Decaturish sold to Appen Media but founder Dan Whisenhunt is staying

Whisenhunt felt he had three options: close, borrow money to grow or sell to a bigger company.
Decaturish founder and editor Dan Whisenhunt with reporter Zoe Seiler. CONTRIBUTED



Decaturish founder and editor Dan Whisenhunt with reporter Zoe Seiler. CONTRIBUTED

Decaturish, a local news operation that covers Decatur and surrounding areas, has been sold to Appen Media, a family-owned news media company.

Appen Media runs weekly papers in the northern suburbs of metro Atlanta such as the Dunwoody Crier, the Johns Creek Herald and the Alpharetta-Roswell Herald.

As part of the agreement, Whisenhunt, 43, will continue to run Decaturish, a digital-only operation which he began 11 years ago. While he didn’t disclose the financial details of the sale, his debts are paid off and he retains first right of refusal if Appen wants to sell off Decaturish.

Whisenhunt had previously worked at papers in Anniston, Alabama, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. He moved to Atlanta in 2011 when his wife got a job at Mailchimp. He worked for a time with Reporter Newspapers in Sandy Springs but said he was frustrated both by the commute from Decatur and his inability to get a job at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

So in 2013, he decided to start Decaturish instead.

“It was a blessing in disguise,” he told The AJC. “I learned so much how to be a really good hyperlocal journalist and editor. I learned how to thoroughly cover a community.”

He said he grew revenue from $30,000 the first year to more than $300,000 last year.

Whisenhunt said his secret, besides writing quickly and efficiently, was “being accessible. I have been able to engage the community in a meaningful way. I’m not just a reporter but a friend and neighbor, somebody you can talk to. I’m part of my son’s PTA. I’m involved in my neighborhood.”

He said Decatur businesses and readers have supported him in part because it’s an affluent, educated city with enough residents who believe in supporting a journalistic operation.

“A lot of journalists live in Decatur,” Whisenhunt said. “The city also has a lot of people who work at the CDC and Emory. They know that a good paper will piss you off every once in awhile and they will support you anyway.”

He said he is proud of his coverage of issues with the Avondale Estates government, his investigative work on former Decatur school superintendent David Dude and what he called the “crazy Popsicle story,” a 2019 three-part series on how the city of Decatur favored the now defunct Steel City Pops over King of Pops.

But running Decaturish has not been easy and competitors were starting to encroach on his turf. He felt he had three options: close shop, sell or borrow money to expand. He chose to sell and approached Appen Media, who agreed to take over.

“They provide back office support,” he said. “They have a sales staff. Keep in mind, I was the HR guy. I had to sell ads when we were between ad sales people. I had to work on the website and social media. I had 10 different jobs. Now I can focus on being a reporter. I can go out in the field more and do more stuff.”

He said he currently writes 30 stories a month but can now up the ante and write 40 to 50.

Whisenhunt said his one other full-time reporter Zoe Seiler will stay on staff as well.

Carl Appen, head of news content and development for Appen Media, said there is hardly any overlap between the Decaturish audience and Appen Media’s current readership.

He praised Whisenhunt for his “news tenacity. He’s not afraid to speak his mind. That’s why he’s been so successful. Readers see that and appreciate it.”

By taking the back office work off his plate, “we can unleash the full Dan,” he said.

Appen said there are also plans to create a print version of Decaturish and possibly a side publication focused on arts and entertainment.

“A lot of our advertisers have been looped in and indicated that if we had a product in Decatur, they’d be there,” Appen said.

Appen Media, which has about 20 full-time employees, 15 regular freelancers and 40 to 50 contract delivery people, every week delivers 105,000 free copies of various Appen Media publications to homes in cities like Johns Creek, Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, Milton, Roswell and Alpharetta.