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Next month marks one year since Hanna Nakano took over as publisher of The Dirt, a monthly in the city of Davis.
Photo by Hanna Nakano
By VERONICA YOO
Renewed with a change in ownership, The Dirt is nearing its first anniversary with Hanna Nakano as publisher of the monthly. With a background in writing, Nakano seeks to create a newspaper by Davis, for Davis and about Davis that harnesses the creative energies of local writers, artists and active locals.
The word “active” certainly describes Nakano. “I have three small businesses,” says Nakano, who is also the mother of two. “I used to have two small businesses, and now I have The Dirt on top of everything that I used to do.”
After almost a year of digging into The Dirt, Nakano finds it most satisfying that she’s able to raise the voices of local residents through “the power of documentation and the power of publishing things.”
She says, “The stories about our community are not breaking news. We’re just telling heartwarming stories about our community and we're documenting what’s happening, which I think is cool.”
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Veronica Yoo: You have a background in freelance writing. What made you transition from writing for publications to becoming a publisher?
Hanna Nakano: I went to journalism school, and then I worked in television. When I started having [children], I realized I couldn’t do both. And so I tried to find a way to write from home, do online journalism. This was 2015-ish when I started writing online. I connected with a ton of people until I eventually found something that I liked doing in the parenting world for about five or six years. So I just kept writing, kept writing, kept writing.
When I moved to Davis, I saw that The Dirt came back to life. It went out of print during the pandemic because there weren’t any events to talk about. Then it was back last year—I think December was the first issue last year. That’s when I saw it for the first time and thought, this is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s really pretty. The print issue is so cute—it’s a perfect square, and the branding is just on point.
The former owner of The Dirt is a blog writer. We knew of each other for ten years before I even moved to Davis just because of our blog writing circles on the internet. Years later, we met each other. She told me, “I’m looking for a buyer for this. Does it seem like something you would be interested in doing?” Any journalism school kid who gets the opportunity to purchase and become publisher of a newspaper—you have to do it. It’s a break, a great opportunity for me.
“Davis is a cool place to be, and people desire to be here.”
This one’s a two-part question: What is so appealing or important about local journalism? And why Davis?
It’s a very unique town. If you’re from here, if you’ve been here, it doesn’t need explanation. Davis is a cool place to be, and people desire to be here.
Davis is amazing, and creating content about Davis is a dream and a breeze, if that makes sense. Everything here is a story. There’s art and thought behind so many of our daily experiences here. What a dream to wake up to that and get to cover anything.
The second part, on local journalism: I started college in 2006 and one of the first things I remember my professor saying was that the only thing that’s going to exist for 20 years—which is now—is hyper-local journalism. CNN will still be there because it’s CNN, and CNN is never going to die. But the mid-level things are going to disappear, and all we’re going to have left are the hyper-local things that people care about.
People want news that matters to them. I don’t think that's house fires, and I don’t think that’s car accidents, and I don’t think that’s road closures. You know, people want news. They want good stories. They want to read stories that matter to them. They want to read about things happening in their neighborhoods.
But I think there’s power in publishing. Every single month, we publish poetry submitted by our readers. We publish their art, and that’s art that may not have been published otherwise.
How do you go about finding events and news? Is there a process or kind of criteria?
For finding events, we heavily rely on our community members. We have a tab on our website where you can add your own event. We rely on everyone to add their own. And that works well because it is a free service that we offer, so people do take advantage of it.
We send a weekly email with highlighted events, and we really publicize those events. Also, I have a few interns who are a huge help, and we have a list of all the event holders in our area.
As far as stories, the internet is limitless, and people come to me wanting to write things, and I never say no because the internet has limitless space. We can share as many things as possible.
The print issue is a little harder. We only have so many pages because we only have so many dollars to pay for paper and ink.
Is there kind of a common thing you look for in all articles, or ask of your team?
We are a shoestring budget organization. Everyone is a contributor or a freelancer, but we have formed a little team that I’m pretty proud of. We have somebody who manages all of our social media. We have some interns who help with events and do the writing. We have some writing contributors, and I guess the commonality between all of them and me is a love for hanging out with people and doing cool things.
I think that’s kind of a commonality for people who live in Davis. We live here because we want to enjoy community, and we want to build community with each other, and that's what we aim to do with the paper. One of my favorite things about the paper is page three, the editor’s picks. Every month I send out a Google Doc to all the team members and say, “Throw in your pitches for the editor’s picks.” Then we all just put in so many things in this Google Doc, dozens of things that we think are cool. It’s fun to see how everybody pitches in and who’s interested in what things. A good variety of people are contributing from all walks of life.
Do you have goals in the upcoming year or new projects you want to work toward?
I think when I took The Dirt over in February of last year, it was 16 pages long. Since then, we turned it into 24 pages. That means that there’s space for five additional community stories every month. That makes me so excited and so fired up, and I wish that we had 24 more pages.
I think there’s that much that’s cool about this place, Davis and Yolo County. And getting to look at it from this viewpoint is exciting as a resident, too. So for next year, I would like to find a way to turn a newspaper from a community project into a business. This is very much a labor of love. We’re barely making enough money to pay for ink and paper and web space. I think a lot of people enjoy what we’re doing, so we could use a little support.
Final question: How do you hope readers and residents will engage with The Dirt?
I want the community to feel like The Dirt is theirs. Somebody has to manage the space, but if they have something they want to share or they think is important to share with the community, or a topic that they think deserves a highlight or an artist who they think needs a spotlight, I want them to feel welcome to write that for us or to send us pictures of that. I want the community to feel a bit of an ownership stake in it.
When the term “community journalism” first came out, it was like, are they journalists or are they not? And I think it’s not quite that scary anymore. If you can write a sentence, you can write your story. I’m offering that space to people. As long as we have the pages and can pay for them, I’d like to open the space to as many community voices as possible.
We had a beautiful letter in our December issue from a UC Davis student who’s Jewish and is a member of Hillel. She wrote to the community about her hopes for 2024 and her hopes for understanding. It was pretty deep.
How cool that we could give that space and share! It’s truly meaningful to me and so many other people. It’s definitely an ambition of mine to make sure that the people who want or need to say something have a platform. I believe The Dirt in Davis is trying to do that.
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