City Paper is not for tourists
On Thursday, Express, the Washington Post’s commuter newspaper that was discontinued in September 2019, came back to life—kind of. The paper’s familiar blue-and-yellow pages were seen across the website and social accounts of The Pack, “a content and experience company dedicated to telling the stories of Washington, D.C.” The 16 pages of the digitally released paper include interviews with influential residents like Ty Hobson-Powell, founder of Concerned Citizens DC, news briefs on the Washington Football Team’s new name and the city’s murder rate, an explainer on police abolition, and a profile of Frontline Women DC, plus original photography and artwork, a Chocolate City glossary, and Express’ beloved back-of-the-book puzzles, all put together by volunteers and Pack members. City Paper spoke with The Pack’s director of design strategy, Nayion Perkins, 25, who lives in Northeast, and its director of brand and culture, Norbert Klusmann, 25, who lives in Southeast, about the Express project and the homegrown D.C. culture they hope to highlight with it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Washington City Paper: What is The Pack?
Nayion Perkins: We’re a content and experience company, that’s really how we like to brand it, specifically centered around Washington, D.C.—its past, present, and future. We’re both D.C. natives. Growing up, there wasn’t a lot of content, whether it was clothing, whether it was cultural information, kind of geared around our collective experiences, so we started developing stuff built out of that, whether it was themes for events, whether it was clothing, and it’s just kind of culminated in our world. Here we are doing a newspaper, but the thing right before this was a hat, or hoodie. It could be anything, because it’s a lifestyle, it’s a fully encompassing thing.
We’re five strong, so it’s it’s five members. We’re a friend group that kind of, I guess, evolved into a collective or a business.
Norbert Klusmann: We credit our founding in 2011, but in terms of actually, like, releasing content in this way, it’s 2018.
WCP: Broadly, in your words, what is this Express project?
NP: 2020 has just been a tumultuous year in general. So, we’ve done events, we’ve done clothing before. Going into the year, we had really big plans about doing these different releases, and then you have COVID that came, and then you have the civil unrest due to the many protests that were happening. And it just didn’t feel like the appropriate climate. One, it wasn’t safe to do events, but it [also] didn’t feel like the appropriate climate to just be selling clothes and things. We’re a group where we tackle tough issues, so we saw the Express as a way to elevate a lot of the voices that were stepping up, going into the frontlines protesting, presenting their artwork, helping out communities. We saw it as a way to report on what they’re doing, get their stories out, and just spread appropriate information to communities throughout D.C.
NK: This isn’t our first foray into print media. We have two lookbooks-slash-magazines, so the natural progression was a third, much larger lookbook. But the Express was just kind of a perfect vehicle to disseminate this information. We’re getting this information and elevating the voices of our impactful peers. We’re elevating the voices of people we may not know—or, you know, D.C. is small, so one or two degrees of separation, people we, like, essentially know—that kind of took the charge to do this amazing work during this pivotal time, and are still doing the work, because, again, like Nayion said, the same issues we were talking about collectively as a community, in terms of defunding the police, like—excuse my language, but that shit didn’t stop overnight when Joe Biden got elected. It’s still an issue in the same way. So, just elevating and reminding people that the issues that Chocolate City is facing and has been protesting against and fighting, or advocating for itself for this entire year, don’t forget about that. Don’t sleep on that.
WCP: Tell me more about what Express means, not just you but to the community.
NK: For a lot of us who grew up during the Express‘s run, our relationship with print media, or print media newspapers, is directly related to this free newspaper I got to read on the Metro, on the bus, every day as I went to school, right? You know, we can’t afford the Washington Post, per se. There’s financial barriers to information, we know that.
NP: If you grew up in D.C. or went to a D.C. public school, you more than likely took Metro to get there. So just a part of your school experiences, right, in that train in the morning, if you go to your regular stops, there’s usually the same kind of group of people that were passing out that paper, and it was really just a regular part of your day. Many people would look at it for just entertainment, whether they’ve done the puzzles and stuff in the back or just reading during their commute. We thought of this project about a year ago, and our sentiment was we wanted to celebrate a broader aspect of D.C., its culture. We wanted to talk about music, places to go, fashion, art, and 2020 happened, and we thought, OK, maybe this is the opportunity to talk about some of this stuff, maybe that’s what this really should be about.
NK: I think he touched on an excellent point, the experience aspect. We’re a content and experience company, which is why we’ll be doing what we’re doing tomorrow. We have the old containers that they used to come in, so you can come up, socially distanced, and get your newspaper. It’s something about the experience of it, right? When we initially actually mapped this out, we planned on collecting a bunch of our peers and going out and standing at Metro stops and handing them out. How different would that have been, if you’re on your way to work and you got [this] Express?
Especially as D.C. natives, where so much of the city is filled with transient people … so much of our small experiences are taken for granted. And those are the integral, foundational points of our culture. And if you are a part of the transient group, there’s not many points of reference where you can go and learn about specific culture that’s relevant to D.C.
How crazy is it that D.C., as the nation’s capital, is responsible for archiving all of the information for the entire country, right, and no one talks about our history, the city’s specific history, in the context of the people who live there? I don’t think that’s a learning experience that many get to have. And while we also hope it can act as that for those people, we do it for people who are from here. It’s for us.
WCP: Tell me about your previous print design experience. What was the workflow for making this like, and who contributed what?
