Former Alt-Weekly Publishers Form Dragonfly

Three publications focus on New Age subjects

“Dragonfly is a result in one sense of a personal journey that I’m on,” says Ron Williams, co-founder of Detroit’s Metro Times and former owner of Alternative Media, Inc. (AMI), which linked the Detroit paper with alt-weeklies in San Antonio and Orlando. “Ecology, environment, wellness, body/mind/spirit connections, spiritual growth: These kinds of issues are increasingly energizing me.” So, Williams adds, if his journalism career has now veered in the direction of New Age publications, “it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.”

Williams began his latest publishing venture, Dragonfly, in March 2001 with AMI compatriot Monte Paulsen, founder of the recently shuttered Casco Bay Weekly in Portland, Maine; Williams’ Metro Times partner Laura Markham is a consultant. In January 2002, the group purchased its first monthly, Conscious Choice in Chicago, which bills itself as “The Journal of Ecology and Natural Living.” Through 2002, Dragonfly also bought Whole Life Times in Los Angeles (“the world’s largest regional monthly holistic publication”) and a 30-percent stake in Vancouver-based Shared Vision.

Paulsen, Dragonfly’s COO, is focusing on each publication’s business side, while Williams, Dragonfly president and CEO, sets editorial direction. The company was named after the insect said to travel freely between the earth and less corporeal spheres in Native American and Central American mythologies.

Dragonfly’s three publications, Williams says, “are primarily interested in a group of subjects that the alt-weeklies pay scant attention to.” Coverage of environmental issues is perhaps the largest overlap between Williams’ old publications and the new. AAN papers most often ignore New Age subject such as spirituality and personal growth, he says.

“We are at least as interested in personal development as we are in public improvement and activism,” Paulsen says. “We started wondering how we could enjoy alternative publishing at a lower, simpler level. When many of us started alternative weeklies, we spent three or four nights a week out listening to music and drinking beer. I loved this part of my life. I’m very rarely out that late anymore. I probably spend more of those hours in meditation, yoga ….

“Twenty years ago I was very skeptical of all this stuff,” he allows. “We sat in our little hovel at Casco Bay Weekly and made fun of this stuff. But I’ve changed – I see things more interconnected than I used to.”

Dragonfly’s three magazines, Williams notes, are decades old — “sleepy New Age magazines that have not experienced a lot of growth. They’re a niche — you might even say they’re a sub-niche.” But, he adds, “I anticipate that the satisfaction and the meaning all of us at Dragonfly will get will eventually equal or surpass” their experience with AAN papers. “I like the scale difference.”

These new ventures are “candy shops compared to alt weeklies,” Paulsen explains, with lower revenues (around half a million dollars each), smaller staffs and lower circulations: Whole Life Times’ run is largest, at 58,000, Shared Vision is smallest, at 40,000. “They’re always going to be local, quirky things.” Marty Levine is news editor of Pittsburgh City Paper.