While on a recent overseas vacation, I inquired of some fellow travelers, “How do you think your life will change when you go home?” Their blank stares suggested that their lives were good, and they hoped like hell that nothing would change. It’s been my experience, though, that a trans-Atlantic journey can rearrange the fabric of one’s life.
So, upon returning to the States, I wasn’t entirely surprised to learn that my Salt Lake City life would have a different thread count. Not only did I receive news that City Weekly’s publisher, Jim Rizzi, is planning to move on, but Now in Salt Lake, the tabloid published by MediaOne—the company that handles printing and advertising for The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News—will go out with a whimper and not a bang, ceasing publication in June.
Rizzi’s May 8 departure comes as a surprise. There’s been no drama, no chalk outlines. For the decade that Rizzi has worked at City Weekly, he’s been a straight shooter, keeping our various departments pointed in the right direction and on budget, and, ultimately, a good influence. He’s mentored various managers and improved our game. He’s served on boards, both for the alternative-news industry and for Local First. He freed our founder, John Saltas, to pursue entrepreneurial ventures for the news industry. Lovers of locally brewed beer should note that it was Rizzi who spearheaded City Weekly’s highly successful summer beer festivals. He’s a cool guy who plays bass guitar and still rides a motorcycle down lonely stretches of highway whenever time allows.
So why is he itching to leave? He jokes about an overdue midlife crisis, but there’s more to it than that. Why and where people go is ultimately personal but, after a decade here, Rizzi wants a change—not unheard of given all that our industry has faced in the past four years. We’re going through a metamorphosis that isn’t always pretty to look at. With a foot in both the newsprint and digital worlds, we’re attempting to keep pace with the pack and get ahead on the curves. Depending on where one is at in his or her career, this process may seem too slow or too fast. So Rizzi is taking the time to see what options are out there for him.
As is often the case, his departure will allow for some reorganization: Saltas will return as publisher in the near future, and the rest is to be determined.
What wasn’t a shocker was the news of the June 1 shuttering of Now in Salt Lake. Ever lightweight in scope and substance, the paper attempted to cash in on the alt-weekly format carved out locally by John Saltas. The potential for it to have relevance was there; former editor Amy Spencer and writers like Sarah Nielson, Autumn Thatcher, Daisy Blake and Krista Nielson were all over the pop culture of SLC. Even Ben Fulton, one of City Weekly’s previous editors, took an early shot at editing the publication. But after more than a five-year run, the paper never found a footing.
And as much as some might want to view Rizzi’s departure and the Now in Salt Lake shutdown as a reflection on the state of journalism, there are some important distinctions to be made. The reason Now in Salt Lake fizzled, despite having the financial resources and printing press of its owner, MediaOne, was because people of John Saltas’ and Jim Rizzi’s caliber were not at the helm.
MediaOne produces the advertorial-filled real estate and automobile inserts in the Sunday paper. The company also sells real estate, competing head-on with Realtors who advertise in the paper. Its mission is simply to find revenue to fund daily news operations and to service debt.
Publications like Now are called “faux” alt-weeklies because they are owned by daily papers, often running articles by daily staff writers; they seldom bring new or alternative voices to the marketplace. They seem hip and edgy but ultimately are benign, designed to placate advertisers. Thus, Now in Salt Lake became just one more revenue stream, offering little more than a formula to sell ads across various publications produced by MediaOne.
Lacking the explosive combination of outrage and idealism that fuels most alt-weeklies, Now in Salt Lake never came close to eating City Weekly’s lunch, which is why they exasperated us so much. Like a preppy on the wrestling team, Now had all the money and social advantages but no rage or guts. That’s why it’s sadly a big “so what?” as it fades away. Despite all the hard work put in by staffers who are now left scrambling for other work, its leaders only saw it as a vehicle for creating badly needed cash. There was no heart or soul.
The most successful alt-news companies have charismatic leaders capable of inspiring talented writers, ad reps, distribution and business staff to put in the hours and effort to sustain what amounts to a labor of love. Given some time working at an alt-news organization, it will leave a mark on you. And if you’re lucky, you will leave a mark on it, as Jim Rizzi has done. And sometimes, you’ll even make a difference, producing stories that have impact, that expose abuses of power and public trust—stories that ultimately change lives.
Here’s to fair weather and a long ride on a lonesome highway, Jim.