Metro Times lays off 8 staffers, editor works without pay during pandemic

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — A skeleton crew is all that's keeping Metro Times' digital and print publication afloat while the alternative weekly scales back during the coronavirus pandemic, its editor said.

The Detroit-based publication laid off eight employees Wednesday in each of its departments, including sales, productions, editorial and events, "in light of the unprecedented economic catastrophe brought on by the coronavirus pandemic."

A small team will continue with the Metro Times digital operations and publish a print edition as long as it is economically feasible to do so.

"It’s our sincere hope that after weathering this storm, we’ll be able to bring back this incredibly valued staff, but at the moment we can’t offer a timeline," the free weekly told its readers.

The cutbacks come as the majority of its advertisers cease operation during quarantine measures. The remaining employees are taking pay cuts and covering multiple roles, for the time being, Editor in Chief Lee DeVito said.

A small team will continue with digital operations and publish a print edition as long as it is economically feasible to do so, he said.

"I was asked to stay and to choose one other editorial staffer to join me. I couldn't, so instead, I volunteered to stay on without pay so we could keep two. Both took pay cuts," said DeVito, 33, from Royal Oak.

"Why? This is how my brain works in a crisis, and this was the option that sat the best with me and that I thought was best for the paper. I'm fortunate that I have family that can help support me during this time. If I could have somehow done more to keep everyone, I certainly would have."

Metro Times' Editor in Chief Lee DeVito said he just can't quit and forfeited his salary to keep on two additional employees to cover the pandemic and entertainment news.

DeVito, a graduate of the College of Creative Studies, became editor in November 2016 after working with the company for three years. DeVito said he watched how a similar weekly, the Seattle Stranger, was functioning during the outbreak and anticipated cutbacks in Detroit as the virus spread.

The announcement of cuts Wednesday was surreal for employees who are waiting out the worst of the pandemic, he said.

"To make matters worse, we couldn't even go to the bar after work to commiserate and lick our wounds, because all the bars are closed," he said laughing. "It's cruel."

Metro Times is published every week by Euclid Media Group, where cuts came across the board to its sister publications in Ohio, Florida, St. Louis and San Antonio. 

Chris Keating, its publisher, said laying off employees was the worst-case scenario.

"Never in our wildest dreams did we anticipate this, and we are heartbroken to have to let go of these hardworking and talented people. My hope is that in the very near future, we can go back to business as usual," he said in an online statement.

Founded in 1980, Metro Times has reported on Detroit's news, arts, culture, music, film, food and fashion. The print publication has 500,000 readers and 400,000 digital readers each month, according to the company.

The weekly is asking for donations to re-hire staff and keep its journalism operations running during the pandemic.

"It warms my heart to see that people are donating in our time of need," DeVito said. "I think people need information about what is happening and some entertainment during this and we're going to continue to put out the paper as long as possible."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_