I was 7 years old the day Folio Weekly was born, on April 7, 1987, a towheaded kid whose life’s ambition was to be point guard for the Detroit Pistons (a dream cut short, sadly, by my inability to grow past 5-foot-10 and a general lack of athletic talent). I majored in journalism a decade later because I liked to write and couldn’t figure out what else to do with myself. I began writing for an alt-weekly a few years after that, as an intern assigned to spend a summer investigating a time-share magnate’s decades-old shady land deals, digging through property records in far-away county government buildings (these things were not yet online), knocking on doors all over the state, sitting in on what is still to this day the singularly craziest interview with which I’ve ever been involved.
The resulting story, co-bylined with the paper’s news editor (who, of course, did the heavy lifting and actual writing), won some statewide investigative reporting honor or another — a hell of a thing for an intern to put on his résumé — but by then that didn’t really matter: Alternative journalism — fearless, tenacious no-holds-barred narrative reporting — was a bug, and I’d caught it. Even during my sabbatical in the freelance and magazine worlds, it never went away.
This is in some ways thankless work: Most publications like this one are understaffed, their employees underpaid and overworked. You tend not to have the most up-to-date computers or any sort of corporate ladder to climb. But you do have freedom: freedom to tell stories no one else will, to be the voice of the underground; freedom to say the things that need saying, things that too often go unsaid; freedom to be scrappy, proudly detached from the establishment and its circle-jerk conventions; freedom to swear in print and never wear a tie. And most of all, writing for an alt-weekly means (or should mean) you’re someone with the power to influence and change your corner of the world for the better.
We don’t just have a job. We have a mission.
Four months ago, I came to helm this alt-weekly, which is now 27 years along and, like many alt-weeklies of its generation — and, well, newspapers in general — still trying to sort out its place in an ever-crowded media stratosphere, competing for a dwindling pool of print ad dollars while trying to navigate the brave new digital world. While the challenges we face are undeniable, so too are the opportunities. You’ve started to see some of the changes we have planned for the coming weeks and months — beginning last week with our new flag — and we’re positively stoked about what the future has in store. As the city we call home grows and becomes increasingly dynamic, we’ll do the same.
From our very first issue, even as editors and staff writers and sales reps have come and gone, Folio Weekly has been this city’s independent voice, exposing charlatans, challenging politicians and championing those who want to make Northeast Florida a better place to live, and having a lot of fun and winning a bunch of awards along the way. My goal, for however long I’m privileged to hold this position, is to live up to this standard, to carry on this magazine’s proud tradition.
Happy birthday, Folio Weekly. Here’s to 27 more.