The Message

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."