I should’ve known there was going to be trouble when Michael Hiatt, the Vice President of Arizona-based Times Media Group (TMG), asked to see our IDs. It’s a strange way to meet someone, to say the least.
A few days prior, David Comden, the president of Southland Publishing—CityBeat’s former owner—gathered our staff into the dank, dark editorial room in which I had spent the past seven years writing, social media-ing, and update-website-ing, and told us he had sold the paper to TMG. The sale was effective immediately. I couldn’t help but notice the relief in Comden’s voice. CityBeat’s marginal profitability—a fact that he always spouted during his visits—had always been a thorn in his side. So I can only assume that letting it go was like dropping his proverbial baby off at the firestation. Dude seemed like he couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Drop the match and run. Retreat to his million dollar house to drink margs and listen to Jimmy Buffet, or whatever middling media emperors do.
Initially, I didn’t think much about the sale. In fact, I was cautiously optimistic. Southland Publishing was—how do you say?—a garbage company. Journalism always seemed to come second to ads to them, and investing in web was never a priority. I can’t tell you how many times I had to embarrassingly justify and explain my duties to our then-publiblisher Kevin Hellman. They cut every corner to prevent paying employees a livable wage (they capped me at 38 hours, so I wasn’t considered full-time, and even that took three years of employment to achieve). They once fired a colleague and refused to pay out her vacation/sick time, and I believe they justified it because they had assumed she had taken so much undocumented time off...for cancer treatment. Southland Publishing: A bastion of compassion.
So, I was hopeful for the new management. Perhaps we’d get raises. Perhaps we’d get working printers. Perhaps we’d get lightbulbs for the office!
But then Michael Hiatt came to our office. He reminded me of a mix between the boss from Office Space and a cop. Or Krang’s body from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He was corporate, but buzz-cutted and in-charge.
After Hiatt introduced himself, he asked to see my ID despite the fact that we had already sent scans of our drivers licenses and passports to HR. I can’t remember the exact words he said, but they were along the lines of making sure I was who I said I was.
I handed the ID over. He looked at it, then up at me, then back down at the ID, then back up at me. I tried to approximate my face like how it is on my driver’s license, dumb smile and everything. Hiatt wasn’t impressed. He handed the ID back and moved on.
The whole thing felt intrusive and violating. I’ve never been asked to show my physical ID to a superior at a job before, and I couldn’t help but feel that Hiatt was trying to sniff something out. It was hard to shake the law-enforcement-ness of the interaction.
A few weeks later, Hiatt fired our editor Seth Combs.
Three years as editor, in addition to 15 years writing for the paper, and then just kicked to the curb. When addressing the rest of staff, Hiatt informed us that Seth’s firing was an “impossibly difficult decision” and that it was a “purely economical decision” and other practiced corporate nonspeak that he’d probably learned from years of dismantling things people love. And given the fact that Seth wasn’t allowed to pack up his stuff, I wonder how “impossibly difficult” his decision actually was.
“Let me ask you this,” Hiatt said after dropping the bomb on us. “In the past few years, has anything around here gotten better?” He looked around the room expecting us to concede, but no.
“Editorial has gotten better,” I said. An account executive agreed.
“I just think you’re getting rid of an essential voice in the community, and that really sucks,” Carolyn Ramos, CityBeat’s art director, said.
Hiatt did that pacifying thing people do where they go, “I hear you,” but they don’t really. The decision was final. We silently exited the room. I walked out of the building, stumbled around the neighborhood in a stupor. Everything felt so untethered. I went to a bar and had a beer. I thought about the future, and what this new company could do to me, and whether or not I cared. When I eventually returned to the office, I tried to work, robotically formatting online food reviews. It’s difficult to hyperlink when something you’ve cultivated for seven years crumbles around you.
At the end of the day, Michael Hiatt came over to me and said “I’m sorry.” He extended his hand. I took it and bitterly shook his hand, but I didn’t say, “It’s okay.”
“Sorry,” he said again.
“Mhm,” I said.
A week later, I turned in my two-week notice.
Hello darkness, my old friend: Seven years worth of pay stubs.
Why CityBeat mattered
CityBeat was never really a job—it was a passion. We were not paid well and the working conditions were hard, and even before the buyout, there were a lot of times when I wanted out. There were never enough resources, and always a prevailing attitude of “do more with less.” We were all overworked and underappreciated. There were screaming fights in the office, people throwing shit. One time Kevin Hellman told me that he “didn’t give a fuck” about my column during a meeting. I swore right then that I’d never volunteer my time to help out at any more CityBeat events, and I never did. Besides, one can only go to so many CB-sponsored beer festivals before losing the lust for a good IPA.
