It’s been several years since I was a loyal soldier in the Charleston City Paper army. Yet last week, when I introduced myself to a fellow journalist from The Post & Courier, he said, “You’re the City Paper guy.”
It wouldn’t have seemed so strange had he not been standing in the office of West Of — West Ashley’s community newspaper that I painfully left my post at CP to start nearly three years ago. “Yes, I was a City Paper guy for a long time,” I told him, not to correct him, but because it made me proud to say it. As it does every time I tell people that I worked there. And as City Paper marks a decade this week, I’m as proud as ever for the four years I spent there helping to build what it has become.
I still recall being a recent College of Charleston graduate and accepting my first real job as a journalist with a community newspaper group in Sarasota, Fla. back in 1998. The day before I left Charleston to head to the soul-sucking Sunshine State, I strolled into the old City Paper office above Joe Pasta (then La La Lucci) on King Street. I remember meeting Stephanie Barna, the paper’s young, pregnant editor, and begging her for a job.
At the time, they were only one year into the ambitious project of building a respected alt-weekly newspaper. As I now know, money is a little lean in those early stages, so when I asked her for a job as a writer, she just shot me a look (one I would become all too familiar with), and I turned around and walked out of her office. I packed my bags and headed to Florida with the hopes of returning to Charleston some day.
A couple years later, I did come back, took a job writing press releases, and began freelancing for the City Paper on the side. When I was informed that my bullshit job was about to be eliminated, I jumped in my car and headed directly over to the City Paper office, now in a ramshackle single house just up the street from its original location.
So three years after my first attempt, I again walked into the editor’s office begging her for a job. A couple days later she called me and asked if I wanted to go to lunch, that she wanted to talk to me about a possible position at the paper. Unfortunately, I had just eaten (Chef Boyardee beef ravioli, I think), but I agreed anyway. Plus, who was I to turn down a free meal? I was about to be unemployed.
So we met at the old Yo Burrito on Wentworth Street and I ate my second lunch of the day. Stephanie said they didn’t really have a position for a full-time writer, like I had hoped, but they needed a calendar editor. This is a position that affectionately became known as “list bitch.” I quickly learned how to boil a two-page press release down to 20 words or less in 20 seconds or less.
As a somewhat seasoned journalist, I was not particularly thrilled to be reduced to “list bitch.” Yet, I was happy to be working at the “cool” paper in town and going to all the wild parties. So I sucked it up and before long I was writing regular features and branching out in other areas. I soon started handling the distribution duties in order to make some extra money. I was overworked and underpaid and loved it. Of course, today they have three people handling all the duties I was responsible for. But in retrospect, it was the best preparation I could have had for starting my own newspaper and understanding every aspect of the business.
After a couple of years of writing and slinging papers in the Charleston heat, I was made music editor for the paper and the title of List Bitch was passed down to some other poor sap. Being the music editor was incredibly fun: I got to interview my favorite bands, go to bars, listen to music, write about it, and get paid. I had the opportunity to interview David Grisman, Doc Watson, Yoko Ono, Marc Ford (The Black Crowes), Jay Ferrar (Son Volt, Uncle Tupelo), Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers), Domingo Ortiz (Widespread Panic), Kevn Kinney (Drivin’ n’ Cryin’), just to name a few.
Then, just before Christmas 2004, I left the best job I ever had to start West Of and follow my dream of running my own rag. Having seen the struggles the owners of the City Paper endured in those lean years, I knew the road ahead would be rough. But it was their determination and feistiness that has served as an inspiration to me over the last three years. Thankfully, I’ve kept a friendly relationship with my old employers, who always pick up the phone when I call and are always quick to offer advice when I ask. And I still get invited to those wild parties.
Congratulations on 10 years of sticking it to the man.
Stay cool. Support City Paper. City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.
Stay cool. Support City Paper.
City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.