Impact Weekly Gets On Track

New Owner Provides Capital, Expertise.

When a paper changes hands, consternation is the usual reaction — advertisers wonder where they will turn, readers dread a disruption in their news routine, politicians make grand statements on the need for diversity in public discourse (and hope in private for the precise opposite), and the paper’s employees get ready for bad news.

Dayton, Ohio’s Impact Weekly, sold to Yesse! Communications of Indianapolis on June 4, is selling more ads these days — 20 % more than this time last year. There was no disruption in publishing, and nobody has gotten a pink slip. (You can’t have everything, though — the pols remain extant.)

Editor and co-founder Marrianne McMullen said that she and co-founder Jeff Epton shared a vision of bringing a true alternative news source to the Dayton area under 1 million . “We had and continue to have a passion for that mission. However, we had no real advertising or business experience and a lack of capital.”

Or to put it another way, “We were broke.”

Enter Craig Hitchcock and Yesse! Communications. Starting with the then- Bloomington Voice (now the Bloomington Independent ), Yesse! has gone into 4 medium-sized Midwestern cities with a strong university presence since 1997 and currently owns and operates AAN papers in Springfield, Ill. (Illinois Times ) and the Icon in Iowa City/Cedar Rapids, in addition to the Bloomington and Dayton papers. (Another Yesse entry, the Octopus in Champaign/Urbana, Ill., is an aspiring AAN weekly.)

Hitchcock’s philosophy is simple: “Our job is to ensure that each paper has a strong financial and operational foundation under it so it can achieve its editorial goals.”

In keeping with that strategy, Yesse!’s man in Dayton, Chuck Leishman (a veteran of the Sacramento News & Review and PitchWeekly ) has concentrated on increasing sales, calling it “our A+ priority.” Leishman started by moving the sales day’s start back to 8:30 a.m. and initiated a wholesale retraining of the sales staff.

But there have been no layoffs, and, as promised, no changes on the editorial side. “Jeff and Marrianne had created a significant editorial product — which we are not going to change — but they had simply gotten behind in running the business,” said Leishman. “And when you get behind, it gets harder and harder to catch up.”

“Sales is in kind of an emergency mode,” McMullen conceded. “And Chuck brings a lot of very valuable experience we don’t have.”

So far it’s paying off. Leishman claims a sales increase of 20% for June (as compared to June of 1998). The paper’s goals are to increase the current circulation of about “5,000 to 30,000 by year’s end, and to 40,000 by the end of 2000.

McMullen says the dominant emotion at Impact is relief. Under a joint byline in the paper, the co-publishers noted Yesse!’s strong alternative credentials: “They are not coming here from some dramatically different place, and they share our values about the need for strong, independent, local alternative papers that advocate for justice in their communities.”