For 26 years, Seattle Weekly has been a work in progress. That was amply demonstrated by changes here last week. After two years off, I returned to my old job as editor in chief of the paper, and I brought along Chuck Taylor, a 16-year news veteran from The Seattle Times, as managing editor. As a reporter at the Times, Chuck handled a number of beats, including a stint as an aerospace writer in Boeing town. But I first really took notice of his editing abilities during the newspaper strike of 2000-2001. Chuck founded and edited the Seattle Union Record, the daily newspaper and Web site produced by striking Times and Post-Intelligencer workers. The paper was feisty, newsy, and well written—a paper that stripped away the gray gauze that suffocates so much writing at the dailies. I remember thinking, "No one would care if Seattle became a one-newspaper town if this was our one newspaper."
Of course, the Union Record was liberated from responsibility: It didn't have to run as an actual business, it wasn't burdened by tradition, reader habit, and the mantle of being the mouthpiece of the establishment. It also was produced by journalists out to make a point.
Which is not unlike the Weekly. Well, sure, we have to be a viable business, but we're largely unfettered, able to offer tremendous freedom to writers and editors. We don't carry the baggage of the dailies, we don't have their earnestness or their sense of obligation. The Weekly can focus on doing good journalism, publishing good writing, taking as broad, as narrow, as eclectic, or as eccentric a view as that which prevails in the editor's head. It's also a place where experiments can fail or flourish. It's a place where you're free to make a point.
After 26 years, the Weekly is a Seattle institution. Having grown up with playmates like the Mariners, Starbucks, and Microsoft, it has become a fixture of city life—but is neither stagnant nor stationary. Editors here have come and gone with individualistic visions. David Brewster, the Weekly's founder, once said he wanted the paper to be a local version of The New Yorker and The New Republic. The old Weekly made its statement by ignoring grunge and the emergent rock scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s, even though it shared a building with seminal record label Sub Pop. During my previous stints as editor, I tried to steer the paper on a more populist course, investigating rich folks who built driveways on public property. I also guided coverage of events like WTO long before they happened and long after the tear gas cleared. More recently, the editors have tried to keep the paper from graying by making it a little more Capitol Hill. Call those the nose-ring years.
When I walked away from the paper two years ago, I had no intention of coming back. I had no falling-out with the previous publisher (despite rumors to the contrary). But I had been with the company for more than a decade and needed to renew mind and body. The last two years have been devoted to that. What did I do on my two-year vacation? I started a book. I traveled to Washington, D.C., to protest the Bush-Cheney coup d'etat. I became a regular commentator for KUOW-FM, appeared regularly on NPR's Rewind, wrote a political column for Washington Law & Politics magazine, and saw my two children off to college. After Sept. 11, I signed on with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and was trained as a disaster-assistance employee and deployed to two disasters. At the very least, that experience ought to help me with my annual desk cleaning.
During that time, I realized that the alternative media is more important than ever. I stood in the streets with tens of thousands of angry protesters on Inauguration Day 2001; that night the TV news featured ball gowns. As Boeing left town and bit the hands that built it, I looked in vain for stories that challenged free trade's impact on local culture and its preservation. As the dot-com bubble burst, I saw tech coverage diminish instead of helping us understand where all the innovation and information- superhighway robbery is taking us.
And as I contemplated future dangers, like bigger earthquakes or suitcase nukes or more corporate skedaddling, I realized that no matter what happens, I'm here to stay. A Seattle native, born and bred. A mossback with no intention of moving anywhere else. When I was offered a chance to do journalism again in my hometown, with all the freedom this paper gives you, what else could I say?
Knute Berger is editor in chief of Seattle Weekly. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.