Trying to make it in a ‘dying’ industry

1
49

eric headshotby Eric Ginsburg

When Ben Epstein and Cam Calderon’s start-up fashion line sputters after a jolting start, the two friends begin searching for side hustles. With Calderon working off a debt to his uncle but looking to move into his own apartment, he begins using an energy-drink promo truck to ferry around his weed-dealing friend, and Epstein finds himself drawing a menu-board at a vegan doughnut joint.

It’s all too easy to relate.

Co-founding a business and trying to keep it alive is an exhilarating thing, but at times it feels like trying to breathe life back into a helium balloon that is slowly drifting towards the floor.

Triad City Beat has existed formally, publicly, for a short enough amount of time that we could still track its lifespan like a toddler — in August, this newspaper will be 18 months old. We’re just now starting to walk, though we still fall hard sometimes, but we can’t let go of the belief that this is possible. There is no other option, we remind each other. And that’s because we’re already all in.

There have been pay periods akin to waiting for the bus that never showed. It’s like being a valet again when everyone stiffed us on tips, only magnified. There’s been at least one desperate call to my parents, the “I tried to act like I could do this on my own but I just don’t think we’re going to make it,” conversation.

Somehow we’re still here, almost a year later, particularly thanks to the thousands of dollars our supporters contributed via Kickstarter. I’ve watched Jordan tighten his proverbial belt, endlessly bringing in PB&J sandwiches to the office and picking up lawnmowing gigs to scrape together extra cash. Last week I had to spend two weekday mornings freelancing for scratch after spent the previous week housesitting. And thank god for Jill keeping Brian and their kids afloat.

I never thought when I told Brian I’d join him in this venture that after more than a year I’d still be spending my entire Wednesday each week driving around to distribution stops in Winston-Salem. And it feels like there’s been a neverending stream of completely unexpected challenges, like the current temporary absence of both of our regular columnists the same week that an intern is on vacation and Brian and our publisher, Allen Broach, are in Utah.

After picking up an additional article last Monday to help carry the weight, I found myself volunteering for yet another piece that Friday after Plan A and Plan B disintegrated. I’m not alone — as Brian says, “I will do whatever it takes to keep this thing going.” Jordan, too. Because as I explained to a daily newspaper editor who tried to recruit me after this publication started rocking the boat: “In many ways Triad City Beat is me, and I am it.”

Our path is littered with mistakes, and we continue to come up short in various ways. There are still a couple of outstanding Kickstarter rewards, and many more leads we forgot about, emails that went unanswered and people whose contributions to keeping us alive didn’t receive the proper recognition.

Small, easy things fall down the list of priorities and remain unfinished, and we aren’t where we want to be; when our latest interns finished up, we could only afford to buy them a round of drinks rather than a proper meal or a parting gift.

I’ve always felt like the American Dream is a load of BS, realizing that opportunity has much more to do with class, race and who you know than how hard you work. In high school I argued at the dinner table with my dad, insisting that there was no way that he — as a hospital administrator — worked harder than the people who cleaned the building.

I stand by that, but I also have to believe that we can carve out a place for the kind of relevant, local journalism and hard-hitting news that we aspire to produce here. Our cities must be a place where these things are valued, cherished even.

Every time it’s hard to push forward, to keep throwing everything I can into this, I remind myself of the millions of Americans who don’t have the luxury of deciding to stick their necks out like we are. Some are people like Epstein and Calderon, the two friends I see while taking intermittent breaks to watch “How to Make It in America.” But most aren’t trying to make a dream real, they’re just trying to hustle to stay alive.

I want to be worthy of this privileged opportunity, to create something that is deserving of you, dear reader. Something that matters.

Seeing someone reading this paper while waiting for a takeout order at Golden Wok in Greensboro, or having a city employee stop me to say how much he appreciates us is a reminder that this newspaper may still be barely a toddler, but we’re starting to walk. Our acceptance into the Association of Alternative Newsmedia this past weekend feels like finally catching our balance.

In a few hours I’ll wake up and begin a round of editing before heading into our small office. Jorge, our art director who could be considered the vertebrae of this operation, will already be diligently working at his standing desk.

And when I look at him, or you, or this paper, I have to believe the saying painted by the artists at Pixels & Wood in Winston-Salem onto one of their pieces: “Hustle and heart will set you apart.”

There is no other option.

  • You “Triad City Beat” folks keep up the good work! We need your voice in our communities.