Print Still Lives Downtown

City of Dallas clings to faded news format in downtown district

City of Dallas clings to faded news format in downtown district

While everyone reading this story gets their news online, the city of Dallas is committed to sticking with old-school print in downtown Dallas, and it's paying the Dallas Morning News to help keep that practice afloat.

On March 25, the city council will vote on whether to extend its contract with the DMN to maintains newsstands inside the central business district, even for competing publications such as the Dallas Observer and Paper City.

This contract extension would run three years, and is a significant step back from the previous contract, which promised to install 1,100 newsracks. But as of June 2014, only 700 newsracks were installed. The other 400 weren't needed, due to a rapid decline in print, including the demise of a number of publications. Those 400 are in storage where they will likely remain, says Ashley Eubanks, an assistant director for the city.

Eventually, these shiny relics will become the property of the city of Dallas.

"Five years ago, the Dallas Morning News bid to provide the service of putting the racks in the right-of-way and maintaining them," Eubanks says. "But with what's happening in regards to print not being a modern technology, all those modules were not put in the ground."

The DMN setup is similar to Denver and Colorado Springs with racks joined together in corrals, creating a sense of unification, as opposed to a mishmash of different plastic stands.

"They're called 'ped-mounts,'" says Will Logg, Paper City's circulation director. "I remember being in a meeting in 2009 with a group of publishers where we agreed we would all have uniform black boxes, which we would own and be responsible for ourselves. I take pride in keeping our boxes clean. But then the next meeting, we came back and the city had made a deal to spend all this money on these Belo ped-mounts."

The original contract stated that the city would pay the DMN $369,853; so far the DMN has been paid $157,450, and won't see the $212,403 balance. Instead, a three-year extension will cost Dallas $107,200, including a $10,000 audit done by the DMN to determine which newsracks need to be repaired or replaced.

Publishers pay the city a fee to be able to sell their product in a public right-of-way. Outside downtown, it's $15 per rack; inside the central business district, it's $60 — a higher figure that funds the maintenance fees paid to the DMN.

"The increase from $15 to $60 helped drive three publications that previously enjoyed prolific downtown visibility — African American Statesman, Ad Beat and Turtle Creek Press — out of business," Logg says. "The magazine I represent had to pull back from 10 locations to just three.

"Of course, since the Dallas Morning News owns the ped-mounts, their competing luxury product, FD Luxe, enjoys prolific visibility, in direct disproportion to Paper City magazine's lack of street visibility."

In 2009, some years after the invention of the internet, Belo remained in the throes of print madness, publishing Quick and a variety of other publications; most have since folded. According to Eubanks, the number of publications overall that are distributed downtown has shrunk by half.

"We have 15 publications who still want to use modules," she says. "We started with about 30. It has definitely declined. But there are still those out there who want to provide that."

Carlos Garcia, circulation director for the Observer, says that in other cities, their parent company, Voice Media, maintains the boxes themselves. In Dallas, they've encountered issues getting their boxes fixed.

"We've had broken windows, so I contact the city, and the city contacts the DMN," he says. "The problem is, they don't maintain."

They've also had their number of boxes cut back. "We have to agree because we're the small guys here," Garcia says.

In three years, the newsracks will become the property of the City of Dallas, which will then have to either hire more maintenance or do it themselves. Between theft, urination, graffiti and general vandalizing, maintenance of the boxes is not an easy task.

"I'm not sure if you've taken a look at the stands downtown, but they're horrific," Logg says. "The windows are opaque, there's pigeon poop all over them and half of them are empty."

news boxes
On March 25, the city council will vote on whether to extend its contract with the DMN to continue maintaining newsstands inside the central business district. Photo by Teresa Gubbins
News boxes
Many of the newsboxes downtown are empty. Photo by Teresa Gubbins