Thursday, November 09, 2006

My War

My War

By Todd Morehead

My editorial last issue (“Biting the Hand That Never Fed Me”) was primarily written in an attempt to heal a fractured community. However, I also took aim at establishments who cater to the alternative community, yet ban the local newspaper that covers the issues that impact those peoples’ lives. I also made sure to include a couple of particular business owners that I know personally, who subscribe to liberal politics in their private lives, yet who show aggressive lack of support for their alternative newsweekly and instead funnel money to a media conglomerate based in Virginia. Feedback I’ve received on the article—both positive and negative—convinced me to take a few more words to stress that I’m not trying to alienate my friends or polarize the community further. My intention wasn’t to attack these business so much as grab them by the shoulders and try to shake them back to their senses. This issue isn’t about a few ad dollars; it’s about standing up and putting your money where your mouth is. And, as a member of the community that has supported those businesses over the years, I’m simply asking, “Why?” What the hell is going on around here?

An alternative business owner, who I’ve known peripherally for years, confronted me about the article, stating that his decision to support an out of town media corporation instead of the City Paper was due to the fact that he was “just trying to run a business.” Fair enough. But, he didn’t realize how telling that statement was. No, it’s NOT just business. In fact, there’s nothing more dangerous than the “just business” mentality. Sure, advertise with the entertainment paper. But, support your community newsweekly, too –if only in a small, token sort of capacity. What happened to supporting a local economy, supporting the people to which he caters, and supporting his friends?

A few years ago this same business owner tried to coax me into leaving my job to hop on a bus with him and ride up to Washington to protest against Bush (or maybe it was the WTO). What the hell happened to his sense of activism in the few years since? Another one of the business owners mentioned in my commentary is a higher up in the South Carolina Green party. She has been a tireless activist and is a genuinely good person. Yet, she won’t support the newspaper that eschews some of the core views she’s worked so hard to bring to light. These people should leap with joy at the chance to help support a true alternative newspaper in their hometown (not to mention reaching their true demographic).

Yet, it seems that these people are now more worried about their bottom line. Any case, a few of the same points have been echoed from both supporters and detractors alike, so I feel that it’s important to clarify my position.

“So, if I don’t advertise with you, you’re going to attack my business?”

Of course not. That would be absurd. Adrianna’s, for example, has never advertised with this paper, but we’re always quick to stand up for them. I want to help the alternative community, not injure it. Pointing out areas of concern within that community—flagrant disregard of an important media source for instance—is a step toward fixing the problem.

The people who come at me with this argument should re-read the article more closely. For one, I mainly go after the businesses that cater to alternative types, yet don’t allow their customers access to the alternative paper. Second, yeah, I went after a few people that I know personally, who are politically inclined, and who, I feel, aren’t doing their part to support alternative media. For example, I pointed out that their ad dollars spent with Portico Publications, the corporation that bought the Free Times, goes to pay the salary of conservative Boston-based columnist Michael Graham instead of supporting their alternative newspaper (and the local alternative writers who’ve spent their few meager dollars in their establishments). That’s not an attack. It’s a statement of fact.

“You should quit fighting the Free Times.”

Look, I admittedly have a soft spot for the Free Times. Amy Singmaster worked a miracle with that paper. They gave me some of my first publication credits and I still tell people that Dan Cook is one of the best editors I’ve ever worked with. I recommended Dan to a blossoming freelancer just the other day. Eric Ward is a great reporter. And, I’ve always thought very highly of Jim Small. Columbia wouldn’t be where it is today without those people. But, things changed when Portico came to town. The tone and, arguably, the purpose of the Free Times changed. We freelancers were having edgier articles rejected and were receiving emails encouraging us to cover real estate and the automotive industry. And even though I had relegated myself to just writing counter culture book reviews at the time, I still felt that I should bow out and move on.

Since then the City Paper and the Free Times have exchanged blows both in print (usually tongue in cheek) and behind the scenes (more insidious).

For example, I believe that Portico’s close ties with the Five Points Association had a hand in the FPA denying City Paper the opportunity to sponsor a music event in Five Points (even though we’re paying members of the Assn. and are based in Five Points). The FPA’s reason for backpedaling, after they had already agreed to let us sponsor: “we can’t have two print media sources.” Curiously, though, they had two radio stations.

If you were a business owner, wouldn’t you fight that type of thing? Or at least question it?

