Hearne: The Awful Truth About Why Ink is Eating The Pitch’s Lunch

It’s no secret that news light as it is, Ink magazine is kicking the Pitch‘s butt…

That after only three years on the scene to the Pitch‘s 30-plus. Things had gotten so bad at the Pitch last year that after years of trying to dump it, its former out-of-town parent finally unloaded it on the publisher of the Nashville Scene alt weekly.

When I interviewed former Pitch publisher Hal Brody a few months later, he was shocked to learn his former pub was barely choking out 40-page issues. Meanwhile, Ink was knocking back 56-pagers – 40 percent larger than the now lowly Pitch.

So what does Ink have that the Pitch doesn’t?

Let’s examine the two pubs – and the Nashville Scene – through the eyes of a 30-something, female marketing director who asked not to be named.

"When I read through the Pitch the ads appear geared towards a particular audience," she says. "And I don’t want to be associated with advertisers touting random hookups, drugs, bankruptcy and being poor. Ink doesn’t have the sleazy ads in the back like the Pitch. When you get through reading the Pitch you feel a little bit dirty."

"Like the Pitch has a full-page ad for three DVDs for $9.99 from Cirilla’s – as if I want to make a beeline to Cirilla’s to buy some porn."

"You know, if your audience is male, I guess that’s fine. I used to identify more with the content of the Pitch because of the music, but there’s not as much music in there these days."

Now let’s take a closer look at Ink…

"I kinda like it," the marketing director says. "It has short snippets that are pretty digestible."

The $64 million question being, is it hip?

"No, I wouldn’t use the word hip, but I think it’s somewhat relevant and useful," she says. "And I think it skews older – 35 plus. It’s a lot more mainstream than the Pitch."

Which brings us to the Nashville Scene, the Pitch parent’s flagship alt weekly.

"It blows both Ink and the Pitch away," the marketing director says. "It’s hipper than Ink and there’s not a ton of nasty sex in it – the ads that are there are relatively tasteful. It looks nicer because of the coated stock paper and all the color. It combines the best of both worlds in a taasteful way."

When the Scene publisher purchased the Pitch last year, it was assumed it would clear the decks and transform it into a cleaner, hipper, far more upscale alt weekly.

Well, the decks got cleared alright, and the Pitch has been limping along on a skeleton staff for months with very few pages and even less content. And while it’s been cleaned up a bit, it’s still haunted by the trashy advertisers it’s long wrestled with.

Trust me, this is nothing new.

From its earliest days in the mid- to late 1980s when I ran the Pitch, the sex ads have been a struggle.

We would set up new distribution points around the city to increase our reach only to get phone calls from the new businesses asking us to remove our racks because they’d had customer complaints about the sex ads.

At times when the Pitch and New Times battled for supremacy, one publication or the other would refuse to take sex ads to try and claim the higher ground. However in the end, the money was just too substantial to leave on the table. And when Star publisher Art Brisbane did away with strip club ads in the sports section they had almost nowhere else to go other than radio.

What’s more the Nashville Scene trumps both the Pitch and Ink for real deal content.

It’s got six more columns than the Pitch, ranging from art and theater to sports. At 56 pages, the Scene delivers both content and hipness in an upscale manner, sans the sleaze factor. What few sex ads it has are discreet.

The question being, can the dudes in Nashville turn things around in KC with largely the same guys running the show here (with the exception of the better writers and reporters who have either fled or were fired)?

They’re not exactly making it look easy…

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20 Responses to Hearne: The Awful Truth About Why Ink is Eating The Pitch’s Lunch

  1. kcfred says:

    Nashville vs KC
    Hearne, could it be the difference in the cities?
    There is not a hipper, cooler town than Nashville.
    When I lived there, on a Monday night, there would be over 50 places to see a live act and good ones too.
    Comparing the mags of KC and Nashville are like comparing Craig’s Lotus and your Fiat. I think what they have to work with goes a long way in the comparison. As far as buzz and energy, Nashville has it all over KC.

