The day Grayson Haver Currin gave notice, I was emailing with an industry colleague, a higher-up at the country's biggest alt-weekly chain. I mentioned that I'd have to figure out what to do without my managing editor—a guy who took on so many tasks and did them so well and so enthusiastically—and that I wasn't sure how I was going to replace him.
"My mantra: Turnover is our life," he responded.
For the most part, he's right. As an industry model, alt-weeklies hire the young and ambitious, work them to the bone, pay them just-above-subsistence wages, ply them with an environment in which it's OK to wear jeans and room to develop their craft, and then, after a few years, wish them well when they find something more lucrative or less stressful. Burn and churn. Rinse and repeat.
But this hasn't really been the case at the INDY. Yes, there have been layoffs and firings over our three-decade existence, just like anywhere else, but there's also been a core group here for a decade, sometimes longer, as editors and publishers and even owners have come and gone. Which is why, when three of our longtime employees—sales rep Leslie Land (sixteen years); production manager Skillet Gilmore (nine years); and Grayson (who started writing for the Independent in 2003)—announced their departures within a couple weeks of each other, rumors began to circulate.
On Twitter, someone said half of the INDY's staff had walked out. The News & Observer and the website Raleigh & Co. ran stories hinting that the sky was falling, or at least that these departures all had a common thread. We started getting emails asking if we would cease publication.
To put those rumors to bed: no, we're not. And no, the INDY isn't eliminating any positions, either; in fact, we're adding personnel. I'll get to that momentarily.
First, though, I want to take a second to brag on the work the editorial and design teams have done in the last year. We've fully redesigned the paper. We've put more resources than ever into covering Raleigh (and added a brand-new ground-floor office on Wilmington Street downtown). And our culture and news departments have produced journalism that is, pound for pound, as good as that of any alt-weekly in the country.
That last part is, of course, subjective. This isn't: our circulation is higher than it's been in three years, thanks in part to the covers Skillet designed. Our web traffic is double what it was a year ago. Our social media engagement is miles ahead of where it used to be.
Are there problems? Sure. You may have noticed, but these aren't print media's salad days. Still, to borrow from Mark Twain, the reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated.
As a former boss told me whenever I got a little full of myself, graveyards are full of irreplaceable people. That being said, Grayson and Skillet are as close to irreplaceable as you find in this business. In Grayson's case, we're not even going to try. (Skillet won't be leaving us until the end of August, so we're still sorting out what that means for the design department.) Instead of hiring someone to run music and food and special sections and glossies—an impossible amalgamation of jobs Grayson took on with aplomb, often working sixty hours a week or more—we're going to reinvent the wheel.
Starting this week, Brian Howe will become managing editor for arts and culture, overseeing a consolidated department that includes music and food. Under him, Allison Hussey will take over the music desk as associate music editor. Copy editor David Klein will become associate arts editor, adding culture writing to his job description. Longtime INDY contributor Victoria Bouloubasis will step in as associate food editor. And in the near future, perhaps by the time you read this, we'll hire a new calendar coordinator.
Grayson (and Skillet) will be missed, no getting around that. But there are few people I've met in my sixteen years in this business more capable or thoughtful or witty than Brian Howe. I'm extraordinarily excited to see what he and his team does, and I have the utmost confidence it will exceed your expectations.
This is the end of a chapter. But by no means is it the end of our story.