A renewed local focus is obvious on recent covers

A year after its local newsroom was “eviscerated” with a round of layoffs, commuter paper Metro Philly is restaffing its editorial department under new ownership.

In January, NYC-based Schneps Media announced it had acquired both Metro Philly and Metro New York, adding to a portfolio of 35 community papers, 28 magazines and specialty publications, 20 websites and half a dozen podcasts.

It’s the family-run media company’s first venture outside of the New York market, vice president Josh Schneps confirmed to Billy Penn. “We’re really excited about Philly,” Schneps said. “We feel Philadelphia is a great city, and we want to be a part of it.”

Plans include boosting original coverage, Schneps said, calling “quality content you can’t find anywhere else” a cornerstone of his family’s 35-year-old business.

Metro Philly never stopped production after its former owners gutted it, and still has a print circulation of 65,000 — it’s distributed for free at subway and rail stations — as well as a weekly audience of 525,000 people including online readership, according to current management.

Until recently, the stories that filled its 28 or so pages were mostly wire reports and news aggregated from other sources. That began changing last month, when Schneps hired former Northeast Times managing editor Melissa Mitman to lead the Philly newsroom.

“We want to be a vital source of information for Philadelphia,” Mitman said. “We cover features, sports, and would like to beef up coverage of social justice issues, as well as crime.”

She already has a full-time features writer on staff, she said, with a news reporter starting soon and additional hires on tap. The Metro Philly sales staff, which mostly stayed on after last year’s decimation of the editorial team, will continue under publisher Susan Peiffer. All will work out of the existing office on Market Street

Metro Philly’s editorial expansion runs contrary to both local and national trends.

Across the country, more than 1,800 papers have folded, and the industry has shed 47% of newsroom staff over the past 15 years, according to a report by Pen America. Over that time, Philadelphia has also seen a downturn, with alt-weekly City Paper ceasing to exist and other papers like Philly Weekly slimming down.

Underlying the problem is that the traditional methods used by newspapers to bring in revenue — print advertising and listings — are no longer moneymakers.

Not only are companies increasingly reaching customers directly through social media, but if they do buy ads online, the price is miniscule compared to print. The majority of clasifieds and real estate listings have similarly transitioned away from print and onto the internet.

Even Philly’s paper of record feels the burn. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently gave itself five years to pivot to a bottom line supported by digital subscriptions, or risk going out of business.

How has Schneps Media weathered the storm? It’s not some “special sauce,” said Josh, who started working alongside his mother, founder Victoria Schneps, after a stint as an investment banker. Now 41, he credits their company’s success to simple dedication, loyalty and flexibility.

“We have always reinvested in the business and the people,” Schneps said. “We began hiring digital editors before others did, [and] tried to develop a strong foundation with different channels.”

He declined to provide specifics, but said Schneps Media is profitable because “we have to be” as a family company with no outside investors. About 200 people are currently employed there, with about 25% in editorial positions.

Print is still a “driving force” for advertisers, Schneps said, but the company also produces between 50 and 100 events each year. These accomplish a dual goal of bringing in revenue and connecting with readers. The company is planning to explore events in Philly — and local editor Mitman is looking forward to participating.

“I want to increase the interaction with the residents,” Mitman said. “I would love to hear from the readers, what issues are affecting them, what they care about, and how we can inform their daily lives.”

Danya Henninger is director and editor of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the membership program. She is a former food...