I have this odd habit of showing up or leaving newspapers around anniversaries. I left the San Antonio Current on its 10th anniversary in 1996 after five years as art director and staff writer. In 1999, I joined C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., another alt-weekly, as it turned 10 years old. This year, The Pulse celebrates its 10th anniversary, and it seems as if we’ve been staring at this particular birthday since I joined the paper in the summer of 2011.
But as proud as we are of achieving this milestone, it is also a sad time. As this issue went to press, I learned that Zachary Cooper—the paper’s co-founder, its publisher, my co-editor and good friend—is leaving. The details are not as important as the impact this will have on The Pulse, and me.
When I returned to Chattanooga in 2011 after almost 30 years away, I was just about done with the newspaper business and it seemed done with me. Like many journalists, editors and designers, I had been laid off as the recession took hold and daily newspapers began a sharp decline as advertising revenues plummeted to new lows. Some 30,000 newspaper professionals lost their jobs in the 2008-10 purge and I, like many, found myself wondering what I’d do.
Newspapers weren’t just a job for me, they were a calling and more than a career. Journalism was something I’d imagined myself doing since junior high school when I joined the school paper staff in the seventh grade. I’ve spent every year since then working for one paper or another, dailies and weeklies, across the country and around the world. I never imagined a day when they would simply cease to exist. Thankfully, I’m old enough to believe that day will not come while I am alive. But that’s cold comfort these days.
After the layoff, I considered offers from far-flung small dailies and weeklies, but after living in Southern California for so long the thought of relocating to a small town in Wyoming or Illinois didn’t have much appeal. On a lark, I accepted a contract position in Beijing of all places, where the Chinese government was hiring Western journalists to coach their reporters in running China Daily, China’s largest English-language newspaper. I enjoyed the diversion, found the experience fascinating, and returned home with a pile of cash and hopes that the recession had lifted. It had not.
When a friend in Chattanooga I had known since childhood suggested I visit and check out my revitalized hometown, I took him up on the offer. Timing has always been my friend and within months of arriving, I’d met Zach and joined the paper as art director. There was something magical about returning to my hometown after so long and joining its alternative weekly. The job wasn’t on my bucket list, but then again, I’d never bothered to put one together. If I had, it would have been No. 1. I can’t express the renewed respect I have for my hometown since returning—it’s become a wonderful place to live and work. Along with finding my dream job, I also found a kindred soul and great friend in Zach. Although not a journalist, Zach has all the qualities of the best publishers I’ve known in my more than 25 years in this business, and he should really be the mold for future founders of alternative newsweeklies.
As the paper enters its 10th year, I am grateful I’ve had these past two years to tap his encyclopedic knowledge of Chattanooga, especially with regard to the music and arts he knows so well, and his many friendships with musicians, artists, writers and businesspeople in the creative community. I would be lost without those insights and contacts.
I’m not certain what 2013 will bring, but I do know The Pulse will be a very different paper without Zach. There’s not enough space here to express my admiration for him or to say all I’d like about how much I value our friendship. I’m not fond of clichés at times like this, but I do believe this is simply a new chapter for Zach. He’s a man of many talents and great character. While I expect The Pulse to move forward and grow, it won’t be near as much fun without him, and I’ll be jealous of those who work with him wherever he lands. Thanks, my friend.
Bill Ramsey is editor and creative director of The Pulse. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.