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Not Wisely but Too Well

By Kathy Y. Wilson · November 12th, 2003 · Your Negro Tour Guide

It's in your hands. The paper's first issue of its 10th volume is mellow momentum.

CityBeat is at an impasse with itself. It's a beautiful curse to be simultaneously this young and this old in this game in this city. We're bound to get much better or worse still. We're bound.

I've known my editor, friend and payday loaner John Fox since Mike Breen, music editor first at Everybody's News (EN) and now CityBeat, put me on with my review of Miles Davis' Doo-Bop. I ranted then about the lack of color in that paper, and I'm still raging about black and white now.

Back in that day John couldn't pay me, so I did it for love. We put the "free" in freelance.

I thrilled off seeing my byline, my point, my sentences. I supplemented the malaise of nowhere part-time jobs with the thrill of interviewing Jazz musicians and writing record reviews.

Then John dropped off. Went uderground.

Meanwhile, I got a paid writing gig, and the cocoon of my cliched sentences butterflied into strong soldiers. Joan Carroll hired me to edit and write for The Cincinnati BlackBook, a long-ago monthly. I landed in 1994 at The Hamilton Journal-News after five years at the Main Public Library.

And John reappeared with an offer. A cross between the Raymond of Everybody Loves Raymond in appearance and a baby boomed do-gooder in temperament, John is so laid back he's in reverse.

That, and his belief in me, are what attract me to him. Laying back is also what's maddening about us -- me and him and us and this paper.

When John re-emerged from his post EN split, he had a fully hatched and financially backed plan to launch another alternative newsweekly. He called it CityBeat, and did I wanna be down?

In that inaugural issue I published a whip-crackin' review of a Betty Carter record.

I've gone from freelancer (finally paid) to contributor (adding to special issues and cover stories) to part-time staff (enough hours for insurance) to full-time columnist, features writer and sometimes editor of special issues.

John and I have tumbled into a lately tumultuous relationship that was once water-cooler friendly. I sometimes baby-sit his school-aged daughter, and there's no greater intimacy than caring for another's child.

Whatever our tenor, the bond withstands the lashes. Throughout, we are beholden to the truth.

In truth we talk about gender, race, class, white male privilege, watered-down leadership, talk radio, yahoos who think they're leaders and vice versa. We've talked lately about responsibilities and about relationships.

I've been up John's ass about the paper's identity in especially black communities. I've let him know CityBeat cannot ride on my back into certain conversations via this column. I've urged him to forge stronger relationships with other alternative outlets.

Descend the ivory tower, I tell him.

In a slipshod system of checks and balances, we track the paper's accountability in covering Cincinnati's status quo. In my estimation, we subtly add to it by not barnstorming Cincinnati and for being sheepish on hot-button issues.

Exactly how do we feel about war? I dunno. We've never outed ourselves. Rather, we assume readers know by cobbling together opinions on war-related topics. Further, we're not daring enough with political endorsements.

We've gotten fat and lazy since EN packed it in. It's almost like we're sometimes in a diabetic haze. We're sweet on ourselves, and our sweet tooth is rotting.

At the threshold of our first decade, we're relearning what it's like to be hungry, angry, direct. Our Power Puff Training Wheels are back on.

There are internal matters that impede our journalistic growth. Sometimes we get tanked up on the Pimp Juice of "alternative journalism," and it tarnishes the so fresh and so clean/clean gleam of old-fashioned journalistic integrity.

Alternative doesn't mean reckless or negligent. Sound journalism defies categorization.

This isn't dirty laundry, though. These are things we've discussed and dissected, stuff plaguing any alternative paper in any American city.

In the end we desire to be taken seriously. And we deserve it. We are serious.

Imagine the news blackout in this city if John Fox hadn't begged up the coins to start this rag. Imagine the Wonder Bread editorial opinions you'd be still choking down if, three years ago, he hadn't handed me the keys to this column. What if there were no Porkopolis, no Sundance coverage? And who'd cover the arts?

Imagine no self-criticism and if I had to ring in Volume 10 with sappy, ass-kissing sugary bullshit. I cannot fathom that.

As tired, frustrated and even burned out as I might get propelling forward someone else's vision, this paper is also my opportunity. I get off with CityBeat.

I'm a point of entry to readers who otherwise wouldn't know how to be heard. The weight of being the "black voice" -- in music, news or features -- ghettoizes the subject matter and the writer. It also elevates us.

Ultimately it comes down to this: If not me, then who? If not my way, then how?

Likewise, CityBeat holds the reigns. Only after the coming decade is a memory lane will we know how tightly we held them. It's in our hands.

Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.


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