But I’m sure these conditions weren’t unique to CityBeat; they’re rampant in every media job. Journalism pulls the soul in directions it’s probably not equipped to handle. There’s something futile about not having enough resources, or watching the ills of the world from the sidelines, witnessing your best writing be met with apathy, or (especially since Trump) feeling like your words are always undermined, or just feeling helpless. This, I assume, is why so many journalists go into PR.
But journalism is also a beautiful and transcendent when it clicks. The moment when a story comes together or change actually does happen, it’s art.
My time at CityBeat was defined by those moments. I had the privilege to work with so many smart, talented and passionate people, and together, we made something great. Working there was somewhat of an addiction. CityBeat convinced me that San Diego was more than I imagined when I moved here 10 years ago. Whenever I wrote a story, I imagined a stranger picking up a paper and falling in love with San Diego like I did. That was reason enough to endure the bad. I wanted CityBeat to be a beacon for the weirdos here—a voice that said, “It’s okay if you don’t like surfing, football, or drinking in Pacific Beach, there’s still a place for you here.” In those terms, I think we succeeded.
During my final weeks at CityBeat, I rediscovered that passion. Faced with the possibility that a lot of content would be farmed from any of TMG’s dozen-or-so non-local papers, I took it upon myself to step in as editor, organizing content and doing a shitload of writing. I wanted my last two issues as good as they could be, even though there was really no editorial oversight, nor were we given any indication that TMG were going to replace us. Those two weeks were stressful, harried, unsustainable, and I feared that if I stayed, I would just get used to it.
But for those issues, I wrote features on Burn All Books, local photographer Becky DiGiglio, and Volar Records—all entities that are carving out their voice in San Diego’s creative scenes. It was inspiring to be around people who were creating art for weirdos, and it was bittersweet to tell their stories in a publication that will probably no longer be a place for weirdos.
So what now?
I don’t know? CityBeat under the new management will probably thrive and nobody will know the difference and it’s all because you didn’t read it enough or buy enough ads or only told us you loved us when we announced we were quitting.
JK, the outpouring of support since Seth’s firing has been incredibly humbling, and it makes me feel like we actually did make a difference.
My new office space
No really—what’s up with the newsletter?
I can’t quit writing. I’m keeping the column going as this weekly newsletter, which I’m calling AwkwardSD (or AWKSD for those looking for a new knuckle tat) because I don’t know... branding is honestly the worst thing about any endeavor, but I think this brand is already there. I thought it’d be kind of funny to call it ShittyBeat because that’s what so many of our detractors called us when we wrote something that pissed them off (Hot tip to all web editors: don’t let any of your writers pen a story about how white reggae sucks. Mad reggae bois will leave comments on your site until the end of time).
But if I called it ShittyBeat, I’d have to, like, explain that to my mom. It reminds me of the time I first moved to San Diego and I was looking for friends, and I saw craigslist listing for a Misfits cover band called Angelfuck that was looking for a drummer. \ I know how to play drums and love Misfits, but could I really be in a band called Angelfuck? Hi family, I play in Angelfuck now. XOXO Ryan. Anyway, I still think about Angelfuck often.
Who knows, maybe AwkwardSD is no better. But Brooklyn Vegan also has a dumb name and that’s a popular thing, so whatever.
AwkwardSD is basically just a continuation of my column, but also an extension of old CityBeat. Here’s what I want to do with this space:
Experiential adventures written through the lens of anxiety
A progressive voice for a nervous city
A spotlight for for people making rad innovative art and music
Extremely biased political views
Long-form, independent writing that doesn’t rely on keeping advertisers/funders happy or doesn’t vie for clicks
Also, I’ve been really inspired by newsletters lately. A few of my favorite writers seem to have found success outside of the predatory, exploitative freelance writing game. Social media is also a mess right now—just such an algorithmic nightmare of strange posts showing up in our feeds, fueling our opinions based on our monitored past behaviors. Until Google starts sorting emails based on relevance or interest, I feel like email is the last place you get to see what you want to see, when you want to see it. (This is also why I’m not going to make Twitter/IG/Facebook accounts for AwkwardSD).
For more original Hot Takes™ on social media and newsletter, please subscribe to this newsletter.
The awkward part
The newsletter is free, and I’ll always keep it free. But, as I just spent 1500 words explaining, I am currently out of a job, so maybe consider purchasing a subscription. I dislike when people sell their product by comparing it to a cup of coffee because I think the value of a coffee is inherently different (not better or worse) than writing. Like, no shame in spending your money on coffee. In fact: buy that fancy coffee, goddamnit! Just fucking do it!! But also maybe invest in quality writing and a couple of weekly lols (i.e. this newsletter. Hi!)
What if I don’t live in San Diego?
You’ll still like it! Guaranteed*!
Thank you for the support. Thank you to all the CityBeat readers who made that paper so special. I hope to do right by you for the time being. Here’s to all the weirdos. I swear the next newsletter will be funnier.