  2. Facts says:

    Wow!! Best story I have read on KCC in a long time.

    This is old school Hearne. Bravo 🙂
    Please keep em comh like this. Tell us something intersting , like this.

  3. paulwilsonkc says:

    The SCENE vs the PITCH?
    First, let me say it

  4. Hearne Christopher says:

    No doubt there are some differences, but I lived down that way for a year and visit often. And in many respects, KC blows Nashville away when it comes to pop culture, dining, upscale shopping, etc.

    They do have it over us on country music but that’s not my personal cup of tea.

    Kansas City has tons of places to see live music as well, but we’re really talking about two publications, not the nightlife scene per se.

    There’s no reason – other than money and staffing – the Pitch couldn’t be cleaned up, printed on coated stock, thin out the sleezy ads that keep Ink advertisers like Tivol staying away in droves.

    The advertisers in Nashville Scene are upscale realtors, medical clinics, car dealers, jewelers, medical practitioners, theater groups, cruise lines and upscale retailers.

    On top of that, metro KC is a third larger than Nashville. So there’s actually more money on the table up here than down there. Look at the advertisers Ink gets that the Pitch doesn’t.

    The Pitch is going to have to clean up its act and ramp up its look and content – just like the Nashville Scene does – if it hopes to survive.

  5. Hearne Christopher says:

    Again, it’s not just about the music scene. It’s about two large metro areas with tons of things going on and thousands of businesses that need to advertise.

    None of these three publications are merely concert and/or nightclub rags.

    They’re called alternative newsweeklies. Not a lot of news in the Pitch these days.

  6. paulwilsonkc says:

    cow briefly escapes its fate in blue springs?
    Winds up at Sonic? Yes, I’d agree its not a newsy magazine any more. I remember when they jumped knee deep in the Jerry Johnston, First Family story really before anyone. That used to be what they were known for, I loved that.

    Sorry I got off on a music rant, but thats all I read it for and that’s not even covered well any more.

    And as for Savage Love…..

  7. balbonis moleskine says:

    Its all been downhill since CJ Janovy went over to change bedpans at KUMed.

    The problem is that Pitch isn’t hip, but it isn’t upscale. It manages to be both stuffy with its usual torn from the pages of the 80’s village voice social justice stories, combined with the porno and sex ads like you mentioned previously.

    What they need to do is walk the fine line between alternative and broke. More investigative reporting, more stories on hip venues and places to be in KC, more local gossip, less skeezy sex, and better ink.

    Alas all of these things cost money. And I think Jason Kendall is fighting a rat over a piece of liverwurst with his salary.
    If they want to copy, they should copy someone like Vice magazine (which started out as a free alternative magazine).

    Their online presence is dwindling. Your website produces more original content, which is a scary statement as this is essentially a vanity project by you to stick a thumb in the Star’s eye once a week.

  8. Hearne Christopher says:

    Well, other than your last comment there (wink, wink), I think you laid it out quite well.

    I think you’re giving a few more props to CJ than is deserved because it was already well down that “80s village voice social justice” road during her tenure.

    Much of the Pitch online “news” content – aside from Charles Ferruzza who owns the restaurant news scene in KC basically – is Kendall rehashing and/or re-spinning major news stories that somebody else already broke.

    Kinda like what Tony mostly does.

    The odd thing is that they haven’t made their move yet, other than to choke out a couple issues of the women’s magazine.

    I don’t know why they haven’t switched to coated stock and color printing. The Star prints it now.

    They’re also going to have to get some content in there and until recently they’ve been so understaffed that the poor editor was having to write the movie reviews.

    I think we all wish them well, but it’s coming up on a year in a couple three months and there’s not been much, if anything positive to show for the new ownership to date.

  9. Mark X says:

    …. good post, Hearne…
    ” When you get through reading the Pitch you feel a little bit dirty” … yup, she nailed it …

  10. paulwilsonkc says:

    sometimes if you wait, you get bargain basement pricing!
    This could be your next venture, Hearne. I can see it all now………………..

