Stephanie and Matt plan out the final issue of The Paper at Zanzabar. Photo by Hunter Wilson/Kertis Creative.

MEET YOUR MAKERS: Stephanie Brothers and Matt Dobson

“I didn’t realize that there was a name for what we were doing until I found this article about a commencement address by Robert Krulwich and he talked about the idea of horizontal loyalty,” said Stephanie Brothers, editor of The Paper. “I don’t want to misappropriate a beautiful quote from him, but he basically says find your friends – find the friends of friends, find the friends of friends of friends – who are creating beautiful things, who are making beautiful things happen. And band together and make the most beautiful thing that you can. There’s no sense in waiting for someone to give you permission, waiting for someone to give you a job. The information is all in front of you so if you want to do it then do it.”

Well, this article took a bit of arm-twisting to bring to fruition, but it was something I wanted to do.

Brothers and Matt Dobson, The Paper’s creative director, sent out an email announcing their decision to end The Paper on June 6, along with an invitation for ideas for a final issue. I responded with a pitch (this pitch) with which I assumed they would not be comfortable. I was right; they were not. But, luckily, the two acknowledged it was a story worth sharing.

For two years and 24 issues, Dobson and Brothers have led a publication which strives to tell the stories of the people behind the stories of this town. This is just a bit of the story behind The Paper.

The impetus for the publication came in 2011, after the latest round of cuts at Gannett’s The Courier-Journal, specifically those of the Neighborhoods section and the weekly features publication, Velocity.

“It’s arts and neighborhoods,” said Dobson. “And it’s the writers that you know their names and care about and suddenly they’re not writing. And that’s ridiculous.”

It was some of those same, recently laid off, employees of The Courier-Journal who would form the bulk of The Paper’s earliest contributors, alongside others who had already been self-publishing via blogs.

But I wondered how you go from saying someone  should do this to saying we should do this.

“Quickly,” said Dobson with a laugh.

Neither Dobson nor Brothers had direct prior experience as publishers, although Dobson has designed for print for years and Brothers has worked off and on for a local publishing company, Holland Brown Books, for about five years.

“Neither of us were journalists, but I think we had a compatible skill set,” said Dobson. “But as far as deciding, I think it’s something that you do fast. You don’t do a lot of planning. And you jump in and figure it out so you don’t have time to get scared.”

Dobson and Brothers had been acquainted through similar social circles for a long time, but The Paper marked their first real collaboration. It is one which the pair asserted has more often strengthened their friendship, rather than tested it.

“It’s been a pressure cooker of a relationship builder,” said Brothers with a laugh.

“We became friends along the way,” said Dobson.

“And I don’t think it would have worked out otherwise because we had to work really fast and be very definitive,” said Brothers. “We had to not be afraid to make decisions,” said Brothers. “We couldn’t be afraid of hurting one another’s feelings in defending the way that we felt about something. So it helped that there weren’t years of friendship standing in the way.”

The Paper debuted its first issue in August of 2011 with a collection of articles dedicated to the community it loved. Joseph Lord, formerly of The C-J (and now online managing editor at WFPL), wrote about local band Nerves Junior. Erin Keane (also formerly of The C-J and currently an arts and humanities reporter for WFPL) wrote a series on how to become a published writer. Grace Simrall debuted Meet Your Maker, which would come to be the publication’s longest running feature series.

It was a perspective that would continue to evolve over time.

“We both grew up around here and we both felt like there were a lot of really great stories about this community that weren’t necessarily being told,” said Brothers.

“There’s been a lot of evolution in every aspect of what we do,” said Brothers. “But somewhere along the way we realized that there were a lot of great stories to tell about Louisville, but what we wanted to do was to tell the stories about the people behind the cool things that were happening in town. We wanted to talk about the people that are having those ideas, that are making it happen and making it possible.”

