Listen, we need to talk about this.
For the past year, things got awkward whenever someone found out that I was once a columnist for Philadelphia Weekly. At times, I’d even inexplicably apologize despite not having written for PW for years.
I’m not a conservative. So when a former publisher decided to make the newspaper, long a liberal bulwark and offbeat alt-weekly in spirit, a conservative propaganda machine, I was sort of devastated as were many writers and readers.
First and foremost, I don’t think politics should drive news or content. Rather, journalism is about accuracy, fairness, and sensitivity. It’s OK to have an opinion. If you’re a professional, you can acknowledge it and still be fair in reporting. I have many opinions. So do you.
But to go out there and just declare a 180 degree turn as some kind of gambit? At best, it was weird. At worst, it turned really offensive and, frankly, hurtful.
In the most notorious instance, there was a so-called “contest” that didn’t just fall short of the gravity necessary when talking about the loss of human life. Plainly, it was a direct assault on common decency. It was the kind of thing you’d imagine insensitive people who actually hate Philadelphia would love to read.
Now, it might seem strange that the person in charge of a newspaper’s success would kind of drag it in his first issue. I would argue that the risk of honestly confronting the past is nothing compared to the cost of simply moving along and acting like nothing happened. Clearly, a thing occurred here.
My goal is to rectify past mistakes and to build something more valuable to the community, and more sustainable, in its place. While I am here, I intend on elevating content that accurately reflects Philadelphia and tells stories that resonate, prompt action, entertain, and inform.
Yes, we are returning to our left of center worldview, but we aren’t carrying water for anybody. While I can’t say Trump supporters will like our op-eds, I can promise that our news coverage will be fair to everyone. We just won’t waste time acting like the entire scientific community’s opinion is equal to your non-scientist aunt on Facebook’s opinion.
PW will be the kind of publication you look to when you need a date idea, want to learn about a political topic or issue, want to try a new restaurant, want to learn how to bake something, or need to know how to get around the city. You’ll find stories in our pages about the excesses of those in power, why public education is something we should all care about, and different lifestyles or local personalities.
On our website, you’ll find lists and reviews that help you have a great time with whomever you’re out with. You’ll also eventually find tools and events that will help your career or business.
Above all else, this will be a newspaper for those who love Philadelphia and its people – even if that love sometimes means demanding things get better. With a good degree of talent and timing, our writers will hopefully win awards for them and PW, too.
Some of the bylines you’ll see include names like Bobbi Booker, Timaree Schmit, Len Webb, Vincent Williams, Kennedy Allen, Noel Bartocci, CJ Higgins, and Eric Smith. Our managing editor, JR Blackwell, is a celebrated photographer and storyteller who was PW’s senior photographer in the past. Blackwell’s steadfast dedication to the craft and this project help push us toward success every single day.
I argue that we’ve assembled the most diverse newsroom in Philadelphia media history in terms of race, gender identity, sexuality, and life experience. Starting something new gives us the ability to center equity and avoid discriminatory gatekeeping as much as possible.
Sometimes, prominent Philadelphians might do a guest column, like the one currently online by Sarah Clark Stuart of the Bicycle Coalition this week. There are many others I’ve not named, too, contributing to this project and many others we are actively recruiting.
For my part, I have what I consider a weird combination of trauma, professional experience, and neurotic tendencies that make me perfectly suited to be working in media. I prioritize ethics and interesting and relevant content, and I’m known amongst my friends as someone who’s kind but not nice. Journalism for me, especially local community journalism, is critical to American democracy. It’s also a labor of love, but I believe in paying writers and content producers because you can’t pay rent with “exposure.”
(Google “Harlan Ellison” and “pay the writer” to see my feelings about artists being asked to work for nothing. So, if you’re a writer and have a pitch, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
In a funny twist of fate, I got my first writing contract at PW years ago when I was living in a homeless shelter, banging out blog posts on a netbook that might as well have been held together with duct tape. So to return as its editor in chief for such an important project is weird to me.
Right now, we’re just starting out. In a way, we’re figuratively holding things together with duct tape.
With that in mind, I felt that our first print issue ought to be direct and convey this. So do pardon our appearance, both from the past as well as the present as we continue to recruit writers, build out content categories, and update our brand’s website and look.
I hope that over time as this project grows, we do our part to help Philly be more Philly but in the good ways. And I hope you’ll give us a fair shot at seeing what we’re about, the work we do, and the voices and perspectives we elevate.