  11. say what? says:

    ‘I don’t know why they haven’t switched to coated stock and color printing. The Star prints it now.’
    Switch to color printing? They do print in color. And no, the Star does not print coated stock. They get that done elsewhere. If they did, don’t you think that INK would be using coated stock?

  12. Merle Tagladucci says:

    I have never had anyone come up to me or email me a link saying, “You have to read this article in INK.” Both papers are an afterthought, something you grab on the way out of the grocery store if you have a free hand. Local music listings are available online via dozens of sources. Look out on the street, people are carrying smart phones, not copies of INK or the Pitch. No need to get that cheap ink on your fingers anymore.

  13. smartman says:

    C’mon Man!
    Just another epic capitalistic struggle between journo’s willing to lose money so they can control a market that’s probably not very profitable to begin with.

    The best excuse I’ve heard for INK is that it’s a loss leader intended to make reading the paper COOL again. Hope is to convert INK readers into STAR subscribers. Big long term payoff potential. Good luck with that.

    The PITCH hasn’t been relevant for ages. INK never was.

    Whether it was the old Pitch, new Pitch, New Times, TKC, KCC, blah, blah, blan, it’s DIFFICULT to make a buck as an owner, much less pay livable wages to quality writers, support staff, sales, et. al.

    KC is a different city today than it was 20 years ago. The same shoes don’t fit, the paradigms have shifted and the orthodoxies aren’t so orthodox.

    To sum it up, this is like two old dudes at Touche’ fighting over the last fat smelly chick at the bar. Somebody please turn out the lights.

  14. Prude much? says:

    Cirilla’s advertises on several local radio stations too. The Pitch has two or three pages of adult content in it every week. I don’t care about it so I just skip it. Don’t pick it up all the time but there’s always a lot of local advertisers in there and I just like to see what’s new in town. I’ve tried reading INK but it’s always just a bunch of fluff.

  15. Hearne Christopher says:

    Remember? I already did the basement thing at the Pitch.

  16. Hearne Christopher says:

    Easy big fella. The Scene is coated stock and like all-color. Obviously the Star can’t do the job but their new women’s monthly is coated stock, so they know where to go.

    The cost will rise and they don’t have much left in the way of content and they need to probably dial back the dirt bag ads first before they roll it out.

    All of which takes money and manpower. Right now they’re just going thru the motions.

  17. Orphan of the Road says:

    Skip Slyester was Mike Royko compared to INK/PITCH
    Don’t take this the wrong way Hearne but you have perhaps perfected the melding of infomercial and tabloid for the cyber set. It is apparently attracting better writers than either paper. Now if you just had a real editor.

    PITCH is becoming a FB page in it’s electronic form. The INK? I never read it. Maybe read the PITCH waiting for a show at The Record Bar but never take it with me.

    The music listings have become hit and miss.

    (SIGH) The Westport Trucker, now that was a rag for the times.

  18. Super Dave says:

    Agree Decent Story For Once
    Ahhhh “The Westport Trucker” have not heard of that name in years.

    The Star,Pitch or the INk to me not worth the time to read so all could flyaway tomorrow and I could care less. I have no use for them at all.

    To me Smartman sums it up best, “To sum it up, this is like two old dudes at Touche’ fighting over the last fat smelly chick at the bar. Somebody please turn out the light.”

    Till someone reports what the people in KC want to see in a printed publication on-line or in print they will fail. To me the publications in this town are about what they think we want to see rather than about what it is we really want to see. Sort of like what the radio stations are doing killing themselves slowly but not softly.

  19. T says:

    Quality Read
    I just picked up a copy of INK and Pitch yesterday. I still prefer Pitch but agree it could do without some of the sleaze and… rest assured I’m no prude 😉

  20. Hearne Christopher says:

    Nor am I.

    But if the Pitch plans to regain its place atop the alt news slagheap here it’s going to have to do something besides laying off or losing three fourths of its staff writers and find a way to become relevant to local readers and advertisers.

    Clearly it’s new owners have the experience and know how, but do they have the will?

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