“We talked to Michelle Jones [of Consuming Louisville] shortly after we got started and she gave us some good advice to get our original website up and going and just some other tips,” said Dobson. “One of the things she said was, ‘I do Consuming Louisville selfishly because I want to encourage more of the things that I enjoy having in town.’ And I think there’s a lot of that. I think we really deliberately covered more community outreach and things like that. But I think we expanded our definition of what it means to do good in your community beyond just cleaning up trash or starting these community projects – that having a theater group is important and it helps the community. Look at any issue, any maker that’s been in there, every person that makes this place a little bit more interesting, a little bit more unique, and a little bit less homogenous – that does good. It injects personality and it makes Louisville what it is.”

Stephanie and Matt pretend to read back issues of The Paper. Photo by Hunter Wilson/ Kertis Creative.

Stephanie and Matt pretend to read back issues of The Paper.
Photo by Hunter Wilson/
Kertis Creative.


The Anatomy of an issue

Talk me through the process you’ve developed as far as how you put this thing together on a monthly basis.

Brothers: Matt and I sit down over a coffee or beer to come up with some themes or what direction we want the issue to go in. And then I would either assign stories or reach out to people for pitches.

Dobson: I think one thing that’s important to understand how we work on it is that it’s not start to finish, start another, finish it. It’s start, and then about halfway through, before that one gets finished, the next one gets started. So it’s a monthlong process, but the months overlap.


How are you communicating throughout that process?

Brothers and Dobson: Lots of emails.


How has that process evolved from first issue to last?

Dobson: We got pretty good. We got pretty good at communicating all the moving pieces and knowing who needed to talk to who and communicating that all pretty fast and pretty efficiently. The Paper’s really a digital product. The end result is this physical, tangible thing, but it exists in this digital space. It’s possible because of that digital space. There are people who have been a huge part of The Paper that I’ve never met, who I wouldn’t know if I bumped into them in the produce section at Kroger. And that sort of collaboration, that’s really what makes it possible. It’s a digital creation. It wouldn’t have been possible to do this at the level we did it, and the budget we did it on, five years ago, definitely not 10.


What have been the toughest things?

Brothers: It’s a no-brainer that our full-time jobs were the biggest roadblock. [Dobson and Brothers both worked full-time in addition to their work on The Paper, as did many of the contributors.] We had to find the appropriate balance between our home lives, our work lives, and our Paper lives. How do we make that all coexist in a beautiful way so that everything is getting the attention that it should be getting? From an editorial perspective, one of my biggest problems was: We’ve always paid our contributors, but we’ve never been able to pay them what we felt like they were worth. For me, it was a balancing act of how much can I ask of them in relationship with how much am I actually giving them.

Dobson: For me, I’d always be like, “I’ll make this thing and it’s gonna be awesome and I’ve got this vision for it.” And then I’m like, “Oh my god, that piece took 20 hours of work and I only had 10 to give to The Paper.” And so now I have to figure out where the rest of the time goes. A big part was learning how much we could take on and how much we needed other people to do.


What about something you are particularly proud of?

Brothers: So much of what The Paper has been the whole time has just been crazy kismet. Every month we manage to get it out on time and the content is good and the photography is fabulous and the illustrations are amazing. I’m trying to think of a specific example, but every month it was sort of a miracle that we got it out and it was great. And I’m really proud of that.


Can you point to a particular voice you feel wouldn’t have been heard without The Paper?

Dobson: We interviewed an 11 year-old kid that makes robots. He doesn’t have a PR agent or anything so he probably wasn’t going to get a lot of coverage otherwise.



This seems like a decision that you must have been struggling with for some time.

Brothers: Not as long as you might have thought. It hasn’t been months and months.

Dobson: No, not the ending it conversation, but the bigger conversation – that you have to have money to make this happen – has been a constant conversation. And that’s kind of where the full-time job thing really had a cost to The Paper because the getting it done part, making this thing every month, we’ve got covered. Between us and all the amazing people we work with, we can get it out there. But we don’t have the time to make those connections to turn it into the product it needs to be commercially. Not for lack of love or will – it’s just a matter of time and resources. It kind of reached a plateau and whatever was required to take it off that plateau – it’s the egg we couldn’t crack.