And what type of journalists would we be if we didn’t question the Columbia good ole boy system? We’re trying to shake up the Five Points Association and the Free Times is thrown into that mix because they’ve been in bed with the FPA for years. Lots of money, some of it from taxpayers, has changed hands.

And the worst part of it is, when we open the Free Times, whose father corporation would love to see us run out of town, lo and behold, there are our personal friends funding them. The money that I spent at my friend’s establishment was being used against my own business that I’ve been tirelessly trying to build.

That is indefensible. Time to ask some questions.

“You [the paper] seem like you’re backed into a corner. All you do is fight.”

Damn right. Somebody has to. I love this city and the people in it. And I consider it my duty to report the truth, so that citizens can gather together if they so choose to fix the problems around here. The fact that even the alternative community is plagued by the good old boy system is frightening. It’s heartbreaking, actually. So yeah, I’ll fight to fix it.

And if I seem a little grumpy lately well... on a personal level, dang it, I miss having places to shop. Let me use the story of another small business as an example:

The Happy Bookseller is a local independent bookstore that’s been in business for over 30 years. A few years ago, two mega chain bookstores purposely flanked them in an attempt to run them out of business. The only thing that’s kept them afloat is an effort by the community to spend their money locally. When Barnes and Noble bought a publisher called Sterling, the Happy Bookseller canceled their contract with that publisher. After all, it would be illogical for the Happy Bookseller to give money to a publisher that would siphon the revenue to the very people who are actively trying to run them out of business.

By that same logic, as an alternative consumer, and as a friend, I can’t support some of these alternative businesses any more. I love ‘em, I sincerely wish them the best, and I encourage you all to please continue to support them, but it’s illogical for me, personally, to give them my money so they can siphon it to Portico media headquarters in Charlottesville. I can’t stomach hearing political indie rock coming through their audio systems, while knowing that they lavish their ad dollars at the feet of an out-of-town entertainment media conglomerate. Call me an idealist.

So, please, instead of getting defensive, simply step up and help out. Help me help you. I truly admire, care about and respect some of the people that I’ve been forced to distance myself from. But, when the history books begin to paint an accurate portrait of arguably the most troubling times in the past half century of American history, I want to be able to tell my grandchildren that in my own little corner of the country I stood up and fought for what was right and decent. That I cared more about people than my bottom line.

It’s time for change in the south and in this town. Period. This type of paper, this type of honest discourse is a start. And if I have to burn some bridges to help jumpstart that change, it’s a price I guess I’ll have to pay, though it pains me to do it.

What if the negative press puts us out of business?

Well, let me bounce that ball back to you: what if your aggressive lack of support for your paper puts us out of business, what some have called “the only real show in town?” Your client base might not take too kindly to that.

But regarding the negative press: I’ll stress until I’m blue in the face that I’m not calling for some type of boycott of these places. Small businesses have a hard enough time as it is. I’m simply suggesting that concerned citizens voice to these places that you’d like them to start supporting their local newspaper. Walk in and ask them what their fucking problem is.

And, sure this may seem overly aggressive, but sometimes alternative journalism is aggressive. Some of you who grew up in South Carolina and who have never left it may never have truly experienced alternative journalism. But, my intention—however aggressive—is to simply start a dialogue. To ask “why?” And maybe if this paper manages to stay in print for another few years, some of these people will come around. I don’t think they’re bad people, they just haven’t considered the big picture, yet.

“Todd, dude, I think there are some people looking to kick your ass for this.”

That, unfortunately, is often a side effect when people try to change things or ask too many questions. I didn’t come up in a shoe-gazer scene, so I’m no stranger to threats and beat downs. Being a punk rock kid 18 years ago in Chattanooga, TN wasn’t a safe proposition either. In this case, they’re just hicks who wear Iggy Pop shirts, I guess. And they can align themselves proudly with the pieces of shit who torched Corey’s house last year.

How can some think that it’s more productive to write hate mail and threaten people than to simply say, “I disagree with you on this, because...”

You know? I’d love to hear some reasons, because I can’t really think of any.

OR “Hey, man... you’re right about some of this. It’s pretty lame that those places ban you.”

OR “Sorry, I didn’t realize how hypocritical I seem as an business owner and leader of the alternative community. Deep down, I’m not hypocritical, I’d just never thought about it like that before. Yeah, I think I’ll help out.”

Let’s drop the egos and the blustering and have an honest discourse here. I’m just reporting facts. Gonna kick my ass for that?

