In March, two CL editors, Meaghan Habuda and Cathy Salustri, voluntarily moved on to new endeavors. A year prior, the newsroom shed staff — including 15-year Editor-In-Chief David Warner and Creative Director Julio Ramos — ahead of the paper’s sale to Euclid Media Group. In the time since, CL has also grown. Digital Editor Colin Wolf completely changed the way traffic flows in and out of (and parks at) cltampa.com. Food & Drink Editor Jenna Rimensnyder has not only filled the gigantic shoes Habuda wore, but somehow busted out of them (fucking Christ, there are a lot of restaurant openings).
Still, change at a newspaper — especially one continuing to ruffle feathers in 2019 — is inevitable, and last Friday CL said goodbye to Scott Harrell, who spent the better part of a decade-and-a-half at the Loaf as music editor, contributor, managing/online editor and most recently as our editor-in-chief.
“Hey all, today was my last day at Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. Print media, restructuring, focus on digital, resource allocation, etc. That’s life in newspapers,” is how Scott explained the change in a social media post. “Thanks for reading/supporting, keep it up.”
It’s safe to say that Harrell’s departure caught staff off guard. Our publisher, James Howard, told me that his difficult decision is, in no way, a knock on Scott’s character or work. The move is upsetting to him, too.
Harrell leaving is a shock to my system. Because of his past role at since-shuttered REAX music magazine, Scott was my editor-in-chief before I even had an urge to start writing. His championing of local bands led me to new music and inspired me to turn this feeling of giving a fuck about where I live into action. Scott’s work drove me to take journalism classes, do college radio and work on a new iteration of REAX (Suburban Apologist). That led to years of freelancing at CL and the Tampa Bay Times/TBT. In the summer of 2016, Scott and David Warner hired me to take over for CL’s last music editor, Leilani Polk, who took a job at The Stranger in Seattle.
There’s no replacing Scott. Those who read him are well aware of his wit. There are times when you can feel the hand-wringing in the copy and others when you feel like you’re just hanging on for dear life.
“… print media, man. It was a crazy ride and I wish everybody the best,” Scott wrote online, “Now who needs a shamelessly embellished autobiography ghost written?”
I’ll miss Scott being on that ride with us and knowing that my copy was headed for his proverbial red pen; I’m hopeful that that I’ll get to read more of his writing in the days ahead. Deep down inside, I want to hear him sing his “Best of the Bay” song again and then write a solo full-length about the daily doings he lived during a career at least twice as long as mine. It’s hard to not hear Scott’s dog, Bentley, lapping at a water bowl beneath the cubicle next to mine. Thinking about CL without Scott isn’t easy right now.
But life, and this paper, isn’t the rosy front page of an influencer’s Instagram profile. Truly giving a damn about the community you live in doesn’t mean solely publishing positive headlines or avoiding hard conversations. Problems can’t be addressed and forgotten after you post an inspo quote with the perfect set of hashtags. You’ll never sunshine your way out of a shitty situation, and as Scott’s writing taught us, Life As We Blow It is complicated... and at times, it demands some conviction.
CL’s work, like yours, is hard. There’s a reason journalism tropes about doing more with less exist. A blue light filter that’s guaranteed to protect writers, editors, copywriters and designers from burning out will never exist, and the fear that some deranged psychopath is going to harm you, your family and your coworkers doesn’t go away. In some ways, the idea of making mistakes in your copy and missing the point of a story (or looking over one completely) is just as scary. But the returns, and being a voice for others, trumps everything (it even makes having to read and write about Trump bearable). A nice email can change your day the same way a negative one does. Feeling like you’ve made a difference, and found the closest thing to the truth, will keep me doing this for as long as the job will have me.
And as CL goes, and grows, I know that I’m surrounded by a staff that’s lived and died, over and again, for the kind of work this alt-weekly has done for 31 years. The thankless efforts of our tireless contributors allows staff to keep its head down and eyes focused on what’s in front of us while learning from the work the paper completed the day before. Interns come in and out all too quickly, but they always go back to school with scars from experiencing the full brunt of the alt-weekly experience (this work isn’t for everybody). As our Creative Director Joey Neill continues to work with the publishing and editing teams to build the most durable, efficient and meaningful, print product, our editorial staff hopes to find even more time to be face-to-face with all of you.
We’re excited by a diverse readership, leadership and ownership which understands that our newsroom serves this community; longtime Loafers understand how CL is different from other fish wrappers in this town, and we’re ready to welcome even more of you to the family.
Being alive can be scary sometimes, but we’re going to keep sharing stories because we all sure as shit love the community we live in. Someone’s also going to have to tell us to leave before we turn in our key.