An Open Letter From an Outgoing Editor

Chance and by Trial

 Chad W. Lutz

Fresh out of college, I only had one goal: become a writer. Not just any kind of writer, but a novelist. A penniless, rarely taken for serious novelist. The kind of career path your parents warn you about. The kind that makes zero money. I didn't want to get married or have kids or even move to some exotic locale. I just knew I wanted to get paid to write. And that was it.

Six months later, I made progress on that dream by landing an entry-level writing position with a marketing firm in Fairlawn just outside of Akron. My title: Creative Writer. I'd made it. Or, so I thought. Eleven months later in the fall of 2009 I was let go by that same company after they expanded a little too quickly and had to dump assets. Most of those assets were personnel. I was the 31st employee hired on. By the time the company went through with its eventual budget cuts, there were nearly 250 of us. Over 75% of the staff was downsized.

Normally, I think this would have been an immense outrage to me, but like a high school bathroom full of teenagers passing joints, everyone in the business world was doing it. It was right smack dab in the middle of the Great Recession in 2009 and was merely a sign if the times. Par for the course, if you will. And so, that September, I became part of that historic group of unemployed persons and, just like that, was back to the drawing board in the blink of an eye.

I can distinctly recall sitting in my boss's office listening to him detail the reasons he had for letting so many people go. I also remember hearing him but not really listening. My mind was elsewhere, playing out horrifying sequences of the jobless life I was being thrust into and would live in the real over the course of the next 16 months.

I don't even remember getting upset right away. Somehow I was able to muster an extraterrestrial amount of patience and understanding and simply took it in stride. We parted ways amicably; handshakes, good-luck-in-all-your-endeavors, and for-what-it's-worth-it-was-worth-all-the-whiles; the whole professional nine. The next two weeks, however, were spent bombing around Cincinnati in a mental haze and living with my brother trying to figure out my next move. It wasn't until December, three months after I'd been let go, and a chance listing for a staff writer job with a company called AltOhio that I'd finally figure out what that next step was.

From the moment I emailed Darren and sent him a copy of a couple papers I'd written in college, I knew I'd stumbled onto something special. My hero throughout college was Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, the man who invented Gonzo journalism. I loved the detail, the action; the ability to move with your narrator as the story unfolds. Prior to declaring myself an English major in 2007, I'd originally been a journalism major. But, I'd never had any experience in the field. AltOhio changed all of that.

Within a week I had a 1,500-word feature piece on why we still love Led Zeppelin after all these years under my belt as a publishing cred. It was my very first publishing cred and what I consider to be my big break, if only in terms of confidence. I went on to review a handful of albums in those first months (Ringo Starr, Shapes Stars Make) before making the transition to covering live shows. By April, I was writing pieces on restaurants and bars. By July, I was writing about politics and health and fitness. That's when I got my second big break.

I got an email from Darren saying our lifestyle editor, Jess, was bowing out. He said I'd be the perfect candidate for the job and that all I had to do was write a proposal and submit it to him within the next week to get the ball rolling. I wrote the proposal, sent it to Darren, and two weeks later was sitting outside in the patio section of the Northstar Café, inking a one-year contract and celebrating my new partnership as co-owner and editor of the Lifestyle section.

I was 24 years old.

Not only was I writing for a magazine that received between 800 and 1,000 page views a day, but I was in charge of community outreach, staffing, and editing content. I started feeling more and more confident about my own abilities even though some of my articles over the years have been blemishes I'd rather not rehash. They can't all be zingers, however. The only real way to learn is through trial and error.

Regardless of reception, those articles and my time spent with AltOhio have helped me grow not only as a writer, or even a professional, but as a person, with life lessons I have no doubt that will stick with me all the way to the grave. Some of my favorite topics I've written about include the expose I did on my trip to Bonnaroo 2010, an article on the BP Oil Spill later the same year, the Supreme Court ruling striking down DOMA in 2013, and, recently, my series following the Cavs magical championship run. The depth of perspective writing on such broad ranges of topics has given me is incalculable.

The entire time I've written for AltOhio I've had free reign to touch on any subject, in any manner, and to truly and honestly write how I feel and what I believe based on the evidence and research I put together. It's pushed me to explore new horizons, not only in my writing, but in my personal beliefs and way of thinking. Darren has probably never heard me say it in so many words or in such a wide, public forum like this, but the opportunity he gave me will never stop benefiting me and has transcended every aspect of my life. I have no doubt that it will continue to do so for at least the foreseeable future, and for that I am ever grateful, honored, and truly blessed to have been a part of this wonderful publication.

In 2013, Darren blessed me even further and, in stepping down from the magazine, appointed me managing editor. All of a sudden I wasn't just in charge of a single section but the entire magazine. Excited at the prospect, I hit the ground running and was able to establish a long and fruitful official partnership with the Cleveland International Film Festival that just enjoyed its fourth year and is expected to continue as the magazine makes the transition into new hands.

The partnership with CIFF is easily one of my greatest accomplishments in life to date. I've been managing editor of the magazine for three years now. In that time our numbers have grown to more than 2,000 page views a day, our staff has seen numbers as high as seven people, and our brand is more recognizable than ever. I've met so many wonderful and amazing people through this opportunity, and I really only have one man to thank: Darren C. Demaree.

Over the years, a consistent mix of nostalgia and boredom have led me to think back on my time spent with AltOhio. Overall, I'd have to say that I've been lucky. Not many people graduating from college these days can say that they work in their field. I've been lucky enough to only work in my field. AltOhio playing a big part in that. Now that six and a half years have gone by, it makes me realize just how lucky and important reaching out to others and taking chances really is. Hell, the ad I responded to was on Craigslist, and at the time, I didn't know Darren from any other Tom, Dick, or Harry.

How many people get murdered responding to Craigslist ads, anyway?

When I first start out, I didn't even have experience writing album reviews, and that was all I was hired on to do. The first thing my girlfriend at the time said when I told her the good news was "How are you qualified to write album reviews?" That, obviously, pissed me off something fierce, but I was able to channel that frustration, along with my frustrations over being unemployed, and mold them into a molten-hot drive to succeed no matter what. I'm still not a published novelist, but I'm every bit on my way, and grad school is the next link in that evolutionary chain.

It's difficult to put into words just how important getting out there and trying your best really means, even if it means falling flat on your face. AltOhio has been a huge blessing and immense learning platform in so many aspects of my life. As the magazine transitions into a new era of leadership, I'll be interested to see where the new managing editor, Lisa, behind Darren's keen guidance, takes the publication. AltOhio has never been a clout or menacing presence in the industry, but it has been a presence, an undeniable presence, and its tenure is a testament to the never-die spirits that have molded it into the alternative press that is stands today.

​I wish everyone; readers, staff (both current and old) the best of luck in life as I make my way out west to further pursue my writing interests at Mills College in Oakland, CA. It is with both a heavy and filled heart that I leave my position with the magazine, but I do so with memories I'll never forget, friendships that will remain ever-forged, and an image of a young writer still coming into his own that can never be erased, regardless the tests of time.