NP: I studied journalism and communications in college; that’s what I have my degree in. And I’ve always loved newspapers. I worked for my college [West Virginia University, which Klusmann also attended]’s newspaper The Daily Athenaeum, and I was a layout editor there. And I’ve always just generally had a love for print—I have, like, a huge magazine collection. When the Express ended, I was at work, but I called a couple of friends and was like, ‘I need you to grab this paper for me.’ That was a reference point number one, just flipping through it, getting the feel for it, a lot of research and looking through the old issues, and kind of looking at what happened throughout the summer, throughout this year, the issues we wanted to touch on. We reached out to a number of different contributors who had expertise in their areas, as well as tapping some photographers and many different activists to participate in terms of interviews. I would say we started really in September. I’m accumulating interest from contributors, gathering photos and information in terms of what we wanted to see. By the end of the month in September, we had a lot of the base articles written. Moving into October, that’s where a lot of just the hard layout, in terms of what the page looks like, what we want the cover to be, what the sections will be, fell into place. I did a couple of interviews, but my main job was just absorbing the information that we got from contributors and putting it in a concise way that will look similar to what the Express looked like.
NK: He’s the heart and soul of this project. Like, it wouldn’t have been possible without him. The authenticity of the Express experience, it wouldn’t have been possible to recreate without him.
One of our big things here in terms of contributors was making sure that we were networking across, not up. We didn’t go and randomly try and pull like someone crazy huge to try to move this product, because we understand the value in terms of elevating and putting on the people around us. Ty Hobson-Powell, for example, right? You guys had him in your paper. I’ve known Ty for well over 10 years at this point, and he’s a good friend of mine, but he’s someone who we know genuinely means what he’s doing, specifically with Concerned Citizens DC and his years of activism in the city. Like, how do we make sure we’re giving everyone their flowers, right? We were a collective of five young Black men. You can’t have a conversation with just men in the room; that’s not realistic, it doesn’t give you your full scope. So elevating Frontline Women DC was incredibly important and intentional on our part because of the work they’re doing. Illustrators like Justin Johnson, it really adds a different artistic texture to the paper. Camara Stokes Hudson really adds that politically minded thinking for ‘What does defunding the police actually look like?’ That language is very, very confusing for a lot of people, in terms of what does that actually look like and how do we get there. These are just the people kind of in our immediate sphere. It’s horizontal, it’s not vertical. As often as people don’t feel like they matter, it’s important to really spotlight and emphasize the people around you who are doing incredible work and they’re doing it for the right reason.
WCP: This is a piece of journalism; this is an actual paper, but do you think of it more as a work of journalism or a work of art or a zine or something totally different?
NP: I think it encompasses a lot of those aspects. If you had to nail me down to an answer, I definitely think it’s journalism, just because we are reporting about what’s what’s happening this year. We use the familiar medium to relay that message, but it is reporting, there are interviews, and it is giving out information that needs to be known. I think one of the main reasons that we thought about doing this project was when you look on the news, in their reactions to people protesting, their reactions to activism, I think they’re out of touch, really, with the message. I think there’s a lot of confusion about what people were trying to say and are still trying to say. So this was a way to help break that down. We felt us as natives know a lot better than more broad-scale publications what those messages were. However, I could make the art argument as well.
NK: I think he’s spot on with the journalism piece, but I’m gonna say it’s an experience. We’ve seen like former journalists and editors who work for the Express see this project online, and their reaction be like, ‘Be still my heart,’ almost. We’re recreating an experience you had, right? I really feel like our collaboration a lot of times is trying to synthesize that experience. Like, how do I squeeze out something felt that one time like when people see [something], when people attend an event, when they wear a piece of clothing, and it can actually speak to their experience. There’s very few things you can do that’s as powerful as that.
WCP: How do people get a copy of your Express?
NP: We printed 500 copies. So tomorrow [Nov. 21] we will be at three locations. If you look on the cover of [our Express,] there’s a yard sign that has our Chocolate City design; we had that kind of blown up as a billboard on a moving truck. So we’re going to take this truck. We have three stops. We have newspaper bins. We’ll be at the stops, and if you want it you can come up and just pull your copy out. We’re also looking into creating like a sign-up sheet for people because we understand that some people aren’t here to receive them in person to mail them out. And then, of course, we have the digital version online if you can’t make it.
NK: We’ll be at the location for an hour, an hour and 30 minutes, whatever the case is. When we’re there, we won’t physically give you the paper, because COVID. You’ll see the truck, the bins will be out there, you can arrive, come get your [paper], and leave. Then we’ll take the bins with us to the next stop, you know, sanitize, and then same principle at each of those.
And our stops are split, Southeast, Northwest, Northeast, because it’s very interesting how some people decide what parts of the city they’re going to do things in and what parts of the city they leave out. We wanted to make sure our stops were in places that we can make sure as many people who are interested in getting one can actually come and get one.
NP: I would just want to add in that we really do what we do for a love of the city. We’re inspired by a lot of different creatives nationwide, and one of our biggest motivating forces was just that we didn’t see it represented in the same way here. We’re presenting a perspective from who we are, which is native Washingtonians.
NK: Our goal is always to create content and product and experiences that are genuine representations of what Washington, D.C. needs. We really take that into every single thing we d0.
Copies of The Pack’s Express will be available on Nov. 21 from 11 a.m. to noon at Soufside Market, 2510 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the U Street/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo Metro station, 1240 U St. NW, and from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Brookland Metro station, 801 Michigan Ave. NE.