack is on vacation” note.

No one was telling us to work that hard. I wouldn’t have done it just for a salary. We did it because we made Metro Pulse what it is, or was, without anyone telling us what to do, and we were proud of it and thought it made a real difference in our city.

Of course, after the long week was done, I had other things to do. Evenings are when I work on books and talks. In the last six weeks alone, I’ve given talks to roomsful of strangers on the subjects of art photography, local jurisprudence through the centuries, indie cinema, notable financial panics, architecture, and the future of journalism. I don’t know much about any of these things, but I learn enough about them to give a satisfying talk. An unexpected perk of this job is a liberal continuing education, but you do have to work at it.

I work on all sorts of random projects, mostly sitting at the computer. When I need to take a break, I’m inclined to get the hell away from keyboards and screens of all sorts. That’s when I like to cook, something simple like catfish, and to sit on the back porch and listen to jazz and sometimes read something by Graham Greene. You may like to do something else, but that works for me.

That, along with my Presbyterian instinct for thrift, and my horror at the prospect of carrying on my person anything that’s more valuable than I am, when at any moment I might get rained on or run over, is why I don’t carry a cell phone, and why I’m not intimate with the allegedly social media.

It’s not that I’m hiding, as some suspect, or that I disapprove of what all the rest of you all are up to. We live in interesting times, and I’m watching with interest.

But lacking other handy options, I’m going to give blogging another try, to see how it goes. This is my official notice.

My next blog will be shorter.

My main request is that you don’t worry about me personally. In the last four days I’ve seen people flinch when they see me, and give me the limp handshake I’ve felt only at family funerals. The other reaction, which is an improvement, is to buy me a beer. I appreciate all that, but it’s my own shortcoming that I just can’t get drunk as much as you all want me to. Maybe next month.

See, I’ve been working on two book projects for a year or more, and am behind on both. I have some more work after that. Without Metro Pulse, I may finally have this local-history thing down to manageable 40-hour week. Maybe I’ll finally even get to that damn novel.

Of course, these projects don’t come with health or retirement plans, and that’s something to worry about. And I have a stubborn tendency to put much more work into books and other projects than I meant to. I’ve never made minimum wage on a book. But they’re fun to make. I’ve done real work, and writing a book is not really like real work.

I will miss the weekliness of Metro Pulse, I’ll miss my talented colleagues, I’ll miss the immediate responses from smart readers. We had regular followers in Hong Kong, Cape Cod, Chicago, Nottingham, New Orleans, London, Morristown. I probably spent two hours a day just responding to them. I will miss having a bathroom downtown, and a phone, and a computer, and a chair and a window just above the marquee of a grand old theater, overlooking one of the busiest streets in the region. I’ll miss having a place where I can sit in the dark and look out and wonder what all those crowds are scurrying to see or hear.

I knew that part couldn’t last, and I knew it the day we moved in, more than eight years ago. The second floor of the Burwell never looked like an office for a scrappy free weekly. It’s an office suitable for a law firm, or a foundation, or, as it had been for a century before we moved in, a prominent insurance company.

For the record, the men’s room at the Burwell was exactly what you would expect of the men’s room for a free weekly. But the rest of the office looked like it should be occupied by people making three or four times our salaries.

An alternative weekly should be located in an old warehouse, or even an old parking garage or burnt-out factory, perhaps a superfund site, a place with exposed wiring and rats and a problem with break-ins, a place its owners had once intended to tear down. For a journalist, luxury is embarrassing.

I’ll miss my colleagues. All of them, including the freelancers I worked with, but I want to mention a couple I worked most directly with for many years and who didn’t get their names listed as prominently as often as those of us who were mostly writers did. Matthew Everett, who first began working for us first in the ’90s, before several years of adventures elsewhere, handled a hell of a lot of work with the music section and the calendar, especially as our staff was reduced, and legal concerns ended our longstanding intern program. Keeping up with all the moving parts of an entertainment section requires skills I lack. I know, because 30 years ago this month, I was named entertainment editor of a glossy monthly called Citytimes. It endured my leadership for about six weeks.

