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We’ve got big changes today at Washington City Paper. Editor Michael Schaffer is leaving the paper to become editorial director at the retooling The New Republic, and is being replaced here by current managing editor Mike Madden. Arts editor Jonathan Fischer‘s headed to the managing editor spot.
Emails from Schaffer and Madden after the jump.
Email from Schaffer:
I told Amy late last week that, quite suddenly and much to my surprise, I found myself being wooed for a job opportunity that I had to consider. This week I told her that I’d be taking the job and leaving City Paper to help newly returned editor Frank Foer reboot The New Republic.
This has probably been the most wrenching decision of my life. The fact is, I love being editor of City Paper like I’ve loved no other job: This paper, and the awesome colleagues I get to work with here, are a civic treasure; getting the freedom to dream up ways to snag the paper the attention and influence it deserves has been the most thrilling challenge of my career. But at the same time, I’ve been in journalism for 17 years, and most of them have been dominated by talk about reduction and cutbacks. The opportunity to be involved with something where new ownership is devoting significant resources to journalism and to changing a magazine’s place in the media landscape was too good to pass up.
I know the timing of this move is sucky. On a personal level, we’re about to have another baby. More importantly, on an institutional level, the City Paper sale made my choice more vexing, not less: I really believe the odds are that the institution that emerges from the sale will be more robust in both finances and journalism than the status quo. There’s obviously a bunch of ifs between here and there—and in the sleepless past 10 days of my life, I’ve run through every last one of ’em. (Seriously: I think Madden, my wife, and my parents have all been ready to toss me off the roof as I’ve gone through a Hamlet routine these last few days.)
Being editor of City Paper was a job I always wanted. I’m proud of a lot of the work we’ve done here. As an editor, its a peculiar kind of pride, because it mostly involves the work of others—you: I’m proud we have shown the vibrancy of City Paper’s longform tradition via great stories like Suderman’s Marion Barry profile, Lydia’s piece pondering why the architecture is so mediocre in our rich new D.C., Baca’s bike meditation, and Fischer’s ride on the bruise cruise—a journey that made him and Darrow City Paper’s first foreign correspondents. I think the redesign Jandos masterminded, and the smart, fun look he and Brooke build every week, have rendered the paper vastly more accessible than before and helped nudge our identity towards that of a thoughtful magazine about Washington. Covering a roiling city, I think we really helped define the 2010 mayoral election with a pair of definitive candidate profiles and the stellar opinion poll dreamed up by Mike Madden; as the troubled new regime came in, Suderman wrote some of the first stories about politicians’ car troubles and the questions about political moneyman Jeff Thompson. Online, we’ve watched Housing Complex win an AAN award and become a must-read about the shape of D.C. (I suspect Jessica’s rebooted food blog will be a contender for the same title next year); we finally got Darrow the slideshow ability to showcase his amazing work; we produced awesome phony advertisements and a video involving lab coats; and Ally and Will have helped our old agate listings live in searchable web form. And in the face of some pretty grim budget cuts late last year, you all helped figure out innovative magazine-style packages like the Questions issue. Also, when Dan Snyder tried to bully us, we didn’t flinch, and I can honestly say that Amy Austin was an even tougher tough guy than I was in that fight, because she knew what values were at stake.
So now I’m joining the vaunted City Paper alumni association for a second time. But please don’t feel like I’m fleeing anything. I’ve spent a lot of time these last few months trying to lure new buyers to Champlain Street, and some of them are still in the mix. What I’ve told them is that someone who comes in here and invests in the business will be able to do good for Washington, have fun for themselves—and make some money, too. If you meet anyone who’s in the mood to do that, tell ’em to call me, and I’ll help explain how.
In the meantime, I want to thank all of you for being such fun, hard working, devoted citizens of City Paper. And I especially want to shout out two people: Amy, who hired me and stood by me without flinching whenever matters of journalistic principle were at stake. And Mike Madden, my editing partner, guru, and dear friend, with whom I’ve spent so many hours trying to dream up ways to make City Paper kick even more ass. I know the dreaming, and the ass-kicking, will continue.
Email from Madden:
Hello all —
Like Phil Mendelson, up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t expect to be moving to a position of greater power and responsibility in the District right now. Fortunately, unlike Phil Mendelson, there are no felonies involved in this change. Or at least, none that Schaffer has disclosed to the rest of us.
As a third-generation Native Washingtonian®, albeit one who was spirited out of the city to the ‘burbs by my parents shortly after birth at GW Hospital, I’ve spent far more time reading City Paper than editing it. For the most part, I’m glad there aren’t many vestiges left of the 15-year-old Mike Madden who used to grab each week’s paper at the Tower Records on Rockville Pike, but the love for what the people in this building do is one of the things that haven’t ever changed about me. So I’m excited to be moving into the office next door — mostly because of all of you, who are why the paper’s so fun to work at and read. (Also, for what it’s worth, my suburban parents plan to move into the city sometime this year.)
Moving into the office I’m writing this from will be Jon Fischer, whose work as arts editor has been stellar since before I arrived here in 2010. From pitching entire concept issues to assigning, editing, and writing fantastic cover features, blog posts, and everything in between, Fischer’s kept the paper smack in the middle of the city’s arts, entertainment, and cultural scene. As managing editor, he probably won’t get to go on many more City Paper overseas assignments, but I’m looking forward to setting his creativity loose on the whole paper.
That will mean the arts editor post is open. More details on how we’ll fill that and other impending vacancies TK.
Finally, I know you all join me in wishing Mike Schaffer well at the new TNR, and in being sorry to see him go. Schaffer reinvigorated a paper that had made a lot of news for media reporters in the years before he arrived — sale, bankruptcy, and the departure of most of its staff, among other shocks to the system. City Paper is doing fantastic work these days, thanks to his leadership, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with a few million dollars’ worth of Facebook status updates behind him. (Also, I told him he’s welcome to pitch us freelance blog posts to occupy his spare time.)
We’ve got more excellent stuff ahead of us, and I can’t wait to work on it with you. I know the big “for sale” sign out front is a little distracting, and I want to thank you all for pretty much ignoring it and continuing to kick ass, day after day and week after week. I very much hope to have news to share on that front soon.
If we had a catchy motto for the paper, this would be the place to insert it with an exhorting exclamation mark, but alas, newspaper mottos are even more out of date than print classified ads. So I’ll just sign off instead.