My last issue — stirring up good shit until the end

I have quit the best job in Louisville — managing editor of LEO Weekly. 

My last day is Dec. 31. 

Why would I do this? Because I am quitting to return to another love, architecture, focusing on historical preservation. If I am reading myself correctly, this is a good time for my Plan D. Running a paper is all-consuming, as perhaps any passion should be, if it is in a healthy way. But passions burn out, and others beckon. 

I leave with few regrets.

In my nearly five years at LEO, I have accomplished all I wanted to do and much more than I thought I could do. My time at LEO is a fitting coda to more than three decades in journalism that took me to six daily newspapers on both coasts and in between as a writer and editor. I will miss the practice of journalism but not the business of journalism. 

I will miss LEO — period.

It has been a joyous challenge, albeit with frustrations, to work with LEO’s staff and our army of freelancers to make the paper relevant again in Louisville — to reestablish it as the alternative to the many other news media outlets here that report the same stories every day, some better than others. 

From the start, my goal has been to refocus LEO to be consistently more interesting and unpredictably unpredictable, more opinionated with opinions you will not read elsewhere and just plain more fun to read — more eccentric. 

Hopefully, that came through.

Certainly, some of that got us into trouble, and that is OK if not good. 

Only a few times we got into trouble, no, we fucked up… and it was wholly our fault. For that, we apologized and learned. 

Mostly, though, we did what a good alt-weekly should do: provide an alternative view of the news with perspective and context about the community — and stir up good shit. 

That included answering the white supremacist march and violence in Charlottesville by publishing essays including one from Black Lives Matter Louisville core organizer Chanelle Helm: “White people, here are 10 requests from a Black Lives Matter leader.” That column became an international sensation, drew much ire and still gets thousands of hits on our website.

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That included providing new arts, food and op-ed content, such as Thorns and Roses, a weekly compendium of the best, worst and most absurd in the city. 

That included one of the first stories I edited at LEO, about the challenges ARTxFM faced becoming a radio station. That generated pushback from station supporters (we stand by the article) — but also continues to get many, many hits online. 

That included the Valentine’s Day story reflecting on the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling through the eyes of people who finally could marry. On the cover was a beautiful photo of two women kissing. It coincided with LEO’s ban from a local coffee shop chain (we were told our racy ads precipitated the ban). 

That included the story about the rise of mixed martial arts in local arenas. LEO’s reporter and photographer were at an event when a fighter died, which sadly provided enough proof to bring more state scrutiny. 

That included being first to report the outlandish deal that state and city wanted to cut with Amazon for a headquarters here. Fortunately, it failed, or Jeff Bezos might have built a mansion in a local state park.

And that included our Dining Issues, such as the one that asked a panel of judges the eternal, Louisville question: Indi’s or Chicken King? That piece, still is fav online, got us into trouble. Here is what we wrote after the piece was published:

 “We got a bit of blowback on our Indi’s vs. Chicken King showdown last week because the panel had no African American judges. The truth is, we wanted a diverse panel and had lined up a chef who is black, but that fell through at the last moment, and we could not find a replacement. Bad on us. We work to bring diversity to all we do — panels, stories, writers, photos, artists… Regardless, this criticism opened fascinating discussion about race and the media. One critic said on social media: ‘ … it’s like… a lose, lose situation for all parties involved. On the outside looking in… the article makes no sense not to have at least one person on the panel that actually lives around and frequents the place… on the other hand… who wants to be the one black person on a fried chicken review? It’s like… if they asked, ‘What was your favorite rap album of the year?’ Why can I only speak on rap? Do you think that’s all I listen to? But, then again… who wants to read a Year in Rap according to four white people? It’s fucked up, man… fucked up.’ (All true, although we do frequent both places, probably more than we should.)”

That brings me to something I encountered running this alt-weekly that I never faced in daily, mainstream journalism: Publishing an alt-weekly during these historically riven times in the Age of Social Media is precarious. Alt-weeklies should be progressive and advocates for racial and social justice in their coverage and editorial voice. I think LEO has been, as proven by the hundreds of stories, op-eds and photos we’ve run, in addition to the many, many Black and LGBTQ+ writers published. But also, as is the nature of movements over time, allies — and even movement members — get attacked for flaws, despite their sincere intentions. Social media magnifies those attacks and fails to consider proportionality. None of this helps the movement, the newspaper or anyone who might think of helping. As one local Black leader said after LEO was publicly dunned after running an insensitive headline… on social media, “We all need too much forgiveness not to grant it to others. And let me tell you this — only a fool turns longtime friends into enemies because they make a misstep. … Focus your rage in the right f’g places. Damn.”

This is not why I am leaving LEO.

I left journalism previously, in 2007, to get a master’s degree in architecture. I spent the next six or so years in architecture and making art for garner narrative contemporary fine art and at manofmettle.com. I had no intention of returning to journalism, but then LEO offered me the best job in Louisville. 

I took it. 

After all, architecture and journalism share much. When done best, architecture and journalism tell intriguing stories: architecture through the arrangement of space and form, and journalism through words and ideas; they each rely on structure and clarity; and they are best made real by a team. 

With that said, I must thank the impossibly small team that puts out a memorable paper every week. I also thank the freelancers and columnists who continue to believe in LEO and write for it, despite the difficulties of working for a small newspaper. And, finally, I would like to thank all of you who also still support and love LEO and allowed me to run it. Next! •