And Coury Turczyn, whom I actually met at Whittle Communications right about 27 years ago, when we were both low-level editors for ostensibly national magazines. Coury’s the main guy who got me involved with Metro Pulse so long ago, and he’s the best editor I’ve ever worked with, in terms of finding syntactical, organizational, and logical problems with my work, but also in finding writers I didn’t know existed. He was also a champion in getting us out at a reasonable time on deadline day. There was a time, in the last decade, when it was not unusual for several of us to still be working there at 10 or 11:00 at night. Under Coury’s watch, we were almost all done by 6:00. Every week, he absorbed the stress of all our little crises.

It’s remarkable that in the final weeks there were just 11 of us, including the sales staff. There were once more than twice that many. For the last several years, we’ve been working our asses off. None of us would have done that just for money. We did it because we were proud of what we had put together, and because we thought it was important, and because it was fun.

Metro Pulse has witnessed some major changes to the city of Knoxville, since 1991, and though we’re not investors or architects or elected officials, we’ve repeatedly found ourselves in the middle of things. Remember Knoxville in 1991? If you don’t, you have lots of company.

We were flogging Market Square back when it was empty at night and all weekend, and people thought of it as TVA’s personal lunchtime food court. We hailed the idea of a downtown movie theater when cinema professionals were assuring us they knew about these things, and it was simply impossible. We’ve repeatedly raised the idea, flabbergasting to many of our elders, that old buildings have value. We’ve seen the rebirth of real festivals in Knoxville; in the early ’90s, festivals were sad, lonely things, and erstwhile festival organizers informed us that Knoxville was inherently unfestive. We also heard that Knoxvillians would never choose to live downtown. Lately we’ve been looking around town, for other interesting streets and neighborhoods beyond downtown, and found quite a few of them. I don’t know, but I have the impression that we’ve played a role just in getting people interested in this old town again.

If I’m not sobbing and gnashing my teeth, it’s partly because I never really got used to the idea that human beings could make a living this way. It just doesn’t seem natural. Work is supposed to be unpleasant. Isn’t that why workers get paid, to compensate for it? Isn’t that why they are so eager for time off? I never wanted time off from Metro Pulse. It was interesting almost every day–and then we got recognition for it, and the gratification of causing a stir. People called and wrote every day, because they cared about what we were writing about as much as we did. It almost didn’t seem fair to the rest of humanity that even after all that we should also get a salary, even if it wasn’t a salary that would impress most freshly betasseled owners of bachelors degrees. It was a living, and I feel lucky that it was. I’m not sure what else people would have paid me to do for the last 19 years.

Also moderating my reaction is the fact that this isn’t the first, or second, time I’ve been laid off from a periodical publication. Thirty years ago this fall, I was arts and entertainment editor for a glossy monthly called CityTimes, a magazine based in a hole in the wall on Central Street. I’m not sure, but I think it may be a step great-uncle to CityView. The word “City” as a prefix was in the air in the ’80s, kind of like the word “Metro” was in the ’90s. In my youth, “City” was not the first word that came to mind when we thought of Knoxville. But somehow CityTimes seemed to be growing in stature and circulation until, suddenly that fall—I think it was just after Halloween—our primary investor, who was also invested much more heavily in the coal industry, got some bad news about a mine in West Virginia, and quit us, leaving us squirming and trying to find borrowed space for a magazine that was seeming more and more unlikely.

When it ended, my wife and I were expecting a baby, and the same month we were evicted from our apartment in Fort Sanders for a secret dog. (As it turns out, a Labrador Retriever is difficult to hide.) Then my Volkswagen was totaled when I was rear-ended by an uninsured teenager. Then, perhaps unsurprisingly, I was hospitalized for a heart-rhythm disorder. Just monitoring it and getting the welcome opinion that it wasn’t going to kill me turned out to be more expensive than my whole car. For drama, October 2014 doesn’t compare to December 1984.

