Washington City Paper: Partying Around the Really Depressing Elephant in the Room

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Axed: Former WCP staff writers Angela Valdez and Amanda Miller Littlejohn at WCP Holiday Party

Got back a few hours ago from my last official professional party of the 2008 holiday season. This time, it was the Washington City Paper’s holiday soiree held at the Reef in Adam’s Morgan.

Background: I got an internship with the WCP in the fall of 2006 after returning from a journalism fellowship at Medill in Chicago.  I was hired about six months later as a staff writer.  It was undeniably one of the greatest professional experiences I’ve had to date; I learned so much there.  And yes, it was a ton of work, lots of stress, but so much fun. And I miss the people there like crazy.  Despite the fact that I was technically laid off during one of the first round of staff cuts in December 2007, I still keep in touch with the staff over there.  They’re a very unique bunch. And they know how to party.

I went to the Reef with fellow former WCP staff writer Sarah Godfrey, who,  is probably the most amazing hip hop/r&b/go-go music writer in the game right now (check out one of my fave music pieces, her story comparing Beyonce and Jessica Simpson).  Anyway, when we got there we saw fellow former staff writers turned freelance writers Angela Valdez, Dave Jamieson among others. Loose Lips columnist Mike DeBonis, who hired me for my internship and mentored me pretty much during my whole tenure at WCP, was there  singing bad karaoke.  Editors Erik Wemple and Jule Banville were mingling. The mood was festive, considering the circumstances.

And the circumstances are these: ever since Creative Loafing purchased WCP back in 2007, everyone who works for, has worked for, or knows someone who works for that paper has been on edge. First CL cut the WCP production department, then they began whittling away editorial. The last time I checked there were two writers on staff and just a few editors left to push punctuation around the ever more anemic content.

So while the booze flowed freely, we still couldn’t manage to drink away the awkwardness of that elephant.  There we were laughing, dancing, singing badly and having a great time while a pall of uncertainty hung over our heads. Would this be the last WCP Holiday Party ever? I heard several times that evening “Man this is depressing.” I even asked a former co-worker how he was doing and he replied “Pretty good…considering.”

There I was, standing in a room full of some of the smartest, most intellectually intimidating people I have ever come across.  People (myself included) who’ve lost a journalism job, or are scared to death that tomorrow will be the day they’ll get the axe.  For journalists and writers, editors and producers, being a beast with a pen just doesn’t cut it anymore.  Having the most out of this world story doesn’t equal job security. Because at the end of the day, it’s about the money. And if your company is in a bad way financially, you’re eventually going to feel it.

Newsrooms all over the country are hurting. Companies in general are hurting, for that matter. But once all the papers and magazines cease to exist, what then? Will we all just get our news on tv or the web? And is that okay? Should papers just go ahead and embrace the tide and put all their content online?

Maybe…

Now, I feel like I can say what I’m about to say because I’m not just a heartless PR person who doesn’t know the first thing about the bond between members of a newsroon, and the bond those writers and editors form with their product.  I’ve felt the bond, but I’ve also felt the axe. I’ve lived through a layoff.  I’ve been kicked to the curb by a downsizing newsroom that couldn’t afford to keep me on staff anymore.

So I can say what I want. Despite the whole Chapter 11 situation with CL, I think WCP has a really unique opportunity to make some lemonade.  Since everything’s going 2.0/3.0, and the media is apparantly dying, I think the paper should just  build upon its reputation as the source for local arts and political news in DC; leverage its huge network of readers; and rally around a sound social media strategy.  Judging from the Web site it’s been headed here for months and I’m pretty sure the new ownership has it in mind already:

Relaunch the paper as a really well-run network of blogs.

Maybe I’m too close to it. What do you think?

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