OCEAN CITY – After more than 30 years of head-to-head competition that never produced a clear winner, The Dispatch and Ocean City Today are merging next week to create what their principals believe is the kind of news provider the coastal area needs now and well into the future.
As of Feb. 2, readers of both newspapers will see the new OC Today/Dispatch on the newsstands, as the top personnel from both offices combine the best elements of the two publications into one.
“This is a move that will greatly benefit the community,” said The Dispatch Editor Steve Green. “We truly will be stronger as one rather than continuing to compete against each other for the same news and sales every week. This is a big deal for us, and we think the real winner will be our readers and our clients. We are excited to bring the most popular aspects of both papers into one larger newspaper that will truly serve as the newspaper of record for Worcester County.”
For the many people caught off guard by what would appear to be a sudden change of heart by the leadership at two highly competitive operations, this consolidation is anything but abrupt.
“The idea of getting together instead of beating each other up week after week came up more than a decade ago,” OC Today Editor Stewart Dobson said. “Steve and I have had conversations about it off and on for years, and nearly pulled it off last year. But we’re both very competitive people, and it took a little longer for us to realize that the easiest way to win the campaign for readers and advertisers — and to do a better job of serving the community — is to do it together.”
In a joint statement, Green and Dobson said capitalizing on the experience of the merged staff will also allow OC Today/Dispatch to become more than a newspaper but also the coastal area’s primary web-based and digital provider of information.
“We have many sources of local information on the web these days,” Green said, “but none of them are backed up by on-the-ground reporting like we provide.”
Green also noted that the two papers combined have more than 200,000 Facebook followers to call on as OC Today/Dispatch launch new subscription digital products over the course of the year.
“We know the market, and we know it’s changing,” Dobson said. “We also know just by looking at our Facebook numbers how big that underserved market is. We were so busy worrying about each other that we failed to see how big this opportunity really is. Now, we intend to go after it.”
Unlike most community newspapers, which depend solely on their residential readership and advertising bases, The Dispatch and OC Today have benefitted from having three bases: residential, nonresident property owners and visitors.
“This is what kept our two independent newspapers going for so long, when so many others across the country have gone under,” Dobson said.
The Dispatch was founded in 1984 by Dick Lohmeyer under the Maryland Coast Dispatch Inc. banner. Lohmeyer operated numerous resort area newspapers over the course of his 60 years in the industry. Upon his passing in 2005, Green assumed the role of publisher.
Ocean City Today was launched in 1993 by Flag Publications Inc., a company created by a handful of mostly local investors, none of whom had a controlling interest. Dobson joined as editor and company president in 1994. Flag Publications also owns the Bayside Gazette, a free weekly delivered to Ocean Pines and Berlin, and the Ocean City Digest, a paid legal newspaper. It also helped found and is a partner in the Coastal Point newspaper, which serves the Bethany Beach/Ocean View/Fenwick area and is celebrating its 20th anniversary on Feb. 5.
Leading the new operation will be Dobson, who will mark 30 years with OC Today in March. In addition to his 54 years working in the industry, he grew up in the business. His father, Emory Dobson, was a lifelong newspaper editor and publisher, primarily in Caroline County, Md.
Serving as executive editor will be Green, who has been at the helm of The Dispatch since 1997, having worked in all aspects of the newspaper’s functions, from reporting and photography to delivering papers and maintaining sales accounts. He also grew up in the business as Lohmeyer’s stepson.
With Dobson as editor and Green as executive editor, the leadership team will be rounded out by Christine Brown, who will continue to serve as publisher and controller. She will be aided by administrative assistant Gini Tufts.
The staff overall will consist of veterans drawn from both papers, many of whom have deep roots to the area.
On the news side will be associate editors Charlene Sharpe, Bethany Hooper and Mallory Panuska and Staff Writer Tara Fischer. Sharpe, Hooper and Fischer are products of Stephen Decatur High School.
The sales department will consist of long-time ad sales associates Mary Cooper, Terri French and Renee Kelly, while Taylor Sloan will handle classifieds and legal notices.
The art department will also have a veteran staff, with Art Director Cole Gibson, Senior Page Designer Susan Parks and Graphic Artist Kelly Brown.
“This is going to be a work in progress,” Green and Dobson said in their joint statement. “A redesign and reworking of the print publication from top to bottom is in the works and will unfold over time. The same approach will be taken with the two papers’ websites and social media pages. They will be joined under the OC Today/Dispatch name.”
The new paper will operate out of the offices of the former OC Today at 11934 Ocean Gateway, Suite 6, Ocean City, and will retain the 410-723-6397 phone number. All email addresses for the staff will remain as they are for now.