Instead of threatening me—and I’ve tangled with way meaner—simply try to deny or disprove any of the facts I’ve put forth. We’re providing you a voice. Tell us your side. The way I see it, if you ban a newspaper or ignore what should be an integral part of your community, then you’ve got some damn explaining to do.

So, what now?

A lot of the alternative community’s movers and shakers have proven where their true priorities lie, for good or ill, but we’re still in the process of separating the wheat from the chaff.

My commentary, at the very least, has opened a dialogue. Post a comment here and let me know how you feel about it. If you want to help support “the only real show in town” then start asking questions of your community, too. We’re your voice. Send us news tips or story suggestions and letters.

In the very near future City Paper is going to start sponsoring regular benefit shows at New Brookland Tavern. Proceeds will go to benefit various local charities and organizations. Show up and help out.


Anonymous said...

well said

Anonymous said...

I like how you have deleted all the other comments except "well said".

I have not been "aggressive" in not supporting your paper. I just haven't given you any money. But you are leading people to believe differently. Is that aggressive? Your behavior is aggressive and spiteful.

You don't know what you're talking about when you say we haven't supported the local scene. We have given our time, our venue, our food, and alcohol to worthy causes.

I speak for myself here, but your paper is not my voice.

Respectfully yours,
Jonathan R. Robinson
Co-Owner of The Whig said...

Please note: The deleted posts were from a spammer (check the comments page on the Free Generica blog. Same guy.)

Thanks for the comments.

Anonymous said...

You've made it abundantly clear to all savvy readers in Columbia that, no, the real alternative paper in town is definitely NOT your voice.

And, like everyone else that we've called bullshit on, you've tried to simplify it into an issue of money. This is about more than a few ad dollars, old buddy. Re-read the post again if you have to. Let it sink in.

I heard from an unreliable source that you might want to mend the fence with City Paper one day, Jonathan. I hope so. Aside from this tiff, I think highly of you and I miss the Whig. A written apology to the City Paper staff ought to do the trick.

Or, you can hang back and stagnate with the Portico Corporation. Whatever the case, the rest of us are sailing on.

And, hey, the bit about giving your alcohol "to worthy causes"

... I like that.

Todd Morehead

Anonymous said...

I started this paper so anyone could have a voice, not just our editors.
I also know when our paper runs a story related to a business, that same business will quickly get huge attention and support from our competitors. Awards, Editorials, Positive Reviews, and super off the rate card ad deals. So, you are welcome.

Just maybe tomorrows Cookin’ with Gas will be on “The Whig”

If anything Todd’s opinion has help The Whig get additional exposure, in the same way we are moving 2,000 more papers in Five Points since being banned from the Delaney’s/Speakeasy establishments.

So who is the sell out here? Is it the establishment that reads us and doesn’t support us? Is it the competitor that follows our every move, and then confirms they are sellouts with advertorial driven content ...that is driven by our editorial content?

Or is it Todd for raising a few questions?

On the same note, I don’t think The Whig has sold their alternative soul by not advertising in CCP. I didn’t write the piece.
Would have I been grateful at a $50 support advertisement at a time we were spending more than that at The Whig on a weekly basis? Of course. Our sales representative is a single mom with a baby to feed, and I have my life invested in this paper.
Could I have drank at TGI Fridays instead…sure. But there are a million reasons why one chooses to buy an ad. I don’t think Todd’s point was about that.

Back when I couldn’t pay my mortgages and car payments, we still bought our chains and locks from Hiller Hardware. I dogged re-po’s and we still printed.

In recent issues, Todd sees our operation taking off and is astonished that we are finally getting support from the strangest places. And we’ve tried to do the right thing every step of the way. A story on the FPA was thought to be terrible idea advertising wise. I actually thought it would put us out of business. But we did the story instead of considering FPA’s idea to take over an issue of City Paper. This is thousands of potential marketing dollars turned down. FPA was going to advertise with us, not the other way around.

So is it really about ad dollars?
But you know when we do get upset- when someone lies and claims they were going to run an ad when they never would have.
The Whig I think is at least trying to be honest. Hipwazee should try that. Kelly claimed today that someone at CCP called an employee the “C” word and the owner is Todd’s ex-wife…..PLEASE……..let me go ahead and reserve that half page for you.

Write in a letter, and don’t call me with that load because all you did was confirm Todd’s opinionated piece.

So sure, have a personal vendetta against Todd’s editorial. Maybe I’ll go get Vanilla Bullshit from Starbucks.

