Richmond’s media man-crush talks about leaving Brick Weekly.
Time is a funny thing. If you watch enough Oprah Winfrey and play enough online poker, a month can seem like a blur of disconnected days. It’s hard to believe that four weeks have passed since I stumbled out of 300 East Franklin Street with all my stuff in cardboard boxes.
The time away has been refreshing. And as much as it’s become a cliché for political outcasts and disgraced CEOs, leaving work to spend more time with the family is just swell. If you want to put life in perspective, nothing compares to carpet time with a one year old and a bag of alphabet blocks.
But I’ve been so caught up in my idyllic days of house-husbandry and freelance wordsmithery that I realize I may have left behind a few loose ends. I never got the chance to give my last word on Brick. I never got what professionals call “closure.”
Forgive me for wasting valuable virtual space on such personal business and please allow me the temporary delusion that anybody cares. I’d like to take this opportunity to clear up a few things because I still find myself fielding questions about “the great corporate injustice.”
Is it true that they escorted you out of the building in a Hannibal Lecter-style stretcher and face mask? Did the HR Department perform a full cavity search before letting you leave? Did you cry? What really happened with Brick?
Contrary to some reports, I was not removed from my position. My departure was voluntary, so I can’t really play the squashed-under-the-boot-heel-of-The-Man card. It’s important for people to know that I’m not a victim any more than the crazy guy from that grizzly movie who was torn into beef jerky. I knew what I was getting into and I figured it was going to end messy.
In the spring of 2006, I got an offer from the Richmond Times-Dispatch to create and edit a free weekly publication meant to target a growing segment… “non-readers” of the daily newspaper. The weekly was meant to be an alternative to the Times-Dispatch. It was supposed to be hipper, more-opinionated and decidedly younger-skewing in terms of demographics.
In searching for a guru of “cool and edgy” they thought it best to pursue a bald, doughy white dude who was creeping up on 40. Go figure.
I accepted the position. I had edited a weekly paper before and was curious to find out what it was like to do the job without worrying if the lights were going to be shut off or the paychecks were going to bounce. In some ways I saw it as a corporately-funded second chance. But mostly I took the job because of my ego.
They stroked it and stroked it good. It felt good to be picked for something new. I was promised creative space, creative freedom and the journalistic equivalents of diplomatic immunity and a license to kill. Throw in a few important lunch meetings and lots of compliments and before you know it I started to believe my own bullshit.
Brick launched in August 2006 and its limitations became quickly apparent. We started with a full-time staff of two, a squad of regular freelancers and one-half of a part-time salesperson. The paper chugged along for 13 months with some highs and lows, but mostly it limped along in the middle of the road. (Anything else I could say about the paper’s lifespan would just sound whiny and redundant so I’ll spare everyone the details.)
After a seemingly endless series of secret meetings, “reader studies” and coin-flipping, the fate of Brick was decided. People who got paid more than me chose the new direction and made the bold decisions. Those decisions didn’t thrill me so I let them know that I wasn’t keen on going along for the ride. In their words, I “opted out.” I wasn’t fired and I didn’t exactly quit. I just pulled the dingy cord on the bus and asked to be let off at the next stop.
In keeping with a prior agreement, the higher-ups offered me another position within the company. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, so I politely declined and decided to ride out my remaining weeks as the lame-duck-dead-man-walking editor of Brick.
One day, my remaining two weeks magically transformed into two hours.
If you’ve ever had last call sneak up on you, you know how I felt. One minute you’re drinking and laughing and chatting up your friends and then the music stops and the lights come on. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. It was a pleasure doing business with you. Leave your badge on my desk.
Sadly, my premature departure prevented a farewell issue rife with profanity, obscene photos and anti-corporate sentiment. Which is a real bummer because I had already picked a cartoon Calvin peeing on the Media General logo for the last cover. Alas, some things were never meant to be.
Am I bitter? Not really. I’m disappointed. But not by my sudden lack of employment or the eerie feeling that the paper has gone on without me. I’m disappointed by the lost opportunities. I’m disappointed that my time inside the corporate belly of Media General left me feeling like “The Office” and “Office Space” work much better as documentaries. I’m disappointed that things worked out exactly the way the cynical pessimist inside me thought they would turn out.
But as I said before, I wasn’t that surprised. The grizzly man got eaten because no matter how cute bears look they’re still wild carnivores who crave blood. In the end, the Richmond Times-Dispatch is still going to act like a multi-million dollar media outlet in search of revenue. Even when it vows to be innovative, bold and risk-taking, the company is still going to look at Richmonders as consumers and demographics. They will still use terms like “product,” “content” and “cross-promotion.” Every day will be business as usual: The cart will pull the horse, the tail will wag the dog and right after we eat we’ll all be rubbing our bellies wondering why we’re still hungry.