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July 30, 2008

On Media - Metromix hits Louisville

As long as there’s been the Internet, entrepreneurs have been trying to come up with an online destination that has it all. If only there was one website where you could map out your leisure time, droves of locals would go there and advertisers would throw money at it. 

It’s a pretty simple business concept, but no one in Louisville seems to have figured it out just yet.

Sure, Louisville Magazine has a dining guide and a website, but it doesn’t really get the job done. A few months back, LEO produced a top-notch, cleverly written neighborhood guide called UR Here, full of mini-reviews of bars and restaurants. Unfortunately, management proved once again that it doesn’t get the online thing.

Now, Gannett is giving it a shot with its new online Metromix project. A joint venture formed last year between Chicago-based Tribune Interactive and Gannett set the stage for the launch of similar sites in the nation’s Top 30 markets. Louisville is the 18th to launch. 

The idea seems to be that if you throw enough content online, the clicks and page views that newspaper sites crave will follow. 

There’s not much new in the way of information at Metromix, just a new way of presenting it. It’s been a massive undertaking at Sixth and Broadway, involving dozens of freelancers and senior management at The Courier-Journal.

The process hasn’t been without controversy. Several of the freelancers, recruited primarily from college journalism classes, made quite an online stink at sites like mine (http://thevillevoice.com) when they learned they wouldn’t be getting the bylines they were promised. Given the $15 per location they were being paid, the byline was a motivating factor for some. A day before launch, Gannett informed the team by e-mail that the bylines weren’t happening. If nothing else, they learned how mainstream corporate media seems to function. 

In order to meet the launch deadline of July 23, the paper had to compile a minimum of 1,000 bar and restaurant entries, half with original photos, in about nine weeks. John Mura, The C-J’s multimedia manager, said he was enthused that in the first weekend after launch, the site was pulling page views that rivaled its numbers during the week. Louisville’s version has a home page and six categories: restaurants, bars and clubs, events, music, movies and TV. Each category includes copy from The C-J and Velocity, the Gannett lifestyle weekly, but Mura says there are plans for exclusive-to-Metromix copy. 

Given the nature of the task, you might expect some mistakes. And while Mura admits it’s not necessarily a comprehensive list, it didn’t take long to come up with a few restaurants that didn’t make the cut.

I couldn’t find two of my hangouts — Angilo’s Pizza on Berry Boulevard and the Pastime Fish House in J-town, and Mura told me they’d put them on the list of additions. 

That the listings are a triumph of quantity over quality is pretty clear from a casual browsing. 

I managed to go through a few dozen of the restaurant write-ups and found some grammatical boo-boos — “management says that their Garden Za is a favorite with spinach, tomato and garlic.” But I was even more struck by the generic intro to that Za’s review: “Everyone loves a great pizza.”

Then there’s some copy that seems straight from the ad department: “You’ll feel right at home at Hometown.” 

There are references to price, but typically the information is vague, consisting of the writer’s opinion that prices are “great.”

Then there’s the just plain goofy: “Do you want to show off a little bit with your extra cash like you got promoted to assistant manager?” That, by the way, is the lead for a review of Avalon, the high-end Bardstown Road restaurant. 

As for geography, it’s helpful that a Google map accompanies each review, along with nearby bars and restaurants. But it’s hard to understand how Kern’s Korner in the Highlands and Tink’s Pub on Preston are both considered central Louisville, especially when a smaller geographic area like Fourth Street Live is its own section.

Sometime soon, Mura says the entire catalogue of C-J restaurant reviews will be rolled into the site. That’ll certainly give visitors a better idea than the mini-capsules. 

But let’s not quibble over style. For this online generation, the writing doesn’t have to be that good — as long as the maps and  basic information are accurate. Right?  


Rick Redding writes frequently about local media and politics on his blog,

http://thevillevoice.com