A feature story I wrote for Charlotte magazine’s January issue about a beloved alt-weekly that suddenly went under.
“NOW everyone put up your middle finger.”
It’s 4 p.m. on a warm Halloween at Solstice Tavern, a NoDa bar that, appropriately enough, is only a few days away from its own sudden death. A group of 10 or so gathers on the back patio, a collection of empty Pabst Blue Ribbon cans growing on the bar top. Just a few hours ago, most members of the crew lost their jobs at the city’s only alt-weekly paper, Creative Loafing.
Ryan Pitkin, the paper’s last editor-in-chief, totters around the patio, snapping photos with colleagues and friends who showed up to support, and to drink. Every few minutes, Pitkin’s phone ka-chings like a register about to devour dollar bills. It’s his Venmo account filling up with donations from concerned friends and sympathetic fellow journalists. One writes, “You’ll do great things in the future, but tonight, just have a beer.” Others consist of simply a beer emoji.
A few feet away, associate editor Courtney Mihocik vents about her recent move to Charlotte three months ago; at 23, she had relocated from Ohio to work at the paper and doesn’t know where she’ll go from here. Justin LaFrancois, an account executive, seethes as he recounts packing up his office. John Grooms, an original editor and longtime columnist, stops by and gives a speech of thanks as AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” blares through the cigarette (and e-cigarette) smoke. “It’s been nice,” he says, and salutes the team.
Four hours earlier, team members had finished their election issue after owner and publisher Charles Womack III told them to hit a strict noon deadline. Minutes later, staffers realized their Gmail accounts weren’t working. At 12:05 p.m., Womack showed up unannounced. (He says it was closer to 12:45.)
Womack gathered them in the conference room and told them that, after 31 years of publication, they had just produced their last issue of Creative Loafing. They were fired. Womack gave members of the seven-person staff five minutes to clear out their belongings and leave. “No severance. No nothing,” Pitkin tweeted a few minutes later.