Liz Garrigan is on the phone from France, where her kids are off school on a Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t know what it is with France and days off and afternoons off and vacations,” she says, laughing. A media job in DC is just the antidote to the French attitude toward work: Garrigan was just named the editor of Washington City Paper. She’s replacing Steve Cavendish, who announced Monday he planned to leave City Paper to return to Nashville and edit its alt-weekly, the Scene.
DC’s alt-weekly, she says, “has an absolutely legendary reputation.” She remembers trying to catch up with its former editor, the late David Carr, in the elevator at a convention, and says she “grew up in journalism” by reading Erik Wemple‘s media reporting for the paper.
As is customary at alt-weeklies, Garrigan took a winding path to the top job. Originally from North Carolina, she was a daily reporter at the Tennessean and joined the Scene as a reporter in 1996, working her way up to its news editor and, then in 2004, its top editor. She left that gig in 2008 and in 2013 began working in Paris for Worldcrunch, which brings reporting from foreign-language outlets to English-language readers.
Her return to the States was sparked by the death in March of Scene editor Jim Ridley. Ridley “was a good friend and I’m not alone in saying that his unexpected death affected me very deeply,” Cavendish told staffers in an email Monday when he shared his decision to leave. “I love D.C., but home has a powerful pull.” SouthComm, Inc. owns both the Scene and City Paper, and Garrigan says when Cavendish decided to move back, SouthComm CEO Chris Ferrell contacted her about the DC job.
Cavendish says he and his wife love DC and that he was “really torn” about the decision to leave. “I love being here, and I love these people, and I think we’ve done some good stuff.” City Paper just redesigned its website and has “some good stuff on the board coming up,” he says. “I don’t love the idea of leaving that but I think this is the best decision.”
Asked what she plans to do in the job, Garrigan says, “I’m not going to talk too much about what I’m hoping to do because the truth is I don’t really know yet. I know what drives me is news and craft. I grew up in the alt-weekly world covering politics and weekly news and trying to do it in a way where voice is important and craft is important.” Garrigan says she will be doing her fair share of typing as well: “I just know that I’m gonna be a writing editor one way or another.”
What about covering media, the traditional beat of City Paper editors like Carr, Jack Shafer, and Wemple? “I have missed some of the alt-weekly media coverage,” Garrigan says. “Some of that has gone by the wayside. [Politics editor] Will Sommer does a really good job of politics and some media stuff–I’m not going to step on anybody’s toes.”
In addition to media coverage, Garrigan says she loves politics, book coverage, and profiles. She plans to start around mid-July. She’ll live in the District, and if her personal website is any indication, she is extremely well-organized. That’ll come in handy at a weekly! City Paper, she says, is a “special place. I’m thrilled to be part of it. I just want to tell good stories.”
I was City Paper’s managing editor from 2006-2010, and Washingtonian Editor Mike Schaffer was City Paper’s editor from 2010-2012.