By Abigail Taylor
LENOIR, N.C. – One year and two days ago, Michael Barrick clicked “Publish” on our first story in The Lenoir Voice, and we waited impatiently to see if anyone would read it. It got 170 views and 4 likes on Facebook. The story was headlined “Enthusiasm High at Democratic Event in Lenoir.” That event was a “Politics and Pints” night at Howard Brewing Company in downtown Lenoir. It was the first political event I’d ever been to, and probably Michael’s 10 millionth. The brewery floor was lined with chairs facing a band set up and a microphone on stand. As the event transpired, I stood awkwardly in the corner of the brewery, camera in hand, as Michael scribbled quickly in the front row, with the rigor of a pre-internet investigative journalist, into a tiny notepad that I imagined he’d had in his shirt pocket since the 1970’s.
Michael and his wife Sarah, my roommate’s parents, had packed up everything they had in West Virginia and relocated to Hickory to live with Lindsay and me for a while. Michael wanted to be near family of course, but his home was in West Virginia, and his longing to be home was evident. About a week later we were told we’d all be kicked out soon and needed to find a new place immediately. The house we’d lived in for two years and planned to be in for many more, had become a sacred meeting space out of which relationships blossomed and community was created. Many of those friends and community members had driven down from Lenoir to be with us. And so we began to consider Lenoir. Lindsay and I were both drawn to Lenoir, and though many Hickory folk often asked us, “so…why Lenoir again?” we felt what I can only describe as a calling to be here. Lenoir doesn’t have a fancy mall like Hickory or more than two McDonald’s; it also for a long time has had a very vacant downtown. So I understand there was cause for concern. So about a month before this Democratic meeting, Lindsay, her parents and I left our incredibly spacious, historical, conveniently located home in Hickory and moved together into a small house in a quiet, conservative neighborhood in Lenoir. This made for many home cooked meals together, savings on rent costs, the occasional uncomfortable run-in with neighbors who all probably thought we were a small hippie cult, and unavoidable early morning stories by Michael. And coffee. Lots of coffee. I say “unavoidable” out of love; I’m convinced Michael has more stories to tell than anyone I’ve ever met, and telling them is as natural to him as eating or sleeping. The days in that house didn’t begin until a story had been told.
Among many other job titles including paramedic, disaster planning coordinator, high school English teacher, author, politician and oyster shucker, Michael Barrick had also worked as an investigative journalist for more than 20 years. He also wasn’t a stranger to Caldwell County; he’d worked at the local paper, where he wrote everything from human interest stories to investigative articles about local officials. He got his start in the field as the editor of his Catholic school paper in 1972, and was kicked out of that school when he published a newspaper that contained content different than the one submitted to the principal for approval. The one that was distributed contained articles questioning the authenticity of the faith of the nuns running the school. He’s been ruffling feathers with his writing ever since.
My background in journalism began and ended with watching reruns of journalist Louis Theroux’s documentaries on the BBC while I was in college studying film production. I’d also read Slouching Towards Bethlehem once by Joan Didion for a research paper on 1969. A year Michael lived through and I did not. Today’s journalism compared to journalism when Michael was in his prime is, according to him, “superficial, mediocre fluff.”
In March of 2016, presidential campaigning was well under way, and both of us were feelin’ the Bern. This is partially what lead me to that Democratic event in the brewery. I’d suddenly experienced a feeling I’d never felt before…I cared. I cared about how politics affect my life, and other people’s lives. Our early morning stories turned into discussions turned into ideas. He had the journalism, I had the millennial technology savvy (some would maybe call obsession). We decided it was time to start our own publication.
The Lenoir Voice began as an outlet for Michael’s reporting and my need to post things on Facebook. Only sort of kidding. I’m 26, Michael is 60. The gender and generational differences that go along with our professional partnership, as you may wonder, comes with its challenges. I’m going to go ahead and speak for him when I say, sometimes our differences piss each other off. One time Michael emailed me a list of his qualms with a women’s march and I nearly flipped my lid. After some thought though, I realized his points made good sense. I didn’t admit this to him though until a few days ago. Not only do we have our differences, we are both highly emotional people. That also can cause friction, when both of us are angry at the world. We’ve had periods of high readership that caused us to celebrate, and low to the point of almost just totally cancelling the damn thing. Michael doesn’t sugar coat things. I do, to a fault. So our working relationship has gone from tiptoeing around each other’s feelings to freely telling each other when to shut up. My business partner has lead me to face my many faults, and be faced with my ultimate potential. I don’t know which one scares me more. There’s an incredible amount to be gained from working with someone you have differences with.
After a year of it all, I reflect on this passion project’s incredible impact on my life, and what I want it to become. The “LV” as we lovingly call it, has almost begun to take on a life of its own. One of the first and most important goals we had when this whole thing started was to always report the truth, even if the truth hurts. The importance of telling the truth has been the biggest lesson the LV and Michael have taught me. This may seem like too simple of a lesson, but sometimes I don’t want to tell the truth; sometimes the truth forces me to change my beliefs and opinions, or makes me worry about what people think of me. Another goal we had was to become a place in which the many different “voices” of Western North Carolina can feel free to speak…and through a publication that is locally owned and involved in the community. This is still a work in progress; there are many voices yet to be discovered and stories to be told. LV’s articles are still written by only straight white people.
This past Saturday, on the anniversary of our first post, Howard Brewing Company closed their doors for good. In my mind, I imagine the little town of Lenoir losing just a little bit of life, as that building waits to be filled again…hopefully with more community gatherings. But we say goodbye to one place and hello to a few more. As of this week, four empty buildings on Main St. are being renovated for new businesses. This fills LV with inspiration. Here’s to another year.
© The Lenoir Voice, 2016.