Tony Metcalf, Editor of Free City Newspapers, Dies at 50
By PAUL VITELLO
Published: July 18, 2013
Tony Metcalf, the editor in chief of Metro US, the free newspaper that offers a quick read to bus and subway riders in New York, Philadelphia and Boston, particularly young working men and women who might never dream of buying a newspaper, died on Sunday in Darlington, England. He was 50.
The cause was colon cancer, said a company spokesman in New York, where Mr. Metcalf was based.
At his death, Mr. Metcalf, a newspaper veteran from Northeast England, was considered a rising star in the free-newspaper empire of Metro International, a spinoff of a Swedish media company that started its first free newspaper in Stockholm in 1995. Metro International now publishes about 100 such papers in 27 countries.
Starting in 2000 as editor of the company’s first giveaway newspaper in England, the short-lived Metro Newcastle, Mr. Metcalf was named global editor in chief in 2001 and dispatched to start similar newspapers in a dozen locations, including Toronto, Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, Hong Kong and Seoul. (All are still operating.) He was named editor of Metro US in 2008.
Mr. Metcalf worked from an established template. Metro papers are thin, colorful tabloid digests of news that are published only on weekdays and typically hawked at or near subway and bus stations. News staffs are skeletal. The pages often have wire service reports or material acquired under arrangements with CNN, as well as several magazines and Web sites.
Mr. Metcalf described the target readership as “the hard-to-reach metropolitan” — the young, employed city dweller who is more apt to get news online or from television. The Metro ads are mainly directed at them, and the articles can easily be read between stops, running about 300 words each. (A word count ending about here, for example.)
Metro US said that under Mr. Metcalf’s leadership, the three American dailies’ readership had grown to about one million at a time when the newspaper industry as a whole has lost vast numbers of readers.
In addition to the three major daily newspapers based in New York City, Metro’s main competition for the mass-transit audience in New York is amNew York, a free daily started by the Tribune Company in 2003 and now owned by Cablevision. (Since 2005, The New York Times Company has owned a 49 percent stake in the Metro newspaper published in Boston.)
A committed purveyor of journalistic Britishisms, Mr. Metcalf was known to egg on his overworked staff with compliments and other noncash rewards. A well-done article was “a belter” or a “bobby dazzler,” staff members said. Announcing an office party, he would say he was “planning a bit of a knees up.”
Mr. Metcalf was born on June 12, 1963, in Newton Aycliffe in the north of England and received a journalism degree from the Darlington College of Technology in the early 1980s. He went on to work as a reporter and editor at The Northern Echo, a regional newspaper, from 1987 to 2000, when he left to edit Metro Newcastle.
He left Metro International in 2004 to edit 7Days, a free newspaper in Dubai, of which he was a part owner, before returning to the company in 2008.
He is survived by his wife, Lesley; two children, Alex and Freya; and a brother and a sister.
Mr. Metcalf straddled the lines between journalism, showmanship and marketing. He wrote occasional commentaries on events like the London Olympics and the death of Margaret Thatcher, hired Alex McCord of “The Real Housewives of New York” to write a column, and recently offered readers a chance to win an iPod by “liking” Metro on Facebook.
His most animated encounter with American readers came after his decision to run a Reuters article about Europeans’ revulsion at American celebrations in 2011 over the killing of Osama bin Laden. Readers were angry and in some cases threatening.
Mr. Metcalf’s response was at first diplomatic and then stern: “Democratic states do not execute people without first going through the judicial process,” he wrote on the Metro editor’s blog. “If that process is circumvented, then you are no better than the terrorists.”
He added: “I defy you to argue with that logic.”