EPISODE 3 (2004 – 2007)
Sell out! With me, oh yeah. Sell out! With me, too-nite…
Wanna know something freaky? The pillar of independent journalism you’re fortunate enough to be reading at the moment used to be owned by the same corporation that publishes the upscale glossies Philadelphia Magazine and Boston Magazine. Given the epidemic of media consolidation that rages on today, a tale of bottom line-obsessed suits from Metro Corp. suppressing the Dig’s mission of keepin’ it real would be timely… but, ah, that’s not exactly what went down, as you’ll see…
CHRIS ROHLAND (co-publisher): I met Jeff Lawrence and Joe Keohane at the AAN conference in San Antonio, and we hit it off. Later, Jeff and I met in New York for a beer, and he said, “Y’know, I could use some assistance. We were just acquired by Metro Corp., and they’re a different kind of company—family-owned, corporate media—and you have some experience dealing with that. So would you consider coming to Boston?”
DAVID LIPSON (Metro Corp. chairman and CEO): I wanted to increase our reach to a younger audience, and the Improper was asking for a lot of money. Then I kind of forgot about it. But then I read an article in the Boston Business Journal about the Dig, and then I met Jeff, and we figured we’d work something out.
CRAIG KAPILOW (associate editor): The story, as I understood it, is Metro Corp. was in negotiations to buy the Improper Bostonian, which fell through pretty late in the game. David was looking for market symmetry; to have a broader media demographic to sell advertisers on. David called Jeff and started conversations about buying the Dig. I will say that I recently saw Rick Waechter, who’s still their Boston CEO, and he was joking around that if Jeff wasn’t there they would probably still own the Dig.
ROHLAND: Metro Corp. was getting older. Herb Lipson was getting older, and he had been kind of the patriarch of Metro Corp. David was the son, but I remember wishing him a happy 50th birthday while I was at the Dig. So let’s say you’re running a city magazine, and your audience is middle-aged housewives and old preppy guys working at State Street, while the future is Gen Xers and even younger readers. Your content needs to be younger.
STEVE BARIL (senior account executive): I think they saw the Dig as part of the alt-weekly industry, which they didn’t have any sort of experience in. Up until that point, their portfolio was these really high-end glossy magazines like Philadelphia Magazine and Boston Magazine. And I think they did some wedding magazines and stuff like that. So the Dig was something completely out of their box.
LIPSON: Jeff Lawrence is quite a character. I think he knew that to get to the next level, he needed some help. Business was very strong at the time. If you remember the growth of the internet, it was hot, and then there was the crash of 2000. So I thought, “Maybe this won’t be the thing,” which was my mistake, but we didn’t see the full brunt until the first recession/depression of 2007/2008. As a business, we had some of our best years, if not our best years, in 2006 or 2007, so I had no inkling of the destructive power of the internet on traditional media. My goal was to expand our presence in Boston, reach a younger audience, and at the same time, build a bench of talent for the city magazine.
TAK TOYOSHIMA (art director): Clearly the big jump was when Boston Magazine came in. That was a completely new level. We had new street boxes. All of a sudden we had all these rules and somebody else we needed to answer to, but we also had resources that we didn’t have before. I could reach out to illustrators who were the next level up because I knew we could afford them.
KAPILOW: When Metro Corp. bought the Dig, David Lipson ended up drinking with us. We ended up passing around a 40 oz. in the back of a cab. We got him so drunk that his staff forbid him from ever drinking with us again.
ROHLAND: They did this party at the old … Um, what the hell was that club where House of Blues is now? Avalon. They had naked models being painted, and David Lipson brought his wife and all this stuff. I wasn’t officially part of the Dig at the time, so I didn’t know the dynamic, but Jeff got up on stage and yelled, “What’s up, motherfuckers?!?!!” I could see David cringing, like, “This is what I bought?” But it’s like, “What did you expect?”
DAVE WILDMAN (arts editor): Some people thought we were selling our souls to the devil. I always thought it was a good idea, because we could really use those resources and twist them for our devious needs. At the time there was such great energy, and this sense that we could actually be a player in the magazine scene.
JOE BONNI (ousted founding EiC): I don’t think anyone would deny that I would’ve raised holy hell against such a fuckin’ marriage, right? But by that point I was back at UMass finishing the degree I had abandoned 15 years earlier, so I read this as a spectator like everyone else, thinking, “What is Jeff doing?”
JOE KEOHANE (EiC): They gave us a bunch of money, which was insane, having seen not just what we were capable of, but comfortable doing. Giving us a lot of money to do it on a grander scale … I never understood why they did that. I know they wanted to get a younger audience, but we clearly weren’t going to become a more sophisticated Improper or something like that. We were clearly going to do what Vice did a few years prior when they got a big chunk of money and blew it all on cocaine. But we finally had living wages.
LIPSON: I guess, in my naivete, what I wanted was Boston Magazine for younger people; more accessible stories about people who were younger and their careers. Take Boston Magazine and dial it down 20 or 30 years.
DEREK KOUYOUMJIAN (freelance photographer): I remember going to the office for the first time. They had a tap for beer. I was like, “This is just too fucking awesome.” There was this absinthe party, so I’m there, taking pictures, having a blast. Jeff is there, going hog wild, smashing his head through the wall of his office. So I took a few pictures of him doing that. He looks at me, gets really alarmed, grabs me, and goes, “WHO ARE YOU?! WHO DO YOU WORK FOR?! YOU WORK FOR THE GLOBE, DON’T YOU?!” I said, “I wish. I work for you, Jeff.” He says, “Oh, I’m sorry. That’s okay.”
In our next episode: Company cultures clash, and the Dig fires a staffer who would become a folk hero. Also, that same folk hero poops his pants in a semi-related story.
Barry Thompson lives next to a highway in the Allston/Brighton vicinity. He has written for a whole bunch of places, enjoys caffeine, and appreciates a good, hearty anxiety attack every now and again.