Nine years later, after six years working as an editor for Whittle Communications, the unlikeliest journalistic enterprise in Knoxville history, I was associate editor for an ostensibly national publication aimed at doctors’ waiting rooms. It shouldn’t have worked, and didn’t. Five years after its splashy launch, advertised with full-page ads in the New York press, it was just over. At the time, my kids were 3 and 8. Though I found freelance and part-time work almost immediately, it was years before I found a job with family health benefits.

This time, my wife and I no longer have dependents. Both kids are college graduates with good jobs. The afternoon before we got the news about Metro Pulse, my tax accountant had reminded me, rather grimly, that for the first time in almost three decades we were no longer eligible for tax deductions.

I’m just saying that for me, the timing could have been worse.

Most of my colleagues have more diverse backgrounds in media than I do, and it’s safe to say they’re all handier with social media than I am. They’ll land on their feet.

Today I’m still a guy who writes words for public consumption, but for the moment I’m no longer a journalist, at least not any more than everybody else in our bloggy world. There’s no longer a reason for people to get nervous when I walked into a room. They’ll no longer look at me uncertainly and say, “This is off the record, right?” Then again, I’ll also get fewer tickets to shows, fewer invitations to receptions, fewer tours of renovated buildings. I’ll adjust.

There are a few things I won’t miss. After 19 years, there were some things I was getting weary of. The name is one. “Metro Pulse” sounds like something a fresh college grad came up with in the early ’90s, employing words trendy among alt weeklies back then, and it was exactly that. I once led a minor campaign to rename Metro Pulse, and failed. Some other staffers disliked it, too, but convinced me the brand had momentum with advertisers and readers alike, and we didn’t need to mess with that.

And by 2002 or so, some former colleagues will affirm, I thought the column called Secret History had run its course. I’d made my point, and wanted to move on to something else. But I kept writing it, just because I didn’t know where to stop, and could never think of the other thing I was going to do. Since I began it as an occasional freelance column in 1992, I’ve written about 1,000 of them. And I’m afraid there are still several thousand more in my to-do files. Maybe I’ll get to them somehow, if only here on this here website.

I can’t predict the future of print journalism. Learned people declare the Internet is killing it.

Much of that assumption’s based on the premise that what we want, need, and are able to sustain and afford in the last dozen years or so is what we’ll want and need and be able to sustain and afford forever. Computer technology is amazing, but it’s also the most expensive and complicated means of mass communication in human history. The computer I’m working on cost hundreds of dollars, and it’s nine years old, and it’s no longer working perfectly. Nine years isn’t old for a lawn mower or a refrigerator or a radio, but for a computer, it’s beyond elderly, officially too old even to donate to the homeless.

And most unsettling to me, the Internet’s promise of unlimited storage is already proving fallible. If I want to find a newspaper column that Bert Vincent or Carson Brewer wrote in 1955, it’s as easy as a quick trip to the library; they’ll have it in both paper clipping form and on microfilm. But try to find a column I wrote in, say, 2007, using the Internet, and you may find it somewhere, but then again, you may not. It’s a matter of luck. Some things I wrote 15 years ago are still getting batted around. A couple of old pieces I still get responses to, from people on other continents who seem to assume I wrote them last week, and that’s amazing. More typically, even if these articles got linked around a lot at the time, they vanish, and all you get from Google is an “Error” message. Or, perhaps worse, they get changed and garbled somehow. I don’t know how it happens, but things just e-rot somehow. The pictures vanish, or change to other pictures of something else. Last week I looked for one piece I was especially proud of, from 2006. I found that several links to it had shut down. When I found one copy, it was missing a few things. And it had another reporter’s name on it.

