They tell me I've contributed to Creative Loafing in one way or another for 25 years, but that's impossible since it feels like I just took the job about 10 years ago. That's how time works, right?
I can't help it. I love writing, and I love the news business, although, along with other Americans, I've watched it deteriorate in the past 20 years. Let's face it, you'll learn more these days by watching Jeopardy contestants answer "Current Events" questions than by watching TV newscasts.
For those who don't know, I was editor in chief of Creative Loafing Charlotte from 1988 till 2005, at which point I deliberately retreated to the post of senior editor (definition: he gets to write pretty much whatever he wants and doesn't copy edit anymore), and began writing the Boomer With Attitude column. Six months after taking that position, I was canned due to "corporate cutbacks," after which I waited a month and began the column again as a freelancer.
I've written in these pages before about the beginnings of CL, most notably upon the occasion of the paper's 20th anniversary. (If anyone is interested in more detail about the very early days of Charlotte's Loaf Era, check CL's online archives for the April 11, 2007 issue.) The paper I edited in the early 2000s was very different from the earliest editions — more pages, more top-notch writers, and more influence. A lot of that progress resulted from the paper coming along at the right time to ride a wave of significant growth in the weekly alternative press. Likewise, today's Charlotte CL is different from the one I edited — fewer pages, as happened to all print media in the past few years, but with a strong online presence that allows for additional information, stories and features. Oh, and the owners have changed, too.
Now, speaking of owners. Let me tell you about the original ones, Eason Publications, an Atlanta company run by the Eason family, specifically Debbie Eason, the matriarch of what one Atlanta CL editor used to call "our Bizarro World love nest."
The Eason family, including son Ben, who was Charlotte's first publisher, were all very intelligent, inspired, energetic (not to say frantic), and doggedly persevering in the face of long odds. They lost money here for at least three or four years but were determined that the Charlotte Observer — which launched a competing publication one week before we debuted and tried to kill us in the cradle via predatory pricing of their new publication's ads — wasn't going to run CL out of town. In a very real sense, if Debbie Eason had not been bound and determined to show the Observer what she was made of, the paper's journalistic "glory years" wouldn't have happened. That's something I'll always be grateful for.
At the same time, the Easons could be contradictory; maddeningly conservative in a field that was innately liberal (the alternative press); ruthless in getting rid of obstacles, be they things or people; and utterly unpredictable in temperament from one of Debbie's infamous long, meandering meetings to the next. Her management style was — how to put it? — out-of-the-box, alternately loosey-goosey and dictatorial, with a penchant for inciting rivalries and resentments by cultivating "favorites" among her employees. The atmosphere in the Atlanta office was so, er, baroque that Atlanta magazine once published a cover story about it, titled "Through the Loafing Glass."
In the late 1990s, Ben Eason cobbled together a group of investors and bought out his mom, Debbie. For CL Charlotte, that meant more resources, an expanded staff and a big increase in circulation. The paper soared and began to win award after award. We were sitting pretty, although the endless, annoying discussions about the paper's identity continued, and an edgy unease still permeated the company. Then tight times for the news industry came along, drastic cuts were made, especially at the Atlanta paper, but also in Charlotte, as my long tenure came to an end. Again, I'll always be grateful to the Easons for the chance they gave me, a guy who'd only worked on one newspaper before, in college. At the same time, however, they could really drive employees crazy and did so repeatedly.
There are four more people for me to thank here, and profusely. Ann Wicker, who wore various hats for CL, was already an experienced journalist when she came onboard; she was my right arm (as well as half my brain on many occasions) in the editorial department. Early on, Atlanta editor Cliff Bostock taught me valuable lessons in newspaper office politics, namely, never stop asking for more editorial resources. Later, Atlanta editor Ken Edelstein was a stellar model for how to get a grip on a big, chaotic newsroom while producing first-rate work on a tight budget. Last but by no means least, veteran journalist Frye Gaillard, former Southern Editor at the Observer, was invaluable in lots of ways, giving excellent journalistic advice when it was needed and eventually adding his elegant, down-to-earth voice to the paper. Seriously, Charlotte CL in those years would not have been nearly as good, nor as successful, without those people. Thanks a million once again, guys.