PAPERBOY: Slow-Jamming The Alt-Weeklies

paperboyartthumbnail.jpgBY DAVE ALLEN Like time, news waits for no man. Keeping up with the funny papers has always been an all-day job, even in the pre-Internets era. These days, however, it’s a two-man job. That’s right, these days you need someone to do your reading for you, or risk falling hopelessly behind and, as a result, increasing your chances of dying lonely and somewhat bitter. That’s why every week PAPERBOY does your alt-weekly reading for you. We pore over those time-consuming cover stories and give you the takeaway, suss out the cover art, warn you off the ink-wasters and steer you towards the gooey center. Why? Because we love you!

ON THE COVER

CP: There are so many ways to tell a story. Every writer has their tricks, every journalism professor their recommended methods. Most, if not all, would agree that whatever the subject, there’s no substitute for a strong opening sentence. Here is Isaiah Thompson’s this week:

Of the many, many terrible things that have happened to Theresa Lugo in front of her house, getting stuck in the foot with a used CP_Cover_3_9_11.jpgsyringe is not, if you can believe it, the worst — although that was bad. She was loading the kids into the car for a trip to the beach, and had put on flip-flops: “The needle went right through my heel,” she recalls. Lugo now makes regular visits to a doctor for tests. So far, they’ve come back negative. “I never touched a drug in my life,” she muses, “and now I have to deal with this.”

That’s not all she and the other residents of the 300 block of Tusculum in Kensington have had to deal with — not by a long shot. In an already-rough area (the drug-ridden neighborhood is, among other things, the murder capital of the city), their block, a small row of tidy, owner-occupied houses, stands out. Drug dealers, junkies and prostitutes roam the street at all hours. Ambulances arrive daily, if not more often, to retrieve the living or dead bodies of people who have overdosed. The sounds of beatings — and, sometimes, pleas for help — wake residents up at night.

The people on the block can point to a single, unique source of their misery: an old, mostly defunct railroad bed that passes their houses just below street level — just, that is, out of sight, winding its way through the roughest neighborhoods in the city like a kind of dry driver of drugs, prostitution, violence, murder and crime. Their little street happens to be a major access point, and the access couldn’t be easier: The only barrier between this wild swath and their front porches is an ancient, crumbling iron fence, wide open or just plain missing in several spots on their block alone.

Thompson and co-author Anthony Campisi bring everything — the neighborhood, the terrain, the crime record, the competing interests — to the page. The city’s industrial past and precarious future loom large. Whether you’ve ever set foot in Kensington or not, read this story, which is billed as “the first in a series… about vacant and abandoned city land, funded in part by a grant from J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism.” For the next one, though, I hope they get the co-author’s name onto the online version as well. Journalism doesn’t only grow on dead trees, of course.

PW: Ah, my favorite meme from the run-up to the 2008 election: “Everybody chill, I got this.” It’s not President Barry O touting this laidback, confident approach to governance; it’s Hizzoner, Mayor Nutter. Aaron Kase illuminates the mayor’s determination, the small but important steps the city has taken under his watch, and his choice in music while cruising from event to event.

 
cover030911.jpgIn the black Tahoe on the drive up Broad Street to CCP, as the music shifts to the Black Eyed Peas “Let’s Get It Started (clean version),” Nutter defends his plans on pensions and the union negotiations.

“The short-term plan is to negotiate a different pension plan for new employees,” he explains. “Reduce the general fund contribution over time, stabilize it, get its unfounded liability much lower than it is today. That’s gonna take a long time.”

Then there’s the lingering question of the “wow” moment. When we look back after Nutter’s years in office, what’s the one thing we remember?

“I know folks like to focus on the one big thing—but this is fifth largest city in America,” the mayor says. “It’s important that you are able to do more than one thing at a time. What we’re trying to do is a number of other things well.”

Nutter again brings up the waterfront development as well as advances in education, crime and sustainability. Then he pauses for a second before continuing. “I think part of the ‘wow,’ quite frankly, is that we guided this city through the biggest recession since the great depression.”

Nutter’s tenure in office, replete with budget woes, union negotiations and all the other headaches that come with being the city’s chief executive, recall memories of Ed Rendell’s first term as mayor in the early 1990s. “On the one hand, our deficit was far greater than anything he’s [Nutter] faced,” Rendell remembers. “On the other hand, it was more difficult for him in a way because it came along so unexpectedly.”

Characters, whether supporters (Rendell), critics (Brett Mandel) or handlers (Luke Butler), come across as more than sidelong schedules. We see Nutter fall behind schedule, deliver speeches with varying degrees of articulation, and reflect in near-silence, backed by Ne-Yo and the Carpenters. It’s thorough without being overwhelming.

INSIDE THE BOOK

CP: I can almost taste the energy. Puck yeah: A new take on Shakespeare. “Critic alert” at Dandelion: They’re all onto you, Erace. Here is where the link to the Feedback section would go, with its reference to my column, if it were available online. Chin up, CP: you’ll have this new setup figured in no time.

PW: Save us all from Operation Rescue. Bar forecast: Expensive booze, and plenty of it. It don’t matter if you’re Black or white. Kablam-o: The perils of reactionary extremist rhetoric.

WINNER: CP wins this week, not because they gave a shout-out to Paperboy — my vote can never be bought — but because they put together a fine issue with a stellar cover while overhauling the shit out of their website. Big strides deserve big rewards, but they’ll have to settle for this, for now.

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