Farewell to City Paper, the Absolute Best Place to Work

It’s where I learned how be a writer, and in many ways – despite the fact that I grew up here – how to be a Philadelphian.

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I can’t remember what brought me to City Paper’s doorstep.

I’d like to think that I was a fan of the publication and wanted to contribute to the legacy of journalism in Philadelphia. It should also be noted that I was about to graduate college with a degree in the unemployable arts and could articulate my five-year plan in high-school Spanish. So sure, that might have had something to do with it, too.

Either way, I was on the fast track to becoming the city’s worst bartender when I showed up at Second and Chestnut with zero experience and the sneaky feeling that I wouldn’t last one semester in law school. I can still remember then-editor Ashlea Halpern asking me, in so many words, what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her the truth, because I was 21 and that still seemed like the right approach: I had no idea. The last time I had set a career goal I was in kindergarten, and the whole Sugar Plum Fairy thing wasn’t panning out.

I’m not sure why she hired me – likely because I had a working laptop and the internship was unpaid – but nine years later I’m still unbelievably grateful that she took a chance. And a week after City Paper announced its unceremonious end, I’m still unbelievably sad that Broad Street Media was afraid to do the same. 

A lot of really talented people have already explained what City Paper meant to journalism and to Philadelphia. (Here‘s another one. And here.) And that’s all true. During the course of its 34-year run, the iconic alt weekly churned out endless important stories supported by scrappy, original reporting and an office full of people who were audacious enough to give a shit. Even as page counts and budgets plummeted in recent years, City Paper remained ambitious. Sometimes this meant investigating Philadelphia’s corrupt civil-asset forfeiture system. Other times it meant channeling the ghost of Ernest Hemingway for the only advice column worth reading. In comparison, its competition ran a full-page cover ad for vaping, put on the We Surrender sweatpants and called it a day.

In truth, I never became a journalist, and so I have a hard time claiming any ownership to this side of my former workplace. (To its credit, City Paper never asked you to be something you weren’t, and from the very beginning I was more of a writer of blurbs and collector of stray Old City animals than I was a reporter. They were, for some reason, OK with that.) I’m proud to have been associated with it, but I have very little to do with the reason Philadelphia will remember City Paper fondly, why the last issue will be so bittersweet to so many people.

Here’s how I will remember the city’s last true alt weekly: As the absolute best place to work.

During my time at City Paper I learned how be a writer, and in many ways – despite the fact that I grew up here – how to be a Philadelphian with the help of an annoyingly talented and impossibly kind group of people. They believed in me when I said I could pull something off, then supported me when I quite clearly could not. I left every staff meeting with a cramp in my side from laughing, and I only cried when coworkers announced their resignations. In a stunning show of naïveté, assuming this was simply how the real world worked, I left after two years for another job. What can I say – I still had a lot of learning to do at 24.

It’s easy to blame new-owners Broad Street Media for shuttering City Paper while keeping Philadelphia Weekly on life support. Just as it’s easy to wonder how in the hell Metro – whose parent company served as CP’s previous overlords, and for whom I also worked – will outlive it. But no matter how rose-colored your glasses (mine are somewhere in the magenta range), the fact remains that all newspapers are living on borrowed time, and that publishing, like life, isn’t always fair. It’s an ugly truth that hurt at your high school reunion and will hurt when City Paper’s last issue hits the streets on Thursday: Sometimes flashy headlines and benign fluff will get you farther in this world than honest, original, from-the-heart work.

It was good knowing you, City Paper. You were the first to pay me to write, and the last to overlook the canary in my office. I guess all that’s left to say is thank you.

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