Seven years gone by

by Brian Clarey

Hard as it is for me to believe, the issue of YES! Weekly you hold in your hands — or the one you’re browsing online, as an increasing number of our readers choose to do — marks seven years of publication for our little newspaper.

That means we’ve run more than 350 cover stories, editorials and staff columns. More than 350 models have graced our Local Talent feature.

We’ve run more than 500 music stories since we put out our first issue — also dated Jan. 4, oddly enough — and the number of news stories we’ve run in our Dirt section is closer to 1,000.

We’ve had dozens of employees come through the ranks since the early days, some more memorable than others, but each helped us along at critical junctures on our development. To them we owe debts of gratitude, and we take continued interest in their careers.

As for my own humble efforts, I have been filling this space here on the back page for 365 consecutive weeks. I went back and counted — we had a Leap Year in 2008, remember.

Yes, I go all the way back to the beginning, as do News Editor Jordan Green and Publisher Charles Womack. We met in these very offices with three others on the original staff, none of whom was a page designer, on Dec. 4, 2004 to go about the business of creating a weekly newspaper from the ground up.

We were strictly a Greensboro paper back then, and Green was new to town, fresh off a stint in New Mexico after getting his MA from Columbia. It is safe to say he knew fewer than five people in town, had no knowledge of the city’s topography, its districts, its infrastructure and power brokers. Now, seven years later, the breadth of his knowledge about Greensboro astounds me.

Womack was in the midst of a successful publishing career, a third-generation newspaperman who learned the trade at the heels of his father. He’d performed just about every task a newspaper requires, from laying out pages to selling ads to delivering papers, and was enjoying comfortable success with the Outer Banks Sentinel and the Jamestown News, two community papers he owned, and the Adams Farm Gazette, a monthly focusing on the community in which he lived.

He didn’t have to start YES! Weekly. In fact, people warned him not to. But he recognized a gap in the media landscape — there was no hip, smart, edgy weekly newspaper like in a lot of other places he had been. Sure, there was a daily and its A&E weekly, and coverage of city, county and school board meetings in the Rhino, but nothing that even attempted to gather the various threads of life in the city — arts, trends, people, the wide field of political opinion, the stories that people talk about but go unreported — and try to put them all in one place, and maybe even make some kind of sense out of them.

Womack hired me, an underemployed, unproven freelancer from out of town with a young family and thick mane of wild, wavy hair, to helm the bobsled. To this day I don’t know what he was thinking, but I have been sitting here ever since.

I see myself as the curator of the paper. I help navigate investigations and form opinions on the matters of the day, consider our readers — what they want to know versus what they need to know — and how best to give them the information, how to tell these stories.

It’s been my privilege. Here is a mark of what I’ve learned: At the beginning, I understood that I didn’t really know what I was doing. Now I realize just how much it was that I didn’t know. And it is a mark of how far I have yet to come when I let sentences like these make it into print.

I’ve taken in a lot of new information over the years, but chief among the lessons learned is reinforcement of something I knew coming in: Everybody has a story to tell. Everyone has something interesting about her life, her experiences, the way she looks at things. Anyone can teach you something about yourself and the world. And we all have the capacity to surprise and amaze.

When I took this job, my daughter was just two weeks old, a bundle of love and energy and potential. Since then she’s grown like a maple, developed an unflagging interest in the world around her, matured with increasing sophistication and beauty. Sometimes I just stand there and look at her.

It’s hard for me not to think of YES! Weekly the same way: a little foundling that unexpectedly careened into my life and changed everything. And in its care and nurturing, I have gotten back every bit as much as I have given.

So thanks to the people who made it all possible: our staff, past and present, here at the paper, as well as my boss. And thanks to our readers, because without all of you picking up our paper each week, what would be the point?