amNewYork Metro at 20: Celebrating two decades of local news in the greatest city on Earth!

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Photo by Dean Moses

Everyone has birthdays, including amNewYork Metro. In fact, we’re turning 20 this year! And our entire staff, from our most dedicated freelancers to our publishers and everyone else who makes our paper run, is excited to share this milestone with our readers.

amNewYork Metro started as an idea to fill an untapped market in New York, with many people never believing it would succeed. But a few historic moments and two decades later, amNew York is still dishing out the news the way New Yorkers want it — truthful, to-the-point and, as always, free. 

Here’s a nutshell look at the history of our newspaper and why we think New Yorkers continue to turn our pages. 

Photo by Dean Moses

20 years of amNewYork Metro

Twenty years is nothing to snuff at. The year was 2003, and newspaper publisher Russ Pergament of Metro Boston put into action his dream of a free daily newspaper in New York City. People told him it would never take off, but he cast those critics aside and followed what he knew would work. 

“Everybody tried to talk us out of it, major accounts, friends in the business,” Pergament said. “They said New York already has several daily papers, and there’s no room for another one. But we knew some key points.”

The publishing scribe, of course, was no newspaper novice. He was working at Metro, which originally launched in Europe.

So Pergament and a few others were on board for his idea, and were confident a similar paper would succeed in NYC.

The team focused on the commuter crowd taking public transportation in a rush to get to work. People back then — much like today — wanted to read news and be informed, but did not have time to absorb a traditional newspaper cover-to-cover.

“People forget Manhattan is an island,” he said. “There are just 12 or 13 ways to get into it whether it’s bridges or subways or ferries. If we could get these people on the way to work in the morning…it’s a luscious market.”

And on Oct. 10, 2003, amNewYork was launched. With financial support from Newsday, owned by news giant Tribune Company at the time, amNewYork was now found throughout the city in transit hubs, on street corners and in ferry terminals. 

“People liked the fact it was highly visible, you got it for free,” Pergament said, adding that it was a 20 to 25 minute read, tops.

Reading amNewYork Metro both kept this New Yorker up to date and passed the commute time on Union Square on July 15.Photo by Dean Moses

Changing local journalism

The journalism industry has changed so much since the turn of the century. Even in the early 2000s, way before smartphones gave people instant news, print circulation was on the decline. But amNewYork revived a stagnant industry by having a niche in America’s biggest media market. 

That niche was fast, unbiased news — free to the public, and supported by advertising. 

Just a few months later, Metro launched in NYC, giving amNewYork a run for its money. The two papers competed against each other for the next 16 years, but there were some differences that stood out.

amNewYork was more local, with movie listings, health code listings and investigative journalism. Meanwhile, Metro covered NYC, but seemed to have more national and international news.

“We kept this paper interesting,” Pergament said of amNewYork. “We also returned every phone call if anyone called into the paper, it was a friendly paper.”

Meanwhile, Metro New York was also being promoted around New York City. Just as amNewYork was succeeding, Metro was working on marketing and unique publicity stunts to garner attention, explained Henry Scott, who helped launch the paper. 

“Just to promote advertising, we would find the office of a major ad agency we were trying to work with and have somebody take chalk and write on the sidewalk in a big image of a heart that says ‘Metro loves Susan’ and her last name,” Scott shared. “It was the name of the person we wanted to meet with. We did a lot of eccentric things like that.”

Eventually, Schneps Media acquired amNewYork in October 2019, and a few months later purchased Metro, merging the papers to become amNewYork Metro. Schneps Media also purchased Metro Philadelphia around the same time. Much of the staff at both Metro papers stayed on to join the new, combined amNewYork Metro team. 

Ed Abrams, publisher and chief revenue officer at amNewYork Metro, explained that the newspaper continues to grow because it fits into the model of free news that has always existed on TV, radio and online, with paywall or subscription exceptions. 

“People just don’t feel like they need to pay for news,” he said. “We put out a great news product every day. We’re very fortunate because our newspaper delivers great results for our advertisers and clients, we’re able to support the paper through our advertising.”

He also underscored what others in the free newspaper business have said: remain unbiased, don’t endorse political candidates and don’t skew left or right. 

“We present the news, present the facts, and let our readers make up their minds in terms of how they want to feel about it,” he said. 

20 years of big stories

The rebuilding of the World Trade Center was one of the biggest stories amNewYork and Metro New York covered in its early years.Photo via Wikimedia Commons/acediscovery

amNewYork kept New Yorkers informed on many big stories over the years.

It launched just as the city was starting to recover from the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked and destroyed the World Trade Center, killing nearly 3,000 people that day. To this day, rescue workers continue to die from 9/11-related illness.

A few years later in 2008, amNewYork reported on the start of High Line construction, specifically the progress being made on the first section between Gansevoort and 20th Streets. Today, the High Line is a sprawling 1.45-milelong public park building on an elevated rail line. 

A view of the High Line from the roof of The Warehouse (Photo: Emily Davenport/amNY)

Superstorm Sandy ravaged New York in 2012, and amNewYork chronicled the damage, the recovery over the years and the stories of people who survived the disaster. 

Other topics throughout the years talked about political scandals, social issues, celebrity gossip and lots of sports coverage. 

Many New Yorkers, including Jordanna Stephen, remember these and so many other stories amNewYork covered over the years.

“Being on a budget, and wanting to be ‘an adult,’ I thought grabbing an official morning paper on my way to class was top tier,” Stephen said. “It came at the right time, because with it being free and the enthusiasm of how it was handed out in the subways, it just added to what makes New York one of a kind.”

Homes and docks damaged by Superstorm Sandyin October 2012 in the Broad Channel section of Queens. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

As a public relations executive, Stephen shared that her first “big hit” was in amNewYork.

I was so excited,” she said. “I just launched my PR firm, Touch of Pink PR, post-college graduation and we didn’t have the database tools we have today. And amNY was one of the outlets that made it easy for you to know the reporters’ contact information. And amNY was a respected outlet, so to land a hit was a major score. Plus, tons of New Yorkers read it every day.”

Elaine LaPersonerie, who also works in public relations, launched a program for the Lower East Side called GO EAST, a “Zagat” style guide to encourage people to shop, dine and explore Downtown again after the World Trade Center attacks. amNewYork covered the story. 

“As you know, that neighborhood was hit hard business-wise,” she said. “amNewYork featured the program, and it was a full page story. It was such a sweet feeling.”

Today, amNew York Metro still has a dedicated – and growing – readership.  It has a daily circulation of 95,000 and is dropped off at more than 1,000 locations throughout the city. Online, amny.com has an expansive web and social media presence, and tens of thousands of email subscribers. 

Here’s to many more years of amNewYork Metro!

Photo by Dean Moses