When I interviewed for a staff writer job here in early 2001, three of us crammed into an office on the second floor of the rambling old Durham house that's been the paper's home for 20 of its 23 years in print. With the door shut, there was reasonable legroom for two people. Three people—one of them nervously facing the challenge of convincing two strangers to give her the job of her dreams—made it quite awkward. While we talked, 18-wheelers roared by startlingly close on Hillsborough Road, rattling the old windows and vibrating the floor. Above the din, two editors on opposite sides of the hallway just outside shouted back and forth.
"Are you online? Who's online?"
"C'mon, get off already."
In the midst of my interview, my reporter's "snoop gene" got the best of me.
"What's the deal with the Internet?" I asked Barbara Solow and Darren Stanhouse, then the acting managing editor and acting editor, respectively. (The previous editor had left so recently the skid marks were still showing on everyone's faces, but that's another story entirely.)
Well, came the answer, we only have two dial-up lines. Per person? Silly me asked. Nope, for the whole building—reporters and editors, graphic designers, classified and display advertising reps, circulation and business staff.
Having wound my way through the rabbit-warren-like first floor and up the worn wooden stairs, I'd had a quick glance at the chaos that has reigned in the building since 1986, when we moved in. But having worked in daily newspapers for more than a decade, and coming off a stint in technical writing in RTP, the notion you could run a newspaper—or any business—with two Internet connections for nearly three dozen employees was pretty staggering.
But as I've come to learn, we fully deserve our reputation as "the little alt-weekly that could."
Despite bare-bones budgets and rickety digs, we've consistently published some of the nation's best journalism, helped make the Triangle a more just community and made a profit doing it—three tenets of our mission statement.
We've brought down corrupt politicians, gotten swindlers indicted, embarrassed slumlords out of business and thrown a hell of a holiday bash every year. We've consistently won major journalism awards, including more prizes from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies than every other paper in the organization except our (much larger) counterparts in D.C. and L.A. We've created a workplace that embraces diversity and pays a living wage. Our office is a close-knit community where we bake goodies to sustain each other through tough deadline days and where if you get in a car accident, the first person you call, after 911, is a colleague, who you know will drop everything to do whatever needs doing to help you. We've launched and sustained a locally owned, independent voice the Triangle relies on for what's really going on in our community and our world, especially in these days of mega-chain media corporations.
We've done it all from our drafty old patchwork quilt of a house, where our back-issues archive is a bathtub, our only meeting room is also known as the lobby and no one is that surprised to find mouse droppings in a drawer now and then.
Not too long after my interview, we got a DSL connection. It improved our Internet access immensely, but strung a web of wires around the office like deranged holiday decorations; if you don't watch where you step, you can cost a co-worker a whole day's work.
This week, the long chapter of the Indy's history that was written at 2810 Hillsborough Road is closing. As this edition goes to press, we are taping up the last box, shutting down our servers and debating the fate of the life-size cardboard cut-out of President Bush that stands guard over a stairwell.
Come tomorrow morning, we're heading downtown to our new headquarters on the third floor of the refurbished Venable Building at Pettigrew and Roxboro streets, where we'll set up shop and begin writing a new chapter (along with next week's paper).
Who knows what we can accomplish now? We'll even have wireless.