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Bright yet bittersweet goodbye 

Top editor looks back over last two years

When I returned to Creative Loafing in 2011 after five years away from the company, I was shocked to see how hard it had been hit by recession and bankruptcy. An office that once bustled with adrenaline-fueled journalistic inquisitiveness and a heady sense of adventure — from the editorial department to sales, marketing and distribution — was quiet and funereal. Pages were down. So was revenue. The staff was a skeleton of its former self. The editorial department alone had been cut nearly in half. With minimal resources, the remaining staffers had diligently kept the trains running on time. They were putting out a paper every week, feeding the website several times a day.

As editor in chief, my initial goals were to improve the quality of writing, reporting and news judgment; clarify and refine CL's vision and overarching voice; prepare the print edition and website for comprehensive coverage of the 2012 Democratic National Convention; and expand the readership. With hard work, long hours, blood, sweat and occasional tears, CL's talented editorial team valiantly rose to these demanding challenges and succeeded beyond my expectations.

After this issue, I will be leaving Creative Loafing to pursue new opportunities, one of which is to be married in late June. My feelings are at once enthusiastic and bittersweet. I will miss engaging with Charlotte's leaders and CL's readers. Most of all, I'll miss the fine editorial staffers and freelancers I've grown fond of. But I leave knowing they are well-prepared to continue our mission of providing the best information on Charlotte's arts and entertainment events and offering news and cultural commentary you won't find anywhere else.

Let's look at a few things this team has accomplished in just two years. When Occupy Charlotte was at its zenith in late 2011, former CL freelancer Rhiannon Fionn was on the ground with protesters and city officials every day, blogging, churning out audio and video interviews and writing stories for the print edition. When state conservatives introduced an anti-gay amendment that would write bigotry into the N.C. constitution, CL's editors and writers reported it like no other publication in the area, checking in with not one, but two cover packages on the issue and keeping a steady stream of blog items on it. By the time the DNC rolled around, CL was ready for the onslaught. Convention correspondents Mary Curtis, Mike Cooper, Ryan Pitkin and Joanne Spataro — along with our Huffington Post partner reporters Jason Cherkis, Christina Wilkie and Ryan Grim, and several Elon University journalism students — covered the DNC from every conceivable angle.

CL's editorial staff also expanded. We hired a bulldog of a news editor (Ana McKenzie), an art director (Melissa Oyler) whose spectacular redesign of the paper last year showed a creativity that knows no bounds, and a part-time copy editor (Emiene Wright) who not only ensures that all the i's are dotted and t's crossed, but has also written some of the paper's stronger cover stories.

We assembled a solid pool of smart freelance voices, including news and culture columnists Ailen Arreaza, Erin Tracy-Blackwood, Charles Easley and David Aaron Moore; expert music journalists Pat Moran, Jordan Lawrence, Corbie Hill, Rachel Bailey and Brittany Gaston; food writers Keia Mastrianni and Kelly Davis; and gaming columnist Adam Frazier. Those writers have complemented and amplified the voices of veteran CL freelancers John Grooms, John Schacht, Tricia Childress and Perry Tannenbaum.

And then there are the staffers who were here when I arrived: film critic and arts editor Matt Brunson, assistant arts editor Anita Overcash and music editor Jeff Hahne. All of them have improved their sections by leaps and bounds. Managing editor Kim Lawson has done such a fine job of keeping the editorial operations running smoothly that we continually piled more responsibilities on her plate. She was the staffer who kept the trains running on time before I got here, and she's been my right-hand woman throughout my tenure. Kim will now officially assume the mantle of top editor, a position I'm confident she will master professionally and efficiently.

In an analysis I did of Creative Loafing before my arrival, I wrote the following to the publisher: "One of the main things the so-called alternative media can do today that mainstream media sources can't do is generate content with an attitude that assumes a relatively high level of intelligence among its users. Therefore, the overarching editorial voice at CL should be smart and culturally open-minded, with a sense of humor ... Charlotte is sometimes criticized for being a boring bank town that skews conservative. CL's role should be to explode that stereotype and serve readers and users who are not (or don't want to be) confined by it."

If CL maintains the standards of journalistic excellence we have set over the past two years, this venerable media outlet will continue exploding that stereotype. I look forward to watching where it goes from here.

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