Metro Boston, free subway paper, shuts down

Circulation was shrinking amid phone-obsessed riders

Metro Boston, the free daily tabloid known for its provocative front pages, abruptly ceased operations Wednesday after providing commuters with news for nearly two decades.

The Boston Business Journal’s Don Seiffert broke the story, reporting that the subway publication shut down following the sale of its sister newspapers, Metro New York and Philadelphia, to Schneps Media. Schneps Chief Operating Officer Bob Bennett told Seiffert he didn’t know what the plan was for Boston’s Metro.

But a call to Metro advertising director Susan Peiffer yielded a voicemail that said, “Unfortunately, Metro Boston has ceased its operations. We thank our readers, advertisers, partners and vendors for your years of loyalties.”

memo to staff from publisher Ed Abrams and Peiffer issued on Wednesday said it didn’t make sense to continue to operate the paper after the New York and Philadelphia Metro papers were sold, in part because they could no longer share central office resources.

Staffers learned they had worked their last day on January 3 via email, according to Boston Magazine, which partially credited the paper’s downfall to the rise of news reading on cell phones. It’s unclear how many people were laid off, but Boston Magazine’s Spencer Buell said only one editor and a few advertising staff remained last summer.

The daily tabloid had a fizzling circulation of around 50,000 near the end, and saw its heyday in 2005 when that number was 300,000.

Metro International, the original parent company, sold Metro Boston, along with the Philly and New York papers, to SeaBay Media LLC in 2009. The New York Times gained a 49 percent stake in the paper in 2005 for $16.5 million, which was later transferred to John Henry when he purchased the Boston Globe and the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester from the Times in 2013 for $70 million. Henry turned a profit on the deal by selling the Telegram & Gazette and the Globe’s real estate, but he still retained his stake in the Metro as recently as 2018.

Former staffers and freelancers at the Metro are lamenting the paper’s end,  and editors at Boston’s other publications are calling this a loss to the continually shrinking media landscape in the area.

Metro Boston was the last free tabloid daily. Jason Pramas, executive editor at one of Boston’s remaining free weeklies, DigBoston, wrote, “The collapse of any professional news outlet is dangerous at this moment in American history. Each publication or station we lose is another nail in the coffin of democracy. Communities need to organize to rebuild our shattered news infrastructure—especially at the local level.”

Pramas and other media professionals across the region are pushing for a bill proposed by state Rep. Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead that would create a commission to study the state of the media industry in Massachusetts and recommend sustainable local business models for news outlets.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Layoffs at publications across the region have marched on, and newsrooms continue to consolidate. Paywalls have gone up over the past decade at the Boston Globe, Boston Business Journal, and Boston Herald.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was also saddened by the Metro’s passing. “To all the reporters, editors and people who worked hard to put this free paper out every day: thank you,” Walsh tweeted Wednesday. “The Metro will be greatly missed.”