Brothers: I have no doubt that we could have continued to scrape the money together, month after month, find just enough advertisers to pay our print bill and pay all our contributors. But for us, coming up on the second anniversary, we knew that we wanted to make this thing bigger and better. But we couldn’t figure out how. So why not make it big and beautiful one last time? And we did it the way we wanted to do it the whole time. We decided when to start, we decided how to work, we decided how to do it. And, in the end, it makes me feel good that we were able to decide when to stop too.


What have you learned about this community throughout this experience?

Brothers: It sounds kind of hokey, but I’ve learned that so many people love this city just as much as I do, that I’m not alone in that sentiment. Louisville can be proud of itself to a fault sometimes, and I don’t dig that, but the majority of the people who are here really genuinely care about what this city is doing and where this city is going. And I don’t think that’s something that a lot of other cities can say for themselves.

Dobson: Every time you turn a rock over, you find another something good happening in this corner or this neighborhood. And then they’re like, “You should talk to so-and-so because they are doing this thing. And this thing is connected to this person – go talk to them.” I don’t think that we ran out of ammo as far as cool things to talk about in town. We just keep meeting people that are doing more and more interesting things. It’s really awesome. I still think Louisville’s a pretty great place. And you can do stupid things like start a newspaper and run it for a couple of years.

Brothers: It blows me away that, nine times out of 10, I could email a writer and say, “Hey, we have a spot next month. What do you want to talk about?” And I would get a really cool idea back.

Dobson: I think developing those creative relationships, and kind of having that back and forth, that’s really exciting – working with guys like Kertis Creative who make The Paper look beautiful. That’s been important.


I would think it has got to be quite gratifying to have provided a creative space for so many people.

Dobson: That’s the biggest disappointment for me, that a person had a spot in this, that they were counting on us every month. Or someone was stewing up an idea that they were going to drop on us in three months, that something was still in a nebulous phase and doesn’t get to find its reality through The Paper. That’s frustrating, that I don’t selfishly get to provide the vehicle for those things to happen.


So, Stephanie, I remember last year at The Paper’s first anniversary party you had been approached by an out of town friend who said, “I didn’t know Louisville was still a place where you could make things happen.” Have your thoughts on that statement changed?

Brothers: Not at all. But it’s funny. That friend is Eric Rickert and he now contributes a comic [Millennial Wax] to The Paper every month. And so The Paper became an avenue for him to make things happen in Louisville even though he lives in Brooklyn now. I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about The Paper ending and she said, “Just because something is coming to an end doesn’t mean that you can’t be proud of it anymore.” I think that what we did over the last two years maybe couldn’t have happened in other places. And I think just because we’re not doing this for 50 years doesn’t make Louisville any less of a great place for people to pursue crazy ideas.

Dobson: Yeah, I’m real proud of what we’ve done. I don’t feel like Louisville’s any less of a place to make things happen. I don’t have anything else on deck, but I have to imagine this won’t be the last hair-brained scheme I get involved in.


“If you don’t see the kind of theater you like, make it,” said Dobson. “If you don’t see the kind of art you like, make it. You know, do it. You can. And if you can’t, find someone else who can and you guys work together. Collaboration, that’s the big takeaway for me. I certainly am not capable of making The Paper. It is not a thing I can do.”

Every day we see things that people are working together to create in this city. And, for two years, The Paper has endeavored to create an echo chamber through which to celebrate those individuals and, hopefully, to encourage even more creativity through the effort.

We know that today this city is full to the brim with creatives and collaborators bringing incredible things into being. The necessity of exploring those stories, of creating a conversation around them, of contributing ourselves, is to ensure that they are still here to talk about tomorrow.

The work of The Paper is continued every time you tell someone about somebody fascinating you met and some incredible thing they are doing.


It’s got Louisville written all over it.


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