NUVO at 25

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I began writing for NUVO in 1997, penning a few pieces here and there on everything from biking in Indy to my kid's travel hockey adventures. Eventually, the staff here allowed me to write a few cover stories for the publication and then, in October of 2013, I became managing editor.

I've been a broadcaster for over twenty years. I've been a performer, sharing a stage with everyone from Drew Carey to Martin Short. I've covered the Grammy Awards from the red carpet. My career has afforded me contact with dozens of legends in the literary, political and entertainment worlds.

But this entry on my resume — Head Collaborator and Chief Counselor for a staff of wildly talented editors I lovingly refer to as "Camp Runamok" — is the thing I'm most proud of.

I started reading the Village Voice in the age of Reagan. I became a stand-up comedian and cartoonist, then a rock DJ/morning guy, then a writer.

When NUVO began publishing, I was contributing to another alternative weekly paper. From 1987-1993 I drew editorial cartoons for the Syracuse New Times, poking fun at then-Veep Dan Quayle, among others.

In the mid-'90s I was hired by a dude named Frank Wood to come to Indy and host the morning show on what was then X103.

When I moved to Indiana in 1996, NUVO stood as a beacon of independent thought in a state that seemed, in some corners, determined never to progress beyond 1956.

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Over the last 25 years, Indianapolis has started to actually resemble a world-class city, complete with a growing number of ethnic, gourmet and vegetarian restaurants, a thriving arts and music community, and even a provider of small shelters for progressive thinkers — we're becoming less like Jacksonville and more like Austin, a state capital that's a little blue (purple?) island in a big red state.

The publication's gone through some changes over the last quarter-century. I like to think our little weekly has been something of a thought leader for this town, providing like-minded souls the hope that Indy could one day embrace diversity, equality and independent, questioning voices.

Yeah, Indy's still the home of that oft-backward madhouse called the Indiana State Legislature, but damned if that hasn't provided us here at NUVO with reams of critical copy. Hell, on our best weeks we're the loudest canary in this coalmine.

The work's far from done. But this is an excellent moment to stop, exhale and look back at how far we've come, as a city — and as a publication.

Twenty. Five. Years.

NUVO began publishing in March of 1990 under the leadership of Larry Rainey — an Indy native who'd become enamored with the alternative/progressive journalism he'd found in the Village Voice — with help from Ronald Tierney and Kevin McKinney. After charging a buck per issue for the first seven issues, NUVO became a free paper and merged with another paper called 12X later that year. 12X was then edited by Will Higgins, who joined NUVO along with Bill Craig.

NUVO (the name's a play on "new voices") has a pretty innocuous-sounding mission statement: "NUVO, Inc.'s mission is simple: to empower intelligent, open-minded innovators through storytelling. Indiana's largest independent alternative news organization, NUVO is created by and for people who love our community, our culture and our environment." (-nuvo.net)

Bill Craig defined "alternative or point-of-view journalism" as having "no pretense of objectivity ..." but stressed the context of the word "pretense:" "... just because we begin with a point of view and write to it, we don't have the right to circumvent the other rules of good journalism."

For his part, Higgins said he thought it was his job "to make trouble."

NUVO staff, December 2014
  • NUVO staff, December 2014

"Making trouble" included and includes keeping a watchful eye on state and city government, covering issues that other publications might ignore and ultimately "giving voice to the voiceless" — exposing the plights of day laborers and threats to women's reproductive rights; defending the dignity of LGBTQ citizens when they're attacked by their very state legislature or shining a light on the terrible condition of the White River.

To sum up: "Making trouble" includes throwing rocks at the power structure.

A few years after its founding, a firebrand named Harrison Jordan Ullmann joined the staff, and NUVO really began to find its voice as a true American alt-weekly. Ullman infuriated the Hoosier power structure when he repeatedly claimed the state legislature was undoubtedly the worst in the nation and went after politicos like former Indy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith with an ire that must've startled the town's old-line media outlets. It sure as hell startled — and riled — Goldsmith.

While he claimed he didn't have any real party affiliation, Ullmann did coin the moniker "Rat's Ass Republicans." That little term of endearment became the title of a collection of his works, published after Ullmann succumbed to cancer. He died just as NUVO turned 10.

Some of Ullmann's last words in NUVO, in April of 2000, documented his duel with his tumors. His six-mile walks on the Monon had been reduced to a struggling climb up his stairs. The column echoed his wrangles with the Powers That Were. Dude could be a sonofabitch, but man, the guy was fearless.

Ullmann's spirit still lives in this place.

Kevin McKinney remains the soul of the operation, ensuring that NUVO's unique culture of internal consensus-building won't ever be bastardized. David Hoppe, Jim Poyser and Steve Hammer all made monumental contributions to the paper's tone, direction and success, and they'll speak about their time here in their own words elsewhere here at nuvo.net.

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Oh, and yeah, through all of muckraking and cantankerous hollerin' (now THAT'S a Hoosierism for you) we've tried over the years to inject a little humor into the mix, too.

So here we are, 2015 — and NUVO STILL has to remind Our Fellow Citizens that their state government seems ready and willing to dial environmental law and human rights back to the '50s.

The 1850s.

Fortunately, the publication's got a crew that can keep NUVO on point. Yours truly lucked into the job of coaching the press equivalent of a Dream Team, with support from a small but mighty staff handling the other aspects of this publication. (See the thank-yous for an incomplete rundown.)

NUVO's won dozens of awards throughout its 25-year history, but we also hand out some hardware, too. NUVO's Cultural Vision Awards honor those local citizens who improve our town as a place to live and work, and our reader-chosen "Best of Indy" awards have become one of the most coveted plaques a local business or public figure can receive. Additionally, NUVO presents one of downtown's most exciting sporting events, the Mass Ave Criterium, a heart-pounding bike race through a gorgeous Indy neighborhood.

But most importantly, for 25 years NUVO has been committed to providing a truly alternative voice in the city of Indianapolis. We're committed to sustainability (we're printed on 100% recycled paper, FYI), social justice, human rights and the dignity of all people.

And, occasionally, that means making trouble.


A Syracuse New Times cartoon from the early '90s poking fun at Dan Quayle.
  • A Syracuse New Times cartoon from the early '90s poking fun at Dan Quayle.

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