Focus on suburbs, new more conservative voice
“I want people to go to their normal Impact racks, look down and say, ‘What the hell is this?'” Dayton City Paper Publisher Kerry Farley says as Impact Weekly, originally called the Dayton Voice, changes its name once again — and takes an editorial veer — with this week’s issue.
“I want them to think, ‘This is new!’ I don’t want people to think this is an extension of the old Impact Weekly,” Farley says.
The name change and other moves are designed to attract new readers and recover the old, as well as achieve solvency for the weekly, Farley says.
Impact had already dropped its adult pages, an economically damaging move from which the paper has since recovered, Farley says. Now the change most likely to irk alt-weekly veterans is a shift in editorial focus to catch the attention of a less city-focused, less purely progressive readership.
“My number one job is to change Dayton for the better … and I can’t do it when I have a powerful group of people in this town who ignore the paper,” Farley says. “In Dayton, unlike most other cities, we have a much lower-than-average educated population in the city” as well as in the metro area, he says. That leaves Dayton City Paper “two choices: stand staunchly by the 12 educated people who actually live in downtown Dayton” or find a way to write for suburbanites who are only in the city on weekdays, 9-to-5.
“They’re the people running the city, period,” Farley says. “Do I want to hit those people where they live and play or only where they work?”
Farley says DCP has no plans yet to change its circulation numbers — currently 16,000 — or distribution sites. Dayton readers long ago opted not to read Impact, he believes.
DCP — and Impact before it — distributes 40 percent of its papers in the city of Dayton and 90 percent in its home county of Montgomery. “We’re very much in terms of circulation a metro. It’s been that way forever,” Farley says.
“With the new paper, until the public changes that decision, it doesn’t make sense for me to incur a lot of new distribution costs.”
Editorially, Farley says stories focused on downtown and the intricacies of city politics are “wasted space.”
“It doesn’t mean we’re writing about suburban issues. I don’t care about high schools … or cats stuck in trees.” He hopes Dayton City Paper will cover the workings of smaller municipalities — the zoning issues and the sweetheart deals, for instance — that hold broader interest, he adds.
“When you ask a reader on the street why they read an alternative, the answer typically is, ‘I want to know what’s going on over the weekend.’ Very few answer, ‘I’m in tune with the political and cultural news at the front of the book.’ It doesn’t make sense to stick with a particular format that alienates a part of the community.”
He cites Impact’s 2000 Media Audit study: “Only two percent of our readers voted Republican. When I left (Indianapolis-based AAN member) NUVO we had a roughly even split, Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Impact Weekly never has.”
The change, says Editor Carrie Inmon, who joined Impact in September, includes adding a conservative voice to create opposing editorials on a single issue each week.
“I’ve been thinking for some time of creating a paper with especially strong views on both sides,” Farley says. There is no longer a need to counter the daily press with unheard angles or lengthier pieces — at least not in Dayton, he says.
“Most of our readers view reading time each week as a small, precious commodity, so if I have a paper that stays on one side of the line [politically], typically I’m telling readers they need to go somewhere else” for other views. “It’s better to be in a room full of people making decisions than outside with a picket sign” — as long as you’re still free to point out wrongdoing, he says.
He says the move to a more conservative voice will not affect the “quality or direction” of the paper.
Former Managing Editor Kristen Wicker isn’t so certain. She left Impact a year ago, when owner Yesse! Communications was having trouble meeting payroll and keeping employees’ health insurance coverage, which caused a staff walkout. Wicker started as an intern with the then-Dayton Voice in 1997.
“The audience that [Voice staffers] were going for, and I continued to try to reach, was more of a progressive, urban audience. We had a really strong African-American audience” reflecting the city’s black population, she says. “That shifted with Yesse. They really wanted to go after the suburbs. They really wanted to go after people with money. They just weren’t interested in the editorial voice we had worked for. They were interested in making money — and I understand there’s a reality there. If they want to change the name, maybe that’s better, because it has nothing to do with what Impact Weekly was.”
Despite the shift in geographic focus and politics, Inmon is certain DCP will still fit the “alternative” mold. “An alternative paper is really a community paper, a watchdog paper. We [still] have people calling us first with their problems,” she says.
When the Dayton Daily News published a story saying Impact would now focus on the suburbs, Inmon heard from one reader who was willing to pay for her copy of the paper each week if it would only keep its urban focus.
“She was thinking we were going to totally turn our backs,” Inmon says. “And people are just afraid of change. It will take people a few weeks to feel it out and see that it has not changed its mission.”
Marty Levine is news editor of Pittsburgh City Paper.