Conflicts of Interest By Baynard Woods

Conflicts of Interest: Conflicts at large

City Paper

When City Paper was bought by the Sun over a year ago, I argued in a New York Times op-ed that there is a special connection between alt-weeklies and the cities they write about, especially in a city such as Baltimore where anywhere between 20 and 40 percent of the population is not online. I wrote, “An alt weekly has a staff of paid reporters and editors whose jobs are not only to know the city, but to love it, to hate it, and to be an integral part of it, cajoling, ridiculing, praising and skewering city officials, artists and entrepreneurs alike, while giving voices to the ‘city folk.’”

I have never loved this city more and I have never felt closer to the staff of our paper, which is now more like a family (a big raucous arguing family). Which is why it is with sadness that I realize this will be my last regular issue to work on the paper as a full-time editor. After next week’s Sizzlin’ Summer issue, I will transition to an editor-at-large position, where I will continue to write regularly for the paper—including this column—but will no longer act as managing editor or arts editor.

Instead of writing arts reviews each week, I will focus on the kind of long-form reporting and writing that requires more time out of the office. I have long felt that too many of us journalists are too heavily bound to our desks and our computers and too distant from the world, and I want to immerse myself more deeply into worlds that are foreign from my own daily life and bring those stories to you.

We’ve been planning this for a long time, but I became more convinced of its necessity in the past few weeks. If the uprising had occurred a year ago, there is no way we would have had the resources for me to be out on the streets. Instead, I would have been behind the desk. But because of some of the people we have brought on, I was able to run out with photographer J.M. Giordano whenever something came up and the paper still functioned.

Now the young people we have brought in over the last year, the people who helped make sure the paper went out these last couple weeks, will be doing a lot of the jobs I used to do. Brandon Soderberg and Anna Walsh will take over a lot of my structural and organizational duties, while Rebekah Kirkman will take over editing visual art and Maura Callahan will handle performing art and stage.

I believe in these people. I have already seen how much better the paper is for having their voices and can’t wait to see what they do with more responsibility. They bring a passion for arts coverage that I was starting to lack. Because I play with the Barnyard Sharks and I write librettos for Rhymes with Opera, my relationship to the city’s arts scene was already fraught with conflicts of interest (hence the title of this column). As I hope to become even more active in the arts scene, I am giving up the distance of writing criticism (except for the High Life column of cannabis criticism and the occasional book review) for the full-on engagement of a participant. I am much better as a narrative writer than I am a critic and I want to continue to hone those skills while allowing Kirkman, Callahan, and Soderberg—all of whom are both more rigorous and kinder and therefore better critics than me—to carry on and develop the critical voice of the paper.

Seven years ago, I was a school teacher who woke up at 4am every day to write. I finally collapsed and my wife told me I had to choose writing or teaching. I chose writing and, with her help, I took a year off work to write a book, “Coffin Point: The Strange Cases of Ed McTeer, Witchdoctor Sheriff.” This year Overbrook Entertainment, Will Smith’s production company, signed on to turn the book into a television show. As deeply as I have enjoyed the weekly fight of putting out the paper, that bit of good fortune reminded me that it can be valuable to step back, to report more deeply, to think harder, and to write longer—even if there isn’t the immediate gratification of several bylines a week (and it has been wildly gratifying, I assure you). Long-form stories such as my recent ones on Lexington Market or Qayum Karzai are the ones that have contained all my passion and I can’t really do those while taking care of the hundreds of little things that have to happen each week. If I continue to try to do it all, I will fuck up. And it is not worth making that kind of mistake.

So look for more stories like that from me, as well as the City Folk profiles of ordinary Baltimoreans, a section which has long been my favorite part of the paper, but to which I was not able to give the attention I would have liked.

To the readers of this column and the entire city: Thanks. I love you.

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