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Dayton City Paper owner: ‘It was a lot and a lot of money, and it’s gone’

Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2018 @ 9:00 AM

Wanda Esken of Trotwood has been indicted on theft charges related to her work at the Dayton City Paper. The paper closed the week of Sept. 17. Video by Amelia Robinson

The owner of what was the region’s only alternative newspaper expects a nagging question to remain in his mind. 

“The part that hurts the most and, it is something I am going to have trouble fighting, is the feeling that I might not have done enough to prevent the demise of the paper,”  Dayton City Paper owner Paul Noah said. “That will be my mental dilemma for the rest of my life.”

THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG

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The newspaper published its last edition Sept. 11. Its website has turned into an archive site on which its readers and a long list of staff and contributing writers can find their work.

>> PREVIOUS COVERAGE:  Dayton City Paper shutting down, writers say

“It is extremely unlikely the Dayton City Paper will be able to re-emerge,” Noah said. 

He began to look into financial irregularities after they were brought to his attention in December. 

“(I) realized that it was the tip of the iceberg, but I didn’t know yet how to manage it,” he said. “After the holiday break, it became obvious it was a bigger problem, and at that point I engaged an investigation internally and realized I needed to make my bank aware of what I thought the problem was.”

Noah and his banker contacted Dayton police in January when the extent of the financial trouble became clear, he said.

>> PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Former Dayton City Paper publisher indicted on charges she stole thousands from boss

Former Dayton City Paper publisher Wanda Esken faces three counts of grand theft and one count of forgery in connection with those irregularities, according to an indictment filed Aug. 16 in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court. 

Each of the three felony grand theft counts alleges that Esken took more than $7,500, but less than $150,000 from Noah and his business, Dayton City Media, the parent company of the Dayton City Paper, via cash or check. The alleged crimes occurred between Nov. 22, 2016 and Dec. 22, 2017, according to court records. 

Esken is set to appear in court for a hearing Oct. 1. 

Christopher W. Thompson of the Montgomery County Public Defender’s Office, Esken’s attorney in the case, said he could not yet comment on the case. 

On Jan. 5, Noah told police Esken, who was laid off just days before Noah went to police, was the sole authorized person to print checks for the business, but he was the only authorized signer of these checks, a police report says.

He showed police several checks made out to Esken in which his signature was allegedly forged, the report says.  

Numerous vendors reported being overcharged, and in some cases, their credit cards were charged for the same purchase multiple times. Noah also told a Dayton detective that the company that printed the City Paper informed him that he owed about $35,000 in back payments.

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His office space landlord informed him that he was behind on rent four months, the police documents said. 

“The investigation took over four months, and in that time I realized I had two choices: one, fold the paper because there was no money, and that option actually came up in mid- to-late January when we had no money, or two, try to save the ship,” he said. “I, as captain of the ship, did not want to see the ship go down, and if it was going to go down, I was going to go down with it.”  

The Dayton City Paper has closed, according to multiple sources.(Mark Fisher)

After the financial irregularities were discovered until early summer, Noah said he contributed $3,000 to $4,000 per week into the effort to save the City Paper. 

“I really honestly thought I was going to be able to pull this off by tapping into my own cash, and it was a lot and a lot of money, and it’s gone,” Noah said. “Due to cash-flow reasons, suddenly I was having to dip in again to my savings, and that was nearly out.” 

Noah said before this, his paper was thriving, and he had plans to expand into Lexington, Kentucky — he owns the domain name for LexingtonCityPaper.com — before financial irregularities were discovered.

“We were in expansion mode. We were proving the naysayers wrong,” Noah said.  

“This newspaper didn’t end because I wanted this. The newspaper ended (because of) circumstances beyond my control.”

>> Downtown shop closing after more than 30 years 

Even in the midst of the crisis, Noah said he and his staff of about five worked to produce a quality newspaper with the help of about 40 freelance writers.

“There was no way by looking at the paper that you could tell we were in trouble,” he said. Noah said the only difference was that the paper printed 32 to 36 pages a week, down from 40 to 44 pages each week. 

With no prior publishing experience, Noah joined The Dayton City Paper as its publisher in 2009 under its prior owner, Dr. Mehdi Adineh.

He purchased the newspaper from Adineh in 2012. 

“I love my job. In fact, I  remember waking up after about nine months of running the paper and saying to my wife, ‘I can’t wait to go to work,’” Noah said. “I loved to provoke thought. That’s what made this job fun for me.”

>> RELATED: Dayton social media reacts to paper's Brock Turner cover

>> RELATED: Dayton company to claims of its demise: 'we have a whole lot more to offer'

THE CITY PAPER’S LEGACY

10/23/1999 archived photo: Jeff Epton and Marrianne McMullen work as co-publishers at Impact Weekly where they used to be owners. The couple also bring a part of their home life with them to work, including their dog Idgie and sometimes their baby. (MAME BURNS)

Noah said he is now tasked with preserving the newspaper’s legacy. The online archive will remain, and there is an active moderated comment feature. 

Noah said he plans to work with the Dayton Metro Library to ensure it has copies of newspapers published since he joined.

He also wants to make copies available to other groups.  

Noah said he took seriously the legacy of the newspaper and what it meant to carry the publisher’s torch. 

The arts-and-culture newspaper was launched in 1993 as “The Dayton Voice,” but changed its name to “Impact Weekly” in 2002 after being challenged by The Village Voice, a much larger alternative paper based in New York. 

It became the Dayton City Paper the following year. 

“There is nothing more fun than producing a product you love,” Noah said. “I had my strategist plan it, and it wasn't to shut the paper down, ever.”

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