City Paper is not for tourists
One time in an edit meeting, Erik Wemple said I’d make a terrible profile subject. Drawing a line on a piece of paper, he put me at one end and Jonathan Rees at the other. Rees was too nuts, he said (paraphrasing here) and I was too boring. The ideal City Paper subject, he posited, straddled the center of this continuum. He was right about all three things, so I’ll try to keep this goodbye brief.
This is the best job I’ve ever had. I choose that superlative carefully. Here, I’ve been privileged to work with the best reporters and critics, the best photographer, the best co-workers, and the best stories I’ve ever known. I came here from magazines, where fact-checkers sweep up behind writers whose primary talent is being good at parties. I took my first correction not long after landing and realized I had learned next to nothing about journalism in the previous decade. The joy of this job isn’t turning out product reviews between languid lunches, it’s telling stories well and getting the details right, week after week, day after day.
Here I learned to despise trend pieces and Q&As, but more important I learned that often the best way to tell a big story is through a small one. I learned that puns don’t work as headlines on the Internet (just try searching for an old District Line EVEN IF you know the jokey hed! (e.g.: 1, 2). And I learned the importance of chronicling crushed dreams.
Like this one! After City Paper was purchased by Creative Loafing in July 2007, it became a different place. We lost half of our staff to budget cuts, and those and the recession let the air out of many of the paper’s cherished traditions—great copy-editing and general-assignment writers, for example. For a while, we mourned. Then we started finding the humor in the situation (some people never got the joke, which to me is the hallmark of a good City Paper comedy piece). Then we tried to figure out what we could do well given the circumstances. Results have been mixed, but Internet-wise, I’m proud of where we stand in relation to our early attempts.
I’m going to miss this project, you know, the one where we keep trying to figure out how to inject the alt-weekly DNA into what’s now a daily, vertical-driven publication. And I’ll miss the bike commute (new office is too close to my house). But mostly I’m gonna miss the people I worked with, even the ones who sometimes made me bash my head into my screen. For all of you, here’s another anecdote from a meeting: In a plenary session, one person who has managed this company said that life was like a crap sandwich. The more bread you have, he said, the less crap you have to eat. I wish my coworkers, their sharp new editor, and the people on our business side nothing but bread.
I will stay in touch with them, but it’ll be harder to stay in touch with the readers, who I love in a way that may not always be apparent to those of you who’ve called to yell at me. (Except the guy who screamed for 27 minutes and threatened to “expose” me after I said I didn’t know why our receptionist had trouble transferring me his call: You, pal, can kiss my ass.) Now I’m gonna become one of you, which is more comfort than one usually gets in a goodbye. I’ll miss the view from this side of the WordPress interface, but I can’t wait to see what the people with the best job in the world do next.