Commentary: I miss Creative Loafing

"And it would seem that even Creative Loafing misses Creative Loafing."

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Creative Loafing
Austin L. Ray, the author of this article, created these stickers, which have been spotted across town.

Photograph courtesy of Austin L. Ray

I miss Creative Loafing.

I miss the excitement that used to well up in me when I realized it was “Best of Atlanta” day—the day when CL’s gang of discerning critics, tireless journalists, and ATL enthusiasts anointed the city’s most essential businesses, personalities, and attractions. It was a time to discover new, wonderful stuff in the home I loved, to be validated in my opinions and occasionally surprised by the staff’s. In fact, I loved it so much that I became a CL contributor for seven years, writing about beer, comedy, culture, and other topics.

The annual package was always a clever tribute to a world-class town, which is why I was so disappointed when September’s “Best Of” issue was published—a mess of typos, confusing choices, and one entry that was so offensive the staff had to issue an apology. (More on that in a minute.) I’ve been watching this once-great publication melt down since publisher Ben Eason—who bought the paper from his mother, one of the founders, in 2000, lost it to bankruptcy in 2008, and then bought it back again in 2017—transitioned it from a weekly to a monthly that summer, and months later laid off all but one member of the editorial staff. But this issue finally pushed me over the edge.

I miss Creative Loafing.

I miss the stunning collection of talent—some of whom went on to work for the New York Times, NPR, Bon Appétit, and Rolling Stone, among others. These journalists helped create smart cover packages and strong stories that held people accountable and pointed a light at everything from underrepresented groups to independent artists and businesses. But if you want to read their work, you’re mostly out of luck: Much of CL’s online archive has fallen into a state of broken links and bizarre formatting. (And although someone tweeting from Creative Loafing’s account months ago said the archives would be restored, that remains to be seen.)

I miss Creative Loafing.

I miss the clued-in, confident newspaper I turned to when I moved to Atlanta in 2005. As an idiot 23-year-old, I had no idea what I was doing on multiple levels, but CL’s pages deftly pointed me toward the best in food, culture, city affairs, music, and more. That publication recommended things to me that I could never find on my own. That publication never would have chosen Spotify as a Best of Atlanta critics’ pick for “Best Internet Radio Station.” Recommending something so obvious (and not even local) is a waste of everyone’s time. (See also the critics’ pick for “Best Biscuit”: Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. Cool meme, bro.) How about the “Best Athlete” award just going to “Martinez”? Is that a way to say that the critics were awarding both Josef and Pity, the Atlanta United stars who happen to share a last name? There’s no way to tell, since it’s the only word in that listing. Who even knows what the winner of the “Best New Uses for Old Buildings” category, “Georgia Avenue in Buildings Summerhill,” refers to. Those words all mean something, but certainly not in that order.

Creative Loafing

Photograph courtesy of Austin L. Ray

I miss Creative Loafing.

I miss the way every ATLien could count on the paper to sensitively report on issues such as the plight of homeless people, illuminating the societal ills that plague Atlanta citizens living on the streets while perhaps pointing to a better future for us all. But in September’s issue, Creative Loafing reduced the homeless to a tactless punchline. For the “Best Thing to Hide from Out-of-Town Guests” category, CL printed the reader’s choice award as “the homeless,” with no explanation. After days of social media backlash, they removed the listing online and published a lengthy editor’s note stating that, though they disagreed with the pick, it got the most reader votes. As such, they felt obligated to publish it uncensored. It’s one thing to celebrate freedom of the press, but it’s another entirely to publish any foolish thing someone tells you. The editors of this decades-old publication should know the difference, and their lack of discretion and judgment is baffling.

Certainly, the biggest problem here—the reason for the lapses in judgment and failure to correct typos and confusing picks—stems from the decision Eason made in December 2017 to continue to do journalism after firing almost all of his journalists. The September issue had a critics panel that included some notable Atlantans and some longtime CL journalists, including the only editor spared in the 2017 layoffs, music editor Chad Radford. But an issue that recognizes more than 700 winners is a massive thing. You need an actual staff if you’re going to pull it off.

Creative Loafing

Photograph courtesy of Austin L. Ray

I miss Creative Loafing.

I miss the award-winning, funny, and frank publication that would report the hell out of anything if it was important to our city. Watching what’s happening with this ATL institution right now is like stumbling upon an old friend who’s bleeding out on the floor, knowing there’s nothing I can do to save them. In the meantime, every tone-deaf response and poorly written piece causes pain and longing for what once was.

Yes, times are changing, and alt-weeklies are both shrinking and closing all over the country. Maybe I’m nostalgic for a time that’s never coming back. Or maybe these times just require extra grit and innovation. Take theLAnd in Los Angeles, for example, where a small group of ex-L.A. Weekly staffers and freelancers are working on a shoestring budget to publish quality alternative journalism. Or the Chicago Reader’s new community-supported model, which is helping a legacy publication continue its commitment to in-depth reporting and storytelling. These types of changes are revolutionary—and are the types of decisions required to keep the alt-weekly spirit alive.

I miss Creative Loafing.

And it would seem that even Creative Loafing misses Creative Loafing. September’s issue gloats of a time 30 years ago when CL was “producing an alternative to the staid daily papers and the glossy city booster magazine.” What’s truly disappointing is that CL is looking for validation in decades previous—when nothing is more crucial and difficult than the present. No wonder the issue’s cover features a dog pissing on the words “Best of Atlanta 2019.”

 

Editor’s note: Before publishing this story, we reached out to Creative Loafing publisher Ben Eason for his response to criticisms raised in this essay. He replied: “Other than our controversy over the Reader’s pick for Homeless, we were quite pleased with the issue. Since you guys have quite the CL alumni club over there, I’m sure you can give us all kinds of ideas for how the issue might be done in the future.”

Austin L. Ray is a former Creative Loafing contributor and a writer in Atlanta.

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