The More Things Change

Looking back on 20 years of CityBeat involves recalling a litany of changes in our city and the media industry.

The photo caption on a 1994 Cincinnati Enquirer story about a new, irreverent local newspaper reads, “CityBeat owner Jim Schiff, left, shown here with editor John Fox and general manager Dan Bockrath, sees the paper making money within five years.”

I’m not sure if CityBeat actually turned a profit that quickly (doubt it), but I do feel like Fox and Bockrath’s 1994 haircuts have surprisingly withstood the test of time. (That Cosby sweater and the loose-fitting khakis, not so much.)

I also know that Mr. Schiff’s name is Tom and not “Jim” as The Enquirer called him, even though the daily paper presumably still had copy editors back then.

The more things change, right?

[Read the entire Anniversary Issue digital edition here.]

Looking back on 20 years of CityBeat involves recalling a litany of changes in our city and the media industry. Back in 1994, Cincinnati had two daily newspapers, two business newspapers, another altweekly and zero blogs. One of the major debates at the time was whether a new Lazarus department store would help downtown compete with the suburbs and other cities.

In putting together this anniversary issue, our stroll down memory lane — literally flipping through stacks of archived newspapers — reminded us of how much progress Cincinnati has made in recent years, however methodically it might have come: Downtown is abuzz with development; people young and old are moving back to the city center; Cincinnati police and public school officials teach other cities their “best practices;” and national media won’t stop talking about how cool our restaurants are. There’s a different vibe around here these days, and for longtime CityBeat readers it’s a most welcome change from our town’s gloomy, apathetic past.

As you might imagine, it hasn’t always been an easy existence as a left-leaning print publication covering a conservative Midwestern city during an increasingly digital era. We’ve had to adapt over the years, as have all print publications still standing. And one of the main reasons we believe we made it this far is because we’ve navigated our changing industry and city with the same philosophy that founding editor Fox explained in Volume 1, Issue 1: to give voice to those in our community who do not, or cannot, speak for themselves.

“Despite what many politicians and corporate executives want us to believe, Cincinnati is not a collection of skyscrapers and department stores and stadiums,” Fox wrote in CityBeat’s first issue and recalled on our 10th anniversary. “We are your age, share your interests, live in your neighborhood, get angry about the same injustices. We envision CityBeat as more of a conversation between friends than a sermon from your elders.”

As you’ll see in our collection of 20 cover stories on page 6 — one from each year since ’94 — this editorial philosophy has served us pretty well over the years. Fox helped us compile recaps of stories demonstrating how CityBeat often started and always encouraged conversations about changing Cincinnati for the better.

We also asked a handful of longtime contributors for their thoughts on their beats, reminding us how and why they do what they do. Staffers tossed in the important lessons they’ve learned during their various tenures, starting with dressing warmly in the winter because it gets very cold in our office. (Sorry, Samantha!) Those photos of us from 1994? You’re welcome.

At CityBeat, we don’t typically spend a lot of time patting ourselves on the back, and we’re not going to spend too much energy doing so here. But it’s worth noting how the winds of public opinion — and thus official policy — have shifted dramatically left during our 20 years of espousing the virtues of progressive causes. It might be difficult to win an election around here running on CityBeat’s platform, but we’ve been around long enough for history to judge some of our takes on the major issues facing Cincinnati.

The following pages will note that it was CityBeat that argued the loudest against the stadium tax in 1996 (page 8). Several of our suggestions for easing the post-riot tension that gripped this city ended up being enacted once the Department of Justice stepped in (page 13). Our ongoing push for LGBT rights has witnessed Cincinnati evolving past one of the country’s most discriminatory laws in 2004 (page 7) and launching a domestic partner registry this year.

Past stories on Over-the-Rhine (page 6), underground arts (page 9 and 19) and young professionals (page 14) are all worth remembering as we look ahead to pressing topics like modern transit options (page 20 and 21), sustainability (page 23) and Ohio’s rightward drift toward privatization (page 25) — all from a progressive viewpoint.

These stories weren’t necessarily chosen because they were our best work in any given year, but the subjects and projects demonstrate how we plan to continue approaching our coverage of Cincinnati’s ever-evolving worlds of politics, social issues, music, arts and food. Hopefully, the ongoing rise of the Millennials will provide an increasingly receptive audience for our brand of journalism, even if it means new technologies allowing readers even more convenient ways of telling us how much we suck.

One of the main reasons we’re still here is because CityBeat has always been staffed by people who care about and are proud of Cincinnati. People who care more about making a difference than about making money. People who aren’t afraid of failure or standing up for an injustice. People who are assholes sometimes and smoke and drink too much.

Forgive me for not ending with a long “thank you” list — after 20 years, there are too many influential people, former staffers, friends of the paper and longtime contributors to fit here, aside from noting the typical efforts of our current staffers, contributing writers and people like Fox and cartoonist Jerry Dowling who helped make the latest issue of CityBeat happen.

Besides, as The Enquirer proved back in 1994 when Dan, John and Tom started this thing, spelling names correctly in a newspaper can be more difficult than it seems.

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