Some thoughts on the whole DigPortland debacle

DigPortland, the alternative weekly for which I wrote a weekly column, was bought by the Phoenix and folded this week. It was—whatever—just under 3 months old.

The reason I decided to become a columnist for the paper was not because I was lusting for another task or outlet—I wasn’t. In fact, I had been working on a few personal projects I ultimately put aside in order to make writing for Dig possible. I worked for the paper because editor Nick Schroeder asked me to; I worked for Dig because Nick Schroeder is a genius and I would agree to pretty much anything he asked of me.

If you don’t know Schroeder, this may be a difficult phenomenon to grasp. He is brilliant and critical and he thinks and plays big. Right now, in fact, he is directing a play (a Lorem Ipsum production), and had planned to simultaneously do so while editing a weekly because some people are crazy and brilliant enough to simultaneously take on monumental tasks. He has a twinkle in his eye—a twinkle, no joke—and his intention is to make people get uncomfortable in compelling ways while also having fun and to get them to humor the idea of exploring new points of views and perspectives along the way. Schroeder is this beautiful mashup of Peter Pan (in the most flattering of senses and not in that sad, stunted way) and provocateur, and I believed that given the time and the chance, he was capable of making Dig something beautiful.

He was not, in the end, afforded that chance.

Ownership of the Phoenix and Dig fought, the former sued the latter, things went quiet for a while, and then the Phoenix bought Dig. I can’t speak for everyone else at the paper, but I feel had by the whole situation. Fellow Dig writer and longtime Portland journalist and music writer Sam Pfeifle told the Bangor Daily News  something similar yesterday. “I think all of the freelancers would be lying if we said we didn’t feel a sense of betrayal. This is a complete and total surprise.” I feel betrayed, for sure, but worse is that I feel like Schroeder and his vision were thrown under the bus.

I suggested last month that the Phoenix‘s lawsuit against Dig was a boner move and it did not do much to ingratiate audiences to its new ownership. Not everything has to be a competition. The act, I explained, reflected poorly on their stellar editorial staff, particularly Daniel MacLeod, and that at the end of the day editorial should be the chip to “win” by (if there was, in fact, anything by way of a competition). I was told by several people that my suggestions were naive and immature and that there is only room in the city for one alt-weekly, a claim I still don’t believe. I was wrong in my assessment as the Phoenix appears to have “won” that seemingly unnecessary war, though I still contend that not only is there room for more than one paper of this style in this city, but the quality of journalism requires competitions that go beyond litigation and buyouts. In this case, unfortunately, it appears to not have been the plan to make this happen with these two titles.

So I continue to cheer on the editorial staff at Phoenix, as they are a talented group and they have put out some solid work. I am happy to have had the opportunity to share ink with a number of amazing talents, including but not limited to Pfeifle, Caroline O’Connor, Samuel James, Shay Stewart-Bouley, Lisa Bunker, Christopher Gray, Tak Toyoshima, and many others. I am sad, though, that now many of those at Dig no longer have bylines, and that Portland (myself included) did not get a chance to see Schroeder’s long-term vision for a Portland alt-weekly realized.

But hey, that’s business, he types cynically, though with some remnant of hope. I was wrong, perhaps, about where I had placed my faith regarding the decisions of the owners—it feels like we got shafted—but not in the talents that briefly made it shine.

NOTE [January 21, 2015]: Daniel MacLeod, who, as I note above, I very much appreciate and respect, has responded to this whole scenario over in the Phoenix. I don’t agree with a lot of the positioning in his response, but if you are keeping up with all of this, it’s worth a read.


Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.