Mutiny on the Bounty

'City Paper' Revolts Against Witt

The social faux pas might have been forgiven if they had not been compounded by what some sources dub poor editorial judgment. For example, when food columnist Brett Anderson got the owner of a pizza shop on the record making disparaging comments about his black customers, Witt objected because publishing the language would offend readers and hurt the man's business. Given that the quotes were on tape, former arts editor Bradford McKee wanted to run them and prevailed. (Anderson and McKee declined to comment. Witt says, "If I'm being criticized for raising questions, then fuck it!")

Mark Plotkin, a political commentator for WAMU Radio, enjoys reading City Paper under Witt, but says he misses the media column, "Paper Trail," which was previously penned by Shafer and Carr. Witt says, "I'm not presumptuous enough to march into a new city and pronounce about the media." Witt turned it over to senior editor Michael Schaffer, but Schaffer only wrote a few columns, and has not filed for weeks. Plotkin says, "If the present editor can't do it or doesn't feel comfortable, he should get someone else to do it." (Schaffer, who was a candidate for Witt's job, declined to comment.)

Perhaps the worst rap against Witt is his light edits. When he does edit provocative pieces, says one source, "his mind-set is to make them dumber or to defang them." More often, he barely changes a word. As a result, some writers are now finding others to edit their stories before showing them to Witt. "I impose myself to the extent that it's necessary," says Witt. "My inclination is to let the writer write the story."

If this trend continues, sources predict dire consequences. The paper could degenerate into a pile of unedited copy, which one source calls "the hallmark of bad alternative journalism." If the owners "let the quality slide," says this source, "they're going to open themselves up to competition."

Faced with the prospect of more staff jumping ship, Levine is sanguine, calling turnover a "normal part" of any transition. She says it is "not inherent" in City Paper's mission that it be a training ground for new talent. "It could be a place where we hire seasoned writers."

Last Friday, Levine was back in D.C. After urging those who were in the office to start this week with a "clean slate," she left Witt at the mercy of a staff that would rather keelhaul than forgive him.

"Clearly some people here don't like my style as an editor," says Witt. "Some like it just fine. Those who choose to join me rather than fight me will get to be part of the great paper that I've only just started to create."

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