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Behind the curtain with Duluth.com

Not long ago, Myke Dixon turned off a ticking wall clock that was disturbing an audio recording in progress. He hasn't plugged it in again. "Now, it's 5 o'clock all the time," Dixon said, leaning into a tall table in his office downtown. "That's ...

Myke Dixon and Chris Johnson
Myke Dixon (left) and Chris Johnson are the team behind the website Duluth.com. (Clint Austin /caustin@duluthnews.com)
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Not long ago, Myke Dixon turned off a ticking wall clock that was disturbing an audio recording in progress.
He hasn’t plugged it in again.
“Now, it’s 5 o’clock all the time,” Dixon said, leaning into a tall table in his office downtown. “That’s a good attitude to have.”
It would appear to be the right attitude for Duluth.com - a new website that capitalizes on a name loaded with possibilities and the talents of a small and serendipitously assembled team.
Launched softly like a canoe into still waters, Duluth.com already is several weeks old. Having built to a full palette of lively content, Duluth.com, its creators say, is only beginning a journey that’s headed to parts mostly unknown in the traditional media realm.
A blur of marketing agency and media outlet, the venture is owned by the Duluth News Tribune and its parent company Forum Communications Co. of Fargo, N.D. But Duluth.com is being approached by its small internal team as a hungry young startup.
Brainstorming sessions yield fonts of ideas and whiteboard scribbles that may result in a listicle of Valentine’s Day favorites or something like “The Call of the North” video series - click-worthy shards of Northland wisdom captured by a rugged voice over serene local scenes.
With its frontier a blank canvas that explores the people and places at the tip of Lake Superior, the dotcom is an evolving “Ode to Duluth” that ropes in the city’s subcultures - the food, outdoors, music and, of course, beer.
“We were offered a lot of money for this domain,” Duluth News Tribune Publisher Neal Ronquist said about Duluth.com. “I wanted to do something with it.”
The News Tribune obtained the domain name in 2004 as part of a broader acquisition of several community newspapers from Murphy McGinnis Newspapers Inc. The News Tribune experienced a fizzled foray with the domain once before as a newsroom product that failed to get the undivided attention it required. Last fall, advertising director Mike Mazzio brought up the idea of reviving the domain.
“There’s nothing out there that says, ‘Here we are; we are Duluth!’ ” Mazzio said.
Ronquist seized the opportunity, and Forum pledged to support it. Ronquist said he shut the door on News Tribune editorial involvement almost immediately. Duluth.com was going to be its own entity, Ronquist explained, and would unapologetically target a younger audience and use sponsored, or “native,” content when it could to reach it.

“The new generations are looking for something different,” said Chris Johnson, who was hired away from the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce to build and staff the website alongside Dixon. 

Having spent the previous day snowshoeing with Dixon for a Duluth.com assignment, Johnson talked about how she had risen from intern to director of communications over six years with the Chamber. She was responsible for bringing the Chamber’s marketing and graphic design in-house - skills that dovetailed nicely with Dixon’s computing, filmmaking and advertising agency background.
Duluth.com became a reality shortly after Dixon sent word home from Oklahoma City that he was looking to return to his Northland roots. Meeting Dixon over dinner last winter was the fortuitous encounter that sped up the process, Ronquist said.
“Myke is a phenomenal videographer,” Ronquist said. “He has got such an eye and flair for things.”
If there is a face for Duluth.com, it’s safe to say it’s Dixon’s. From the dotcom’s office in DNT Center on the 400 block of West First Street, his empty captain’s chair is pointed at wide monitors filled with website analytics. Capturing the attention of hard-won 18- to 35-year-olds doesn’t figure to be easy, but armed with an elegant and hefty moniker in Duluth.com, Dixon sounds capable of filling in the rest.
The 31-year-old Cloquet native goes by Myke D. and wears bright red eyeglass frames above his beard and under a winter cap. If he were an ice cream, he would be Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia come to life.
“I worked in the film industry in Los Angeles and learned about branding,” he said, citing credits like Lady Gaga videos. “You had to distinguish yourself. If you don’t have a brand you’re going to fall into the gray.”
In the ramp-up to Duluth.com’s big reveal, Dixon and Johnson, 27, have been cramming one local adventure after another into their schedules. They both talk about how blessed they are to have jobs that revel in Duluth’s brightest sides - taste-testing flights of beer, savoring local music and delicacies, touring hotspots, and giving fresh looks at iconic parks and other places.
“We’re not going to be covering fires,” Johnson said.
The website having taken its initial shape, its creators say there is more to come. Corner them and they can all offer up a series of thought bubbles popping with ideas about where Duluth.com could go - as a website, a brand, an agency and more.
Next up is a launch party scheduled for the evening of March 22 at Buffalo Wild Wings near the mall. Anybody is welcome to attend. There will be drink tickets, dotcom giveaways and maybe a wing-eating contest.
Asked if he was ready for his close-up, Dixon wasn’t shy.
“Talking about this,” he said, “is part of who I am.”

Myke Dixon (left) and Chris Johnson will showcase Duluth’s brightest sides as part of their work on Duluth.com. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

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