Washington's City Paper Gets Personal

Emily Christensen is one of 20 hawkers the Washington City Paper deploys. The alternative weekly is trying to offset dwindling in-store distribution.
Emily Christensen is one of 20 hawkers the Washington City Paper deploys. The alternative weekly is trying to offset dwindling in-store distribution. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
By Jenalia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 3, 2005

With circulation cooling off, competition heating up and retail distribution thinning out, the Washington City Paper took to the streets yesterday afternoon, deploying 20 hawkers to offer the paper outside 10 Metro stations in the District.

Leaving the morning rush hour to two other free papers, the Washington Examiner and the Express, publisher Amy Austin seized what she refers to as "happy hour," from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., when the single and hip are thinking about restaurants and entertainment, the heart of the City Paper's content.

"It makes more sense to approach them from the frame of mind when they're going out versus when they're going to work," said Austin.

Clad in an orange T-shirt, hawker Kenneth Newman offered the paper at Farragut North yesterday afternoon, personifying the competition among free papers: Mornings, he hands out the Examiner.

"Would you like a free copy of the City Paper?" he politely asked pedestrians. Some eagerly accepted while others steered past him and fellow hawker Emily Christensen.

One passerby, intrigued by the cover story about Examiner gossip columnist Karen Feld, took a copy. Another commuter, hobbling on crutches, did the same.

The hawking strategy comes after circulation for the alternative weekly newspaper that includes local news, gossip, entertainment listings and personal advertisements fell to 88,730 last year from 92,404 in 2003.

Launched in 1981, the tabloid was originally called 1981 and became the Washington City Paper the following year. Today, about 90 percent of its readers are single, with a median age of 39, said Austin.

One reason for the decline was because fewer retailers allow the City Paper to be distributed in their stores, Austin said.

"There's always been a sense that we're hard to find, which is true," she said. "But lately it's harder to find places that will distribute us. It has to do with what I call the sanitation of downtown."

A few restaurants and grocers stopped carrying the paper, she said, after customers complained that readers left the newspapers on tables or threw it on the streets. Also, more chain retailers, with policies prohibiting distribution of local newspapers, are moving in, she said.

One reader, Howard University student Javita Everhart, 22, said she has never seen the newspaper on the street. She reads the online version to keep up with entertainment news.


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