The Message

Youth Movement

RedEye and Red Streak both share a lot of material with their parent papers, albeit with a greater focus on celebrity news and pop-culture blather. They're supposed to cost 25 cents, but Miner believes that few Chicagoans are ponying up. "I don't see many people reading them, and it's not because of the cost," he says. "Months went by before they started asking for a quarter, and if you keep your eyes open, you can get them for nothing here and there. I heard a few weeks ago that at one honor box, a guy was handing out quarters to people if they bought the RedEye. It got me wondering: If you give somebody a quarter to buy the paper, can you still count that paper toward your circulation figures?" This question resonates in Chicago, where the Sun-Times recently admitted to grossly inflating its circulation. A Tribune article estimated that the discrepancy represented around 25 percent of the Sun-Times' reported total.

Understandably, Anderson doesn't hold up either RedEye or Red Streak as a model for Dirt. Instead, he mentions Lawrence.com, an online offering based in the college town of Lawrence, Kansas; it's affiliated with the Lawrence Journal-World, whose corporate master, the World Company, owns two Colorado papers, in Steamboat Springs and Craig, through a satellite firm. The site features entertainment information, loads of blogs, and an irreverent attitude epitomized by the heading on its employment links: "Get a Frickin' Job." Anderson promises that Dirt's forthcoming website, www.boulderdirt.com, and the paper itself will embrace a similar brand of irreverence.

This approach extends to the paper's moniker, which sounds so much like dig, the Rocky's new gardening supplement, that some readers may expect it to come with a bag of seeds. In 1991, Sassy, a teen mag for girls, put out a publication also called Dirt that was assembled for dudes of a similar vintage; it didn't last long despite the contributions of future filmmaker Spike Jonze. "That's not a good omen," Anderson says upon hearing this factoid, but he still feels the name has a quality that will appeal to young consumers, even as it leaves adults cold. "I told Alan [Horton] we were going to call it Dirt, and he said, 'I don't know if I like that,'" he recalls, chuckling. "And I said, 'That nails it down, then.'"

David Parker is ready to roll in Dirt.
James Glader
David Parker is ready to roll in Dirt.

Since Parker will continue to serve as the Camera's online editor, he'll certainly have his hands full with Dirt. To help him survive, the Camera is hiring five full-timers to assist him, and he'll also rely on the help of interns, many of them probably hailing from CU's journalism department. He expects that the paper will be dominated by original material, spiced by a smattering of syndicated fodder "that the Camera probably wouldn't use." Some days will have themes, like music on Tuesdays (when most CDs are released) and clubs and pubs on Thursdays, when Boulderites start gearing up for the weekend, but he's keeping his options open. As he puts it, "We want to mix things up every day. I don't want limits on anything design-wise or content-wise." He even raises the prospect of Dirt running edgier language than the Camera would approve. The Washington Post recently stirred controversy when it printed the word "fuck" in reference to a remark made by Vice President Dick Cheney, and although Parker doesn't know if he'd go that far, he does venture that "your average eighteen- to 24-year-old will probably be less offended by what Dick Cheney said than your average Camera reader would."

Parker doesn't seem terrified by the publications Dirt will be facing off against starting next month. He feels that the Daily, which was once the quirkiest of journals, is becoming more staid and traditional all the time, thereby providing Dirt with an opening, and he's positively dismissive of the Boulder Weekly, the community's homegrown alternative paper. "People who read the Weekly would tend to skew older, and hopefully those who read us will skew younger," he says. "Just because there's a free publication doesn't mean it's worth it for young people to pick up."

Weekly publisher Stewart Sallo, the front-runner in the hard-fought Most Childish Journalist in Colorado race, declines to respond to this contention, or any other query from Westword. In 2002, during a memorable tantrum recorded on voice mail, he declared that neither he nor anyone else in his employ would speak with yours truly ever again. Weekly editor Pam White was subsequently profiled in this space, but Sallo's apparently muzzled her this time around; she didn't return five phone messages. He's obviously a real champion of free speech.

For his part, the Daily's Miller thinks his paper is in a good position to withstand Dirt's challenge. Over the past three years, he says, the Daily has doubled in size, and next month, it will become a member of the Associated Press via a new program it helped develop in conjunction with the AP. Nonetheless, he admits to at least one worry: "Predatory pricing -- them using the strength of their operation to undercut our costs and drive us out of business -- is certainly a concern. But they're smart people, and they know that's illegal, so I'm sure they won't do it. If they don't, we'll be fine."

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