On the Death of City Pages

This column is adapted from an essay that ran in the Friday, Oct. 30, 2020 edition of the Heavy Table Tap Newsletter.

After 41 years of publication, City Pages is gone, and I for one am profoundly sorry to see it go. The suddenness with which it disappeared last night plus the standing hurricane of hideous confusion surrounding this year’s election have had the dual effect of concealing how important a thing this, and just how much our community has lost with the disappearance of this paper.

After the announcement, someone on Twitter – and I apologize for not nailing this down, because Twitter is just an infinite conveyor belt of humor and pain and painful humor and humorous pain, and it moves very quickly – compared City Pages to a pirate ship. 

That resonated for me, because it reminded me of my first real journalism gig, editing at The Daily Cardinal at UW-Madison. And it reminded me of The Liberator, the underground newspaper I edited in high school. And it reminded me of the online magazine I helped found, Flak. And it reminded me very much of working at Air America Radio, one of the most chaotic, insane, and amazing things I’ve ever been a part of. 

The point is, when you’re out there trying to tell stories that are true and gritty and funny and sometimes shocking and sometimes enraging to their subjects, things get a little loopy, and tempers flare, and the whole enterprise picks up a real frisson of excitement and fear and joy. That came through in the stuff I read in City Pages, one of the few publications left in this part of the world that would gleefully and repeatedly poke its fist into the snoot of power without much regard for the consequences. 

This isn’t to say that it was consistently a paragon of anything other than mixing it up and going for shock value. I worked there for a year writing a cheap eats column while the paper was owned by Village Voice Media, and I don’t think I’ll turn any heads by noting that they weren’t exactly setting out to win prizes for their morals. 

But: that staff was (up until the start of this week) consistently out in the streets getting stories that meant a lot to workers, and diners, and students, and people who aren’t normally served by more respectable outlets. They tended to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and that’s one of the best things a journalistic enterprise can possibly do. That’s what disambiguates the work of journalism from the adjacent but essentially diametrically opposed world of PR and advertising. If nobody is ever angry at you, you’re not doing it right. People were often angry at City Pages – just look at the comments. (Or better yet, take my word for it.)

The newspaper consistently broke stories about the culinary world in the Twin Cities and beyond (most recently aggressively covering the movement to unionize food businesses and layoffs taking place behind the scenes), and their passing puts a heavier burden onto the shoulders of the Heavy Table and any other publication that would seek to share insight into what’s actually going on out there.

So: here’s to City Pages, and here’s to those talented writers and editors landing on their feet, gathering up the planks, and building the next privateer to scourge the seas. Salud!