Or maybe Todd has woken you up, and you can send your thoughts in to be printed in an Op-Ed.
Or write an editorial of your own. We’ll still be here.

-Paul Blake,


Anonymous said...

The most "establishment" cliques in Columbia have always touted themselves as "alternative". Theater groups that complain constantly about money woes but refuse to rent space on "dark nights" to local promoters of music. Some so-called animal rescue groups(Including Bob Coble's publicly-funded Animal Mission) that wage constant turf wars with other groups while the pounds continue to kill tens of thousands of animals a year. AND when it comes to Five Points Merchants "Charity", let's not forget how UN-charitable many (but thank God not ALL) FPA merchants were to the yes LOUD, but legless begger at your doors a year or so ago. Heh, Gourmet Shop, still stinging from the protests eh?

Kudos to CCP for not holding back. This town needs to be grabbed by the shirt color and given a good "shake" (FPA included. Shame the "Other paper" (FT) has become so "booj-wah". Maybe that's why it has to support itself with 1-900 porn line ads eh?

Anonymous said...

I think New Brookland Tavern is the only real alternative establishment in Columbia.

Anonymous said...

Burn, bridges, burn.....

And as a side note, the reason most small theater groups won't rent to local music promoters is the mess and the hassle, straight up. Not to mention the fact that a lot of productions have(fragile)sets up or being constructed, rehearsals to deal with, and generally don't need the trouble of having to deal with the wake of a bunch of beer-swilling idiots. That's what bars are for.

Good luck extorting advertising dollars out of a very small, struggling alternative business community.


Anonymous said...

I think it is fair to say reporting the truth hurts, and and it is clear the columbia paper is the opposite of the other papers in town that sell their integrity with each ad. This paper is refreshing. A better example of extortion is the anti-american places that ban it, and pressure businesses to not run in it.
It looks to me like City Paper has plenty of support with out doing the pandering that The State and others do.

Anonymous said...

So where is your paper printed?

Anonymous said...

Seriously, where is it printed?

Anonymous said...

Fuck ALL ya'll fake-ass, horn-rimmed glasses wearin, size medium Iggy Pop shirt wearin, $6 for a Bourbon and coke payin' Modest Mouse listenin', Chuck Taylor wearin, Non-meat eatin', chin-scruff growin', doob-tokin', Sarte' tattoo havin', anti-gun, anti-Jesus jackasses! I'm supportin' my LOCAL paper, Spendin my dollars LOCALLY, huntin' LOCAL deer, and chewin' LOCALLY-made beef jerky! Support this paper! And eat beef....its whats for dinner.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha, you just offended the staff of this "paper". Good job.

Anonymous said...

We are printing at a small locally owned printer in S.C.

And to the other Dude, no one is offended. We are flattered there are so many alternative businesses supporting us. Yesterday one bought the back page for all of 2007.

Jam room, papa jazz, loose lucys, goatfeathers, and heroes & dragons are just a few real alternative independent merchants that have just come on board.

Most of all, we have to thank the readers like you for keeping even a two month old article in the forefront of people's minds. This is part of the reason why we are struggling to keep up with all the new business.

Seriously thanks for the continued support, and keep on reading and responding. Just like our competition, you validate our every move.

You are so into City Paper, Would you like a sales postion? Two just opened up and we've opened additional offices.
Give us a call!

Anonymous said...


...I don't have a Sartre tattoo, Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Hey Anonymous, I wasn't talkin about this papers staff! I was talkin about those folks....whats that french word? "Poseurs". Or whatever. I was probably talkin about you, silly ass. Good job. At least I sign my name proudly to my opinons....Doug GD Charkin. I'm the guy who keeps your car running...the guy who brings your damn popcorn shrimp and veggies....the guy who stays elbow-deep in your clogged toilets(holidays or not)...the guy who drives the big rig for the K-Mart so you a-holes can get your cheap socks and undies...the guy who makes a few extra coins sellin fireworks in July...I'm that part of America that folks like you don't associate with, Anonymous. I like blue water, big Chevy trucks, quality tools, and hard work. A part of me swells when I see an eagle or Old Glory flyin high and a part of me died with Dale Earnhardt. I love this city, but more than that, I love this paper and don't like to see it drug though the mud.
Thanks for the job offer, but the shop keeps me pretty busy, brother. Stay real and God bless.

Anonymous said...

Fuck yeah, Charkin!