Parting shots

Ten years of blood, sweat, tears, and joy at Seattle Weekly and Eastsideweek.

HOW DO YOU WRITE a good-bye column? No one teaches you that in journalism. I’ve written obituaries, but I’m not about to write my own.

I guess you start by telling people what you cannot—or do not—tell them in the course of day-to-day combat. Last week, the staff held a teary farewell party for me at the Athenian—so convenient to Rick Anderson’s bar of choice that even he showed up and made a memorable toast. And I say teary because, even though former Mike Crystal reminded me “there’s no crying in publishing,” I had to let my feelings show.

Senior editor Mark D. Fefer took the lead in organizing the affair, and the place was decorated with Seattle Weekly and Eastsideweek covers from over the years. There was our great WTO cover from our kick-ass edition that documented better than anyone else what happened in the streets N30. There was a cover showing Ken “Bubba” Behring, the creepy California developer/Seahawks owner who was trying to move his franchise to LA—the same issue, I think, that featured our pub-popular Ken Behring dart board. There was the cover featuring our national scoop about the state patrolman who stopped a couple en route to an abortion appointment and forced them to follow him to an anti-abortion center. There was the classic cover featuring a gorgeous Gerber-type baby with the blaring headline, “Congratulations, he’s gay!”

Better yet, the Athenian was filled with many of the staffers who made my 10-plus years here the most incredibly rich years of my professional life—writers, editors, art directors, production folk, ad salespeople, and support staff spanning a couple of generations in age and ranging in seniority from Day One to yesterday, people who have lived a millennium’s worth of dog years in publishing in Seattle.

I was struck by the quality of these people: This paper is stocked with incredibly bright, talented people because it gives them all a place to stretch their wings, to be themselves, to try new things, to make a difference.

I HAD THE BENEFIT of two incredible experiences here. One was launching a newspaper on the Eastside—getting a free hand, a blank slate, and a chance to be a journalistic entrepreneur, revealing the incredible richness of a place the urban snobs had written off as the dull, homogenous ‘burbs. Eastsideweek was an amazing newspaper, a national model of its kind. It won many awards, including a gold medal from the Society of Newspaper design its very first year. I had forgotten just how good it was until Fefer reminded us all by putting up those covers.

It was Oscar Wilde who wrote, “All men kill the thing they love.” I hope that’s not true. But it was true three years ago in the case of my being ordered to fold Eastsideweek when our new owners at the Village Voice decided that it didn’t fit in with their long-term strategy for this market. I cannot argue with the bottom-line result: The Weekly is a more profitable, more focused newspaper today, and with a bigger staff—a number of whom, like Fefer, art director Barbara Dow, ad sales manager Jill Mogen, and writers Rick Anderson and Nina Shapiro, are Eastsideweek alums. But I disagreed then and I disagree now with that decision: Eastsideweek deserved much better than premature euthanasia. To pull the plug after seven years—while making larger profits than 99.9 percent of today’s dot-coms—was such an incredible waste.

Rarely a week has gone by since then when someone hasn’t phoned, e-mailed, or stopped me on the street to ask me why they killed Eastsideweek. I almost quit then, but I sucked it up and did the deed myself. To get through that experience—where I had to put professionalism above personal passion— I locked away the memories and moved on.

I CHANNELED my energy, anger, and passion in a different direction then. The folks at the Voice, especially the company’s president David Schneiderman, had faith in me to take up the reins at the Weekly, my second stint as editor. Despite our differences about Eastsideweek, Schneiderman was a big booster of what I hoped to do in Seattle: Transform the Weekly from a paid-circulation paper devoted to the downtown power and arts elite to a free, populist tabloid that would take a more challenging view of the status quo and a much broader view of culture.

That’s what I have been working on these past few years, and this has been the second incredible, and humbling, experience. I’ve learned the advantages and disadvantages of working with a large urban paper, a local 25-year-old institution that has a history and comes with big expectations. Unlike Eastsideweek, which could be anything it wanted, kicking up its heels in a market where few cared to tread, the Weekly is a paper about which everyone has an opinion, and it competes with plenty of other publications, including an alternative paper that has largely defined itself as being “not the Weekly” (while its publisher secretly desires nothing more than to be the new David Brewster). The fact is, for all its freshness, you could run a terrific story in Eastsideweek but few would notice because it lived in a local media shadow. In the Weekly today, one tiny mistake and half the city is e-mailing to tell you you’re a “demented half-wit fuck,” as one correspondent politely put it.

Have you been to the beautiful yet odiously named Safeco Field? A sellout crowd is about 47,000. Do you remember the vitality and energy of that crowd? Each week, the readers of the Weekly would fill not one, not two, but more than four Safeco Fields (over 100,000 copies with more than two readers per newspaper). Think about that the next time you sit there in the Safe. And we do that 52 weeks per year. The Mariners spend millions and drew 3,000,000 fans this year. The Weekly spends a lot less, and we drew over 11,000,000 readers.

For a quarter century, regardless of editor, the Weekly has filled an important niche for local readers who want intelligent, independent journalism. The city not only desperately needs this but has come to rely on it. It has been an incredible honor to spend the last 10 years helping to provide that, working with the people whose brilliant work you hold in your hands.