There's a red laminated card that was handed to new employees of The Independent Weekly—back when we were still called that, before City of Roses bought us in 2012—when they walked through the doors. On it, in black text, was the mission statement:
"To work at The Independent Weekly is to pursue these ideals: to publish the nation's best alternative journalism; to help build a just community here in the Triangle; to create a good workplace for every individual here; to make a profit doing it."
Profitability, you'll notice, came last. Journalism—great journalism—came first.
A lot's changed since 1983, the year The Independent Weekly debuted, both in the Triangle and in our industry as a whole. We have new owners and a newly truncated name. We have blogs and websites to maintain, content quotas to fill, and page-view targets to hit. And we have smaller budgets and staffs with which to cover the country's fastest-growing and probably most dynamic region.
But that mission, that commitment to effecting progress through the stories we tell, that mission is exactly the same:
To publish the nation's best alternative journalism.
My charge as the INDY's new editor in chief is to do just that—and in fact to do more of it. As long as I'm privileged to hold this post, that's what we'll strive for.
So no, to answer the question we've most often received since this change in leadership was announced, the INDY's focus isn't changing. We're not going to become a cheap lifestyle rag or whore ourselves out to advertisers. We're not going to deep-six investigative, in-depth reporting and long-form storytelling. We're not going to stop taking on tough and emotionally charged issues, speaking truth to power, or comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
If we were, I wouldn't be here.
Two weeks ago, when publisher Susan Harper asked me to take over as editor, I asked her what success looked like. Much to her credit, Susan's answer wasn't more revenue or more page views or more awards or better circulation or any of the usual metrics publishers use. Rather, she told me that to her, success is measured by how impactful our journalism is, in whether the work we do makes our corner of the world a better place.
Even in alternative media, where I've spent most of my career—first as a staff writer at Orlando Weekly, then as news editor at Philadelphia City Paper, then as editor of Folio Weekly in Jacksonville, Florida, and for the last five months as the INDY's Raleigh editor—that attitude is altogether rare.
Meeting those expectations will be no small feat. Fortunately, I'm not alone in this endeavor. Grayson Haver Currin, the INDY's longtime music editor, is taking on the additional role of managing editor (as well as my institutional memory, which is no small thing considering how new I am). And down the line, from our culture team to our staff writers to our designers, we have a tremendous pool of talent to work with.
We also have you. As we go forward, as we feel our way through what the next iteration of INDY Week will look like, we want your feedback: What are we doing well? What should we be covering that we're not? What should we be doing more of? And most important, how can we—to quote that red laminated card—"help build a just community here in the Triangle"?
Jeffrey C. Billman is the INDY's editor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jeffreybillman.