David Parker has worked as the Boulder Daily Camera's online editor for four years, so it's more than a little surprising to hear him admit that "when I look at this market as a whole, I don't really see anything that's fun to read." Granted, he amends this statement a moment later, noting that he gets an occasional laugh out of The Onion -- but he doesn't offer much love to the paper that provides his salary. When he describes the Camera as "a mainstream newspaper," his tone makes it clear that the publication isn't packed with the sort of entertainment value twenty-somethings like him are seeking.
Luckily for Parker, he's got a chance to improve this situation -- and as bonus, the Camera is paying for him to do so. He's been named the editor of Dirt, a free Camera spinoff that will publish in Boulder on weekdays beginning August 20. Because Dirt is targeting eighteen- to 24-year-olds, "we hope to get in touch with college kids about things we think are interesting and fun," Parker says. "That's something the Camera has never really been able to do."
Far from contradicting this statement, Camera publisher and president Greg Anderson echoes it. "It's not like the Camera doesn't have subscribers among students. We do," he notes. "But we didn't have enough. I don't think we penetrated far enough into this market with our regular daily paper, and we had to have a solution for our customers. Our competitors had a solution for our customers, but we didn't."
Such an admission marks a change for the paper. In the past, its reps have publicly maintained that the Camera is eyeballed by plenty of University of Colorado attendees, even though ad buyers know most youthful readers gravitate toward myriad free publications, among them the Colorado Daily, which has been in existence since the late 1800s. That Anderson is now willing to fess up puts a grin on the mug of Randy Miller, the Daily's owner and publisher. "We've always said that if you want to cover the Boulder market, you need to advertise in both papers, because the readerships don't cross over that much," Miller allows. "So for our sales staff, the best thing he could have said is, 'We can't offer you young adults in Boulder, because they don't read our paper.' Thank you, Greg."
For Miller, the impending introduction of Dirt is a less cheerful development, and he acknowledges that "they're targeting exactly the same age group we do." As for who's got a leg up in the cage match to come, Miller says, "We have a 112-year head start on them. We also have 60,000 readers, and they have zero, so those things are in our favor. But they have an advantage, too -- a huge corporation that can spend as much money as they want to."
Indeed, the Camera is owned by E.W. Scripps, the Cincinnati-based media powerhouse that also holds the deed to the Rocky Mountain News. Alan M. Horton, who heads the Scripps newspaper division, says Dirt is, first and foremost, a Camera undertaking: "We believe in local control. We don't tell local publishers how best to reach their community." On the other hand, he makes it clear that Scripps fully backs Anderson's baby, and will be watching to see if the experiment can be reproduced in other places. "Clearly, anything we learn at one of our newspapers, we'll pass along to our other papers," he says.
Anderson, who came to the Camera in November after a dozen years as an advertising executive at various Scripps properties, including a trio of Florida dailies and the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, isn't sure how the concept will travel. "Boulder's unique, because the students are in a tight area on the campus and downtown," he points out. "They're largely confined, and they've been conditioned to read papers here. These kids grow up using the Internet a lot, but because there are so many free print products in Boulder, they get used to picking them up. That's why we thought we could compete in this area." The ties between the Camera and Dirt won't be disguised, but neither will they be emphasized. "Chipotle doesn't promote that it's owned by McDonalds, but it is," he says.
Scripps is far from the only media organization looking for ways to win the youth vote. The Denver Business Journal reports that the Denver Newspaper Agency, which handles finances for the Rocky and the Denver Post, is developing a publication aimed at young readers; it's one of several new periodicals in the idea stage. Additionally, a handful of major publishing outfits have already introduced youth-oriented dailies, to less than sterling reviews. The most prominent efforts to date can be found in Chicago, where the city's dominant broadsheet, the Chicago Tribune, launched RedEye, a weekday paper intended to appeal to the wired generation, in late 2002. The Trib's primary rival, the Chicago Sun-Times, countered shortly thereafter with a publication whose name, Red Streak, hardly rang with originality. "If RedEye disappeared tomorrow, Red Streak would disappear the day after," says Michael Miner, longtime media critic for the Chicago Reader, the area's largest alternative weekly. "Shamelessness is the most attractive feature it has."
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.'"
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."
Destroying the Daily isn't Dirt's goal, Anderson insists. "I think the Colorado Daily is way too strong for us to have any visions of displacing it," he says. But in the next breath, he implies that the Daily's name recognition isn't as daunting as it might seem. "CU reloads with five to seven thousand new students a year, and with them, we're on equal footing. I don't know if that will help us or not, but it's encouraging."
So is Parker's cockiness. "The inevitable question is, 'Do you think they'll censor your content? After all, this is a paper put out by a big media company,'" he says. "Well, I've been told that's not going to be the case, that we'll have full editorial reign on this thing. And if we don't, I probably won't be doing it for long."
Hope it's fun while it lasts.
More hours for towers: A year ago, the long-running fight over construction of a new, 730-foot broadcasting tower on Lookout Mountain finally seemed over -- "seemed" being the operative word.
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Back then, the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners heard widely varying arguments from the pro-tower Lake Cedar Group, a coalition representing channels 4, 7, 9 and 20, and Canyon Area Residents for the Environment (CARE), a homeowners collective unconditionally opposed to the plan. The officials holding positions on the board back in 1999 rejected a proposal to build a similar structure based on a variety of aesthetic and safety grounds, but their successors sided with the Lake Cedar Group. Before the tower could be erected, however, CARE and the City of Golden sued the county, the commissioners and the Lake Cedar Group to stop the project from going forward, and in March, Jefferson County District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson granted a preliminary injunction. Jackson ruled that Lake Cedar Group submitted new documents to the commission less than 21 days before the hearings ended, thus breaking a county rule, and submitted no evidence regarding the guy wires that are supposed to prevent the tower from toppling.
Commissioners responded by setting an August 12 date when combatants will be able to take on the documents in question, and Deb Carney, CARE's attorney and driving force, is looking forward to the opportunity. "I think the commissioners have had a year to reflect on their decision," she says, "and hopefully, after the correction by the judge, they'll have open minds."
In the meantime, Carney is eagerly awaiting a report from the Colorado Department of Health about cancer rates in the area around the current antenna farm; it's slated for release on July 22. Jane Mitchell, an environmental health researcher for the department, says the new survey updates 1999 data that showed a statistically elevated rate of brain- and central-nervous-system tumors among residents in two of seven geographical areas in the vicinity of the towers. The earlier study wasn't designed to establish a causal relationship between the ailments and radiation from the broadcasting equipment, and inconsistencies cropped up because researchers were working with numbers that dated back to the 1990 census. Mitchell expects that figures from the 2000 census will help make the new results more useful.
There's no guarantee that commissioners will address the new health report at the August 12 hearing even if the results are worrisome. A Jefferson County press release about the session hints that only the specific areas targeted by Judge Jackson are on the table. Whatever the case, CARE members will definitely tackle the topic at a town-hall forum on July 26 at the Crystal Rose, 636 Lookout Mountain Road. Two of three county commissioners are vacating their positions next year, and at least five candidates who want to take their place have agreed to attend. Visit www.c-a-r-e.org for more information.