I’m proud to say the McClung Collection keeps a cardboard file with my name on it, and paper clippings within, and they’ll be legible in 100 years.

It’s a brave new world. Maybe we’ll adjust our expectations of the past to suit the Internet’s busy decrepitude. Maybe in the future the past will no longer exist.

I digress.

But I suspect that much of the assumption that the Internet is killing print journalism is connected to the post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc fallacy. But the fact is, newspapers have been failing for 300 years. But somehow all newspapers that have closed since about 2000 have closed because of the Internet. It’s the new excuse, and a handy one designed not to hurt feelings. You don’t have to say you weren’t imaginative enough, or smart enough, or that you didn’t have your heart in it, or that you didn’t work hard enough. “It’s because of the Internet.” Of course.

Some of the most notable newspapers in Knoxville history did not outlast Metro Pulse by much. The first newspaper in Tennessee history was the Knoxville Gazette, which notably opened publication in 1791, when Knoxville hardly existed, with the serial publication of a Thomas Paine’s controversial book-length essay, The Rights of Man. It was a heroic thing, on the dangerous frontier, to bring such interesting concepts to practical-minded people. The Gazette barely survived its founder’s sudden death, and lasted a total of 27 years. The most famous newspaper in local history, Brownlow’s Knoxville Whig, the searing Unionist paper which caused its editor to be burned in effigy as far away as Texas, lasted only 20 years. Metro Pulse lasted 23 years. It’s a pretty good run, historically.

If alternative dailies are dying because of the Internet, as some claim, Metro Pulse is a particularly contrary example. Metro Pulse lost money for most of its 23 years. Some years in the ’90s were especially dire.

But last year, the year before, and the year before, our old paper was doing better than ever, breaking even, even making a modest profit now and then. It took painful pay cuts and long hours to make that happen, but we finally arrived at that place, and having arrived there, felt confident about the future.

Individual owners and corporate owners have different standards for what makes a business viable. They have different motivations. Individuals have more fun with their investments.

You can compare a free weekly to a yacht. Individuals sometimes have yachts, just for the enjoyment of having a yacht. Yachts are sometimes beautiful and fast and worth the trouble.

You enjoy a yacht, you go places in a yacht. Maybe you’re proud of it, you tell people at the opera or the golf course that you own a yacht, and it starts a conversation. Maybe you have a party in a yacht and invite all your friends. But you don’t necessarily expect to make money on a yacht. It’s good to minimize your losses, but making a profit on a yacht is an extraordinary thing. The same is true for an Airedale or a swimming pool or a BMW. The same is true for an old theater or a high school or a city’s government. Most of these things don’t turn big profits. That doesn’t suggest those things are worthless, or unsustainable, or dying.

Some magazines are run like yachts. The New Yorker is one of America’s oldest and most respected magazines, has always been owned by individuals, not corporations. It does not make a profit, as a regular thing, and didn’t make a profit even in its long-ago days before the Internet, when James Thurber and E.B. White worked there. It’s a weekly publication that does not predictably make any money at all. But it’s 90 years old, and nobody’s counting off their final days. That’s just because certain individuals like to own the New Yorker, maybe because they like to read the New Yorker.

Maybe people wouldn’t mine coal or manufacture chicken parts unless it was an industry that predictably made big profits. For those businesses, profit is the main thing. Maybe journalism is different. Maybe it’s more like a school or a museum, making income, perhaps sometimes with a surplus, but with occasional losses covered by philanthropists.

Earlier this month, the University of Tennessee’s business school got a single gift, from a single local individual, in an amount that would sustain the staff, printing, and distribution of a free weekly newspaper–like Metro Pulse–for more than a century. (I don’t expect that to happen, especially not with that individual.)

I’m more certain about another thing. I’ve watched this newspapering matter pretty closely, from within and without, for the last couple of decades. There’s a good market and, more urgently, a need in my hometown for something like Metro Pulse. By any other name.