Rethinking the Dig

As many of you know, Jeff Lawrence has taken over the editorial reins of the Weekly Dig. But a question lingers: What now?

This is a heady time for Lawrence, who bought the paper back from Metrocorp (the parent company of Boston magazine) in May, and he is banking heavily on his own instincts. But the aesthetic of the Dig, from its creation, has been constant change.

“How do you keep readers coming back?” Lawrence asked rhetorically. “You challenge them.”

Lawrence added that he has no intention of making himself permanent editor, and he is sensitive to the perception that will create.

“This publication is not going to turn into some advertorial piece of shit,” Lawrence said. “Quite the contrary.”

The challenge for Lawrence and his remaining staff, which has included an influx of recent Emerson grads, is to keep the paper relevant. It has been no small feat that the Dig made itself somewhat of a name in this town despite the presence of two entrenched daily newspapers, two free commuter papers, Stuff at Night, the Improper Bostonian, Barstool Sports, and an established alt-weekly in the Phoenix. Not to mention myriad blogs and web-only pubs, all of which cater to the same broad demographic.

The Dig’s successes have been a direct result of an aggressive edit staff that made its name by taking honest shots at subjects that other local journalists shied from. Still, where once the staff was known for its cohesiveness, sources at the paper have indicated that the Dig’s collective morale is now in question — many (but not all) staff members are now gone, ticked off, or both.

Lawrence said he wants more voices and will solicit more writers by raising his freelance rates. He plans to rethink every section, and if he’s short on specifics he is long on options. Basically, everything is on the table.

“In the next six months, the Dig will look a lot different, and sound a lot different,” he said.

There is a lot is riding on Lawrence’s gamble. He has weathered unpopular changes in the editorial staff before, not to mention the move from independent to corporate-owned and back to independent. This may be the Dig’s toughest challenge, however. The stakes are its very existence.