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It’s an interesting appointment. Shalhoup’s biggest weakness as a candidate turned out to be an important strength. The sale of the Reader to the Creative Loafing chain in 2007 opened a dark period in the paper’s 40-year history. It was a period marked by slashed budgets, massive layoffs, an ungainly redesign to fit a template dictated from Atlanta, and capricious leadership. Fourteen months later the company declared bankruptcy, and 11 months after that it was taken over by Atalaya Capital Management, the primary creditor. A Creative Loafing product from Atlanta had two strikes on her already when Shalhoup told Draper a few weeks ago that she wanted the job and then came north to try to win over the Reader staff.
But in a series of one-on-one meetings, Shalhoup managed to do that. We told her Creative Loafing stories and she told hers right back. We could at least close our eyes and pretend Atlanta didn’t exist. She had no such luck. She was as much a survivor as any of us, and she’d had a harder war.
Furthermore, her credentials as a serious journalist were in order. Last year St. Martin’s Press published her first book, BMF: The Rise and Fall of Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family. The book grew out of a series of Creative Loafing articles about a national cocaine syndicate based in Atlanta; the Atlanta Press Club honored this work by naming her city’s 2007 journalist of the year, one of several awards she won in Atlanta. Shalhoup joined Creative Loafing in 2000 after working at the Macon Telegraph. She was promoted from senior editor to editor in chief last January.
Shalhoup, 35, told me Monday morning she anticipates "a very very improved website" — she gets no quarrel from anyone here on that priority — "and definitely exciting new digital products and ways for readers to interact with the content you guys put out. Of course, this has to be done while holding sacred the longtime mission of the paper, which as I see it is telling the stories no one else tells."
Shalhoup's husband, Todd Galpin, is a drummer with a day job in Atlanta's biodiesel industry. "He collects the grease," she explained. "He's doing pretty well. I think there's a lot more opportunity for him there."
There's more grease in Chicago, she was told, just as there's more snow. Shaloup said she'd be arriving "with some new boots and some very well lined coats and thermal underwear. I'll be good to go."
Shalhoup walks into a vacuum. There's been no one in the northeast corner office of the third floor since interim editor Geoff Dougherty abruptly disappeared January 26. There's something to be said for the communard spirit with which the paper's continued to be put out, but that said, we can use a hand.
Draper commented Monday, "Mara is a strong and proven leader. Her well-honed journalistic skills and instincts make her the ideal editor for the hard and rewarding work that lies ahead. Mara's respect for the Reader's past and vision of what's possible for its future, will serve us well and make her the perfect partner to me and our sales and marketing colleagues. She's all about building our valuable audiences and tightening our ties with each. One thing I love most is her ambitious approach to content. She will push a constant flow of creative ideas to us on how to combine the best of print, digital and events to build reader engagement."