In the next issue of AWKSD:
“You’ve been deemed the ‘heavy drinker’ and you will drink the most alcohol today.”
If you have a hint or a story idea or if you want me to review something or if you want to just say hi, you can email me at email@example.com. You can also bug me on Twitter: @theryanbradford
THE ONLY CONCERT CALENDAR THAT MATTERS™
This is a totally original idea and nobody else—especially no other alternative weekly—is doing it. I want this newsletter to have some sort of reader-service element, and San Diego has a lot of cool shows that more people could be hitting up. So, here are my concert picks for the week.
Thursday, Sept. 26
OPTION 1: !!!, Sinkane, The Mad Alchemy Light Show @ Belly Up Tavern. Dance punk had a good run in the early 2000s, but !!!’s “Heart of Hearts” is perhaps the best song of that style ever written. Simultaneously catchy and grimy, it’s like if Nine Inch Nails made workout music. Plus, you don’t have to be a fan of the music to have a great time at their shows, which are always sweaty, wild dance parties.
OPTION 2: Shaggy, UB40 Featuring Ali Campbell, Astro @ Petco Park. Just admit it, Shaggy, you did it!
Friday, Sept. 27
OPTION 1: Titus Andronicus, Control Top @ Soda Bar. I’m an unapologetic Titus Androncus fanboy, and think they’re one of the most interesting bands rock bands, and they’ve spent the past decade making bold musical choices. Given the loudness of their newest album An Obelisk, Soda Bar’s gonna get lit tonight.
OPTION 2: Vein, Soft Kill, Higher Power, Dead Heat @ Che Café. It’ll also be interesting to hear Soft Kill’s dreamy shoegaze paired with Vein’s vicious hardcore at this show.
OPTION 3: Kenny Loggins @ Pala Casino Spa & Resort. So I spent my childhood listening to Return to Pooh Corner, Loggins’ folksy tribute to that titular stuffed bear. Can you imagine my surprise when I learned that that same guy wrote “Danger Zone” from Top Gun? I’m would be real upset if there aren’t sand volleyball nets set up at this show.
Saturday, Sept. 28
OPTION 1: Drug Hunt, Wild Wild Wets, Doc Hammer, Spooky Cigarette, Sixes, Los Pinche Pinches @ The Casbah. You really couldn’t ask for a better lineup of local bruisers than this. All these bands are great, including Drug Hunt’s, whose desert-tinged psychedelic metal is epic, and Doc Hammer, who know how to invigorate a crowd like no other. For a primer on some of the best San Diego’s rock being made today, don’t miss this show.
OPTION 2: Charli XCX, Brooke Candy, Tobi Lou, Liltrxptendo, Femdot @ House of Blues. I’ve always been a fan ofCharli XCX’s, but her new album Charli takes her pop weirdness to a new level. “Cross You Out,” for example, feels dystopian and a little scary. It’s a big departure from “Boom Clap” to say the least.
OPTION 3: Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra and Mariel @ Lestat’s West.
Sunday, Sept. 29
OPTION 1: Pink Eye, Belladon, Heather Nation, Honey Child @ The Casbah. Local songwriter Monica Mendoza always brings it with her Grrrl Independent Ladies music showcases, and this is no exception. Each carefully-selected band brings a distinct sound, but the end result is always a wholly satisfying night of music. It will be fun to see Pink Eye’s hard-edged folk punk paired with Belladon’s lively synthpop.
OPTION 2: India.Arie @ Humphreys Concerts By the Bay.
Monday, Sept. 30
OPTION 1: Tegan and Sara @ Balboa Theatre. Tegan and Sara recently discovered old tapes of songs that they wrote between ages 15 and 17. They decided to re-record them, adding a nice sonic boost, but kept the music and lyrics the same. The result is their forthcoming album Hey I’m Just Like You. Even though Tegan and Sara have always been unafraid to lay their vulnerabilities out in songs, allowing the world to see the awkwardness of their teenage art is next level.
OPTION 2: Swell Spells, Virtue Signal, Papach @ Soda Bar.
Tuesday, Oct. 1
OPTION 3: Mercury Rev and Beth Orton @ Belly Up Tavern. These two indie darlings will tag-team Bobbie Gentry’s Americana classic “The Delta Sweete.” If you were hooked on Ken Burns’ recent documentary series on country music, then you won’t want to miss this. (Also, I watched the latest episode of Country Music last night and it’s now covering ‘80s country and every song from the era sounds the same. I love it how the doc will say something like “Dwight Yoakam pioneered a radical style of honkey-tonk mixed with rock” and it all sounds like someone whistling and humming at the same time).
OPTION 2: Thunderpussy, Ramonda Hammer @ House of Blues.