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Thursday, September 10, 2020

‘Metro Times came to my rescue’: Why writer Jim McFarlin supports our Press Club

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Posted By on Thu, Sep 10, 2020 at 12:29 PM

click to enlarge Jim McFarlin. - COURTESY OF JIM MCFARLIN
  • Courtesy of Jim McFarlin
  • Jim McFarlin.

Even though I now live hundreds of miles from my adopted Detroit hometown, I'm a devout supporter of the Metro Times Press Club. I mean, anytime an organization saves your life — professionally speaking, that is — the least you can do is try to return the favor.

In my case, salvation was required after July 13, 1995, a day which will live in Detroit media infamy. I will never forget that night.



After serving as lead pop music critic at one of the local dailies for over a decade, I spent the ’90s as a TV reviewer and columnist. As I boarded a jet in July 1995 for one of the major perks of that gig — an all-expenses-paid, weeks-long trip to Hollywood to watch TV shows, hobnob with celebrities, and ask stupid questions — there were serious rumblings that a Detroit newspaper strike was imminent. A strike date had been set. However, I simply could not conceive that rational minds would not prevail and that a last-minute agreement would not be reached. I mean, lives and livelihoods were at stake.

On July 13, the FOX network, which at the time threw the best parties of any TV or cable company, hosted a lavish poolside soirée at a Pasadena hotel. I resolved to enjoy myself to the max, flitting from clique to clique and hanging with the actor Jason Priestley, who I’d come to know during the promotion crusade for Beverly Hills 90210. All the while I was praying silently, and hard, that my phone wouldn’t ring with a directive from Detroit.

It did. The strike was on, I was told. Come home. Playtime’s over.

For a moment, I harbored the idea of remaining in L.A. Hey, my hotel room was paid for, and I had a pocketful of the company’s travelers checks! However, I knew deep down that if I did, the Evil Empire would make me pay for my folly one day when I could least afford it. I also knew deep down this likely would be my last L.A. bash on the TV tour.

Did somebody say, “Open bar?”

Later, I slowly packed my suitcase, checked out of my hotel, and poured myself onto a red-eye flight back to the D. That was the last purely enjoyable evening I can remember for the next two years.

What followed were draining, seemingly endless days of picketing, protesting, rallying, boycotting, and figuring out how to survive on strike pay. Lives and careers were destroyed. Families crumbled. That’s when the Metro Times came to my rescue.

As the strike ground to its inevitable, bitter end, my former newspaper invited me to return…  as its farm and garden writer. It was their not-too-subtle payback for daring to take sides against the realm. Far more comfortable with primetime lineups than pruning shears, I politely declined. About that time, W. Kim Heron, the MT's compassionate and professorial editor, tossed me a lifeline.

Kim offered me the opportunity to continue writing about television, both local and national, on a regular basis. We created a column called “Idiot Boxing” that ran in the Metro Times for several years. It allowed me to maintain the industry contacts I had cultivated over the years, keep my name in front of the reading public, and most importantly, to keep writing about a topic that fueled both my passion and perspective. When writers can’t write, little pieces inside of them die.

That was the start of a beautiful friendship. Overall, I believe I have served (survived? overcome? endured?) at least five editors at the Metro Times, from my hero Kim Heron to the present leader, selfless crusader Leyland “Lee” DeVito. I faced the wrath and accepted the praise of its former cultural editor, the late, lush force of nature Sarah Klein.

And I was never pigeonholed as a media writer. During a period when the MT editorial budget was even less than it is today (no, really), then-editor Bryan Gottlieb encouraged me to pen high-profile cover stories for pennies on the dollar, exchanging compensation for visibility. So glad he did. Some of those longform articles, like the profile of unsung Motown backup singers the Andantes and an interview with the late legal warrior Judge Damon Keith, remain among my all-time favorite pieces.

The Metro Times rescued my creative soul. I owe it a lot. You do, too. The MT is a Detroit institution, and the hard times institutions have been experiencing nationwide were exacerbated by COVID-19.

A free publication that relies solely on ad revenues, primarily from entertainment venues, is obviously going to suffer big time when a pandemic causes those venues to shut down. However, you know how Detroit likes to party; our nightlife is going to bounce back, and so will the Metro Times.

If it’s still around.

As I drive through the city I live in now, I see so many once-popular restaurants and other businesses shuttered, never to open again, victims of the virus. I don’t want us to look back someday and say, “Man, I wish we still had the Metro Times.” Cherish it. Protect it. Support it.

Jim McFarlin, a longtime contributor to the Metro Times, is a freelance journalist based outside of Chicago.

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