If we must choose between avoiding conflicts of interest or writing of the community from the inside, we choose the latter.
In the piece, I'm quoted as saying that The Austin Chronicle is of the community and not at a distance from it. From early on, this helped define the paper, its deep involvement in and focus on Austin. We were one of the first alternative weeklies to concentrate our coverage on local music rather than national acts. The Chronicle still stands out from most other alternatives in our unabashed enthusiasm for our city. Some of the best papers believe if they can't think of anything unkind to say, then why speak out at all?
Now, we're not all sweetness and light. Our political coverage has more often been accused of being abrasive rather than too friendly (except in the case of light rail). Our Austin-centric approach intensifies the impact of our political coverage. Few weeklies spend so much space just covering their city. Certainly our cultural coverage has had more than its share of detractors over the years, many of whom call us names. But it would be disingenuous to say that our approach to covering Austin culture is more investigative than enthusiastic. There are things we don't like, and we report them. We'd hold our critical coverage up against anybody's. But there is a real sense that the Chronicle's mission is to share its genuine excitement about what is going rather than to debunk it.
This philosophy raises serious, legitimate conflict-of-interest questions, which Calhoun's story addresses. At the start of any discussion, we have to begin with the fact that Chronicle publisher Nick Barbaro and I are partners with Roland Swenson in SXSW, which the Chronicle heavily covers. Over the years, we've had writers review books, musicians review music, filmmakers write about film, and even, for a while, politicians writing on politics. Just recently, and coincidentally, I initiated a discussion in our weekly editorial meeting about how after almost 19 years it was time to think about our mission. Two decades ago, we were literally "of the community" -- at any given time, most of our staff would be hanging out at one club or another. The community was also much smaller. As the city has changed, our relationship to it has changed. It's time now to really think about that relationship. I just can't imagine the driving enthusiasm at the core of our mission changing very much.