Yeah, it’s time for another exciting “letter from the editor.” The only other one I’ve written was printed in March, in my first paper as managing editor. This is my final paper as managing editor, so—once again—it’s time to say… something.
It’s 9:45 a.m. on Wednesday, deadline day.
I have about 45 minutes to write this piece. That’s it. Of course, I’ve already written the damned thing in my head a hundred times.
It feels as though this piece should be a summing up, but of more than just my exhausting, emotionally rich few months as editor of this newspaper. It’s more a summing up of 53 years of trying to prove myself, of trying to be a good soldier.
Well, that shit’s over. Screw the hellhounds on my trail. Screw the yellow dog barking under a fat East Lake moon over the rumble and hum and whistle of the northbound Crescent.
I don’t have anything left to prove to anybody, except maybe myself. But I sure as hell have some people to thank.
There’s Melody Briscoe and Sam Leishman and Alyssa Mitchell.
There’s Cory Bordonaro, Carey Norris, J’Mel Davidson, Mia Watkins, Willis J. Cundiff and Brent Thompson. I was so proud of Brent for getting the phoner with author Greil Marcus and writing that killer lead for his cover story about musician Paul Thorn.
There’s Madison Underwood, my partner in Green Space crime and a damned good writer with a strong voice, a twisted sense of humor and loads of heart and passion. That kid better never quit writing or I will be so pissed.
There’s Jessica Latten and Joshua Shoemaker, our two great photographers.
There’s Naomi McLarry, our design and production manager and my strong, steady rock through all this. “It’ll get done, Jesse,” she tells me when I’m stressing out about deadlines. “It always gets done.”
And one more time, I must thank former managing editor Glenny Brock—my mentor, my friend and my comrade at arms. She taught me well, and I have felt her with me here at every step in this process. Glenny cared deeply about this paper and its content, and she inspired me. I couldn’t have done this without her example.
Oh, before I forget, a shout-out to Matt Hooper, our former sports columnist, now a publicist with UAB athletics. It hasn’t been the same since he left the paper. Fortunately, Hoop and I will soon be taking that aforementioned northbound Crescent (i.e., the Amtrak Southern Crescent, for the uninitiated) all the way to Penn Station in New York. We will almost immediately adjourn to some nice, quiet watering hole—maybe the Holiday on St. Marks or Vazak’s on Avenue B. Yeah, I can almost feel the cocktail glass in my hand, maybe a Cuba Libre.
Well, screw that right now. No time to drift off into Manhattan reveries. No time to think about walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and staring up at the majestic play of light and shadow on those beautiful brick towers. I only
have 442 words. I need at least 1000, maybe 1200, and the mojo wire is beeping.
I liked being editor of Birmingham Weekly.
I’m pretty good at it. If nothing else, I showed myself how much work I can actually do, and how much copy I can crank out when I absolutely have to. This experience will make me a far better writer, because I now know, in a way I could not before, what an editor really goes through and the support he or she needs to make a truly great paper.
An editor is like an orchestra conductor, weaving together a bunch of different elements from a bunch of different people and taking responsibility for how it all comes together. It takes a broad vision, foresight and planning. If you don’t chase good art, for example, your designer is handicapped in what she can do with a piece when she lays it out. I tried, but I never made one issue of the paper while I was here that I considered a really great one—despite the talented people who helped me.
Part of me wanted to keep going. But I had to let go of any emotional attachment to the job or its creative possibilities. And I couldn’t get attached to the corner office with its view of the trees and brick of the Advent Church downtown.
I’m a hack writer. That’s it. On my tombstone, if I have one, if my ashes aren’t scattered at the Oregon coast or something, I’d want it to say, “Here lies one bad-ass motherfucking writer.”
Speaking of which, I’m up to 683 words. (Stay calm, Jesse. Breathe.)
Sam George, the new editor of this newspaper, is a young man from Bethlehem, Penn. He’s an outsider, which is good, because it gives him perspective, but a kid from a steel town can almost immediately understand this city at some gut level.
Sam and I are similar in a lot of ways. We are both work animals, and we like simple marching orders. Give us five or six jobs we have to finish before lunch, say, and we will terminate them with extreme prejudice. Sam’s a natural leader. He’s passionate. He’s a problem-solver. If something goes wrong, Sam doesn’t throw a little bitch-fit; he fixes it. Sam’s web savvy. He can write. This paper will be fine, people. Don’t sweat it.
Damn, just like that I’m close to 900 words.
I’m almost there.
I also want to say that, despite the fact that I’m a smart-ass with a potty mouth, I really do care about this paper and its readers and its mission. I offer a sincere thanks to everyone I interviewed for a story, to everyone who sent me an event listing, to every regular reader who offered a comment. Without our readers, Birmingham Weekly has no reason to be.
I will still be writing for the paper, especially the Green Space section, but look, y’all, I need a vacation. And I can almost hear the ice tinkling in the cocktail glasses at the Holiday. So I gotta run… I’ll catch y’all on the flip. This has been Jesse unplugged. Peace out. I love everybody.