Five years ago, I stepped out on faith to help launch a newspaper that I believed would provide an honest voice for North Carolina’s northern Piedmont, celebrate the region’s culture and hold the powerful to account in an era of media atrophy.
My first child was only four months old when I decided to leave a stable, decently compensated job to join my friend and colleague Brian Clarey at Triad City Beat. It seemed like a crazy thing to have a child at age 38, but I got a burst of energy that made me feel 10 years younger, and so doubling down on a new, risky venture only made sense.
Even if City Beat had gone down in flames in the first year or two — and thank God, it didn’t — I still trusted that I would land on my feet somehow. One thing I knew is that I couldn’t stay at a job where I was stagnating and constantly fending off an unscrupulous publisher to uphold professional ethics.
Triad City Beat has seen my wife and I through the purchase of our first house; daycare, pre-K and kindergarten for our first child, and the birth of our second child.
The last five years has taught me the unparalleled love of family, with each part holding essential value — lover and partner, children, supportive grandmas. Family has shown me there’s something worth fighting for, and in many ways has hurtled me into a rebellious middle age.
I’ve flourished professionally, but as an observer of the world, these five years have traced an arc of disillusionment. As an investor and key employee at City Beat, I embraced an entrepreneurial zeal that seems quaint in hindsight. For me, the promise of a multicultural New Urbanist renaissance has given way to a hard reality of widening wealth inequality and intransigent institutional racism. Middle age is supposed to bring caution, but for me it’s the opposite: The recognition that life is fleeting demands insistence. We can’t afford to wait to ensure that all children receive a sound basic education, that young people aren’t churned into a soul-wasting criminal justice system, that lending institutions don’t systematically shut out people of color from building wealth through homeownership. A human lifespan is finite, so the flipside of incremental gains over decades is a devastating opportunity cost. Nothing is ever fixed, so if we’re not moving forward, then we’re actually moving backwards.
Contributing to altweekly journalism inevitably requires paying attention to the things that make cities vibrant: new restaurants, underground music scenes, expanding greenway networks, farmers markets, street murals. Cultural activity sustains the spirit, but sometimes it can feel like a luxury in the face of ICE raids, segregated schools and chronically unsafe housing.
It’s been a jarring experience to be a journalist, or indeed a sentient human being, over the past five years. Maybe the most searing experience for me was attending US Sen. Richard Burr’s 2016 election-night party at the Forsyth Country Club in Winston-Salem. As the journalists huddled over laptops at a cramped table became increasingly stricken with the results spooling in, the Republican apparatchiks and partisan fanboys were commensurately boisterous and jubilant. In a perverse way, I identified with the partisans’ gloating schadenfreude over the journalists. They saw it coming; we didn’t.
Nov. 8, 2016 forced me to do a hard reset.
After Trump’s election, I knew I had to focus on the busting seams of the American experiment. Since then, I’ve written about antifascists carrying baseball bats to confront the Ku Klux Klan, an anticommunist Cuban-American zealot publicly declaring his desire to kill Muslims, an antiracist militia, Charlottesville, far-right extremists and the toppling of Confederate monuments.
In hindsight, the panoply of discontents didn’t begin with Trump. It was there all along, with the police shooting of Mike Brown and the uprising in Ferguson in 2014, in the Mother Emanuel Massacre in Charleston and Bree Newsome’s removal of the Confederate flag at the South Carolina state house grounds in 2015.
Hardly anyone gets rich from journalism, but our little band of malcontents at City Beat has found a way to make it work, often to the amazement of our friends in the more legit daily and broadcast sectors of the industry. It hasn’t always been fun. For three of the past five years, I supplemented my income as a journalist with earnings from mowing the grass at my church. Quite the opposite from being a humbling experience, applying myself to physical work became a source of pride. I learned to write with more confidence: Despite my fancy Columbia University degree, no one can tell me I’m an elitist. Our family earns the median income in Guilford County. We know about the strains of paying for daycare and keeping up with a house payment, and we know something about the challenge of sustaining a small business.
I’ve laughed in the face of an alt-right conspiracy-mongers who told me I’ll write whatever lies my corporate overlords tell me to. We own this paper, baby! We’ve paid the price to build a credible platform for independent and fearless journalism.
It’s a cliché to say a newspaper won’t love you back, but this one has given me a livelihood and a life in journalism. So, I say thank you to the colleagues who put in the financing and sweat equity to make this newspaper and to the young writers who carry the legacy forward every day with their brilliance.