Let’s face it. Even at our hippest, there has always been something both deeply earnest and slightly dowdy about the Independent. Some combination of self-righteousness and hominess. We are fundamentally compelled by the old sacrificial virtues. Substance first, then styleif there’s any time left for style. It’s hard to imagine a place where people take themselves and their mission more seriously than we do at the Independent. And why not? The progress of the Triangle, the honor of the South, the future of locally owned media, the end of the war in Iraq and the survival of rock ‘n’ roll as we know it all probably depend on next week’s issue of the Indy.
This is a 19th-century stance: defiant, heroic, self-regarding to a fault. Fortunately for us, we have produced our own antidote in Sioux Watson, our postmodern publisher.
You know hershe knows everybody. Or you’ve seen her, the dashing shock of silver hair atop a 5-foot,10-inch frame, the dangling earrings; she may be wearing the cowboy boots today or perhaps the leopard-skin outfit or the neon green or the white furry boa or something shiny.
You’ve been to the Indy parties she’s thrown. Someone there gave you a tattoo or took your “prom picture” or read your future in Tarot or maybe pierced your nipple.
Sioux came to the Independent 25 years ago, two months after we began publishing, to become our first ad rep. A few years later, she moved up to become advertising director, and when I stepped away from day-to-day involvement in the Independent in 1999, Sioux took over as our publisher. Her publishing philosophy is clear and simple. She supports our editorial mission; she defends it; she embraces itand she stays out of it. As for running our business, her management style is as laid back as her motto: “There are no advertising emergencies.”
There are no emergencies when Sioux is on vacation, either. Always the same vacations, it seems. To the mountains to watch the ACC tourney and relax. To the Alps with her in-laws for skiing. To the beach for a week with her girlfriends for knitting, seafood, cold drinks and an exotic themethis year it was Bollywood film, music and saris.
In a workaholic world, Sioux relaxes. Yet her work is so very good. She has built a talented, stable management team at the Independent, and her laissez-faire style lets everyone flourish: Our sales have grown by 65 percent in the years that Sioux has been publisher. Last year she finally moved the Indy out of our ramshackle rabbit-warren and into the office of our dreams, a renovated tobacco warehouse in downtown Durham that’s nearly as cool as she is. Now she is aggressively leading us into the inevitable online future and enjoying it.
Sioux is married to Paul Savery, a British social worker and son-of-a-butcher possessed of the Labor Party’s soft-socialist politics and a certain choosy aesthetic when it comes to food and drink. Paul and Sioux cook deliciously and read fiction voraciously and root hard for their favorite politicians and teams. This hopeful e-mail from Sioux came to me from the mountains about a month ago during a Saturday presidential primary: “Go Duke,” she wrote. “Go Hillary.”
Sioux’s work now is a far cry from her early days at the Independent when our survival was month-to-month and the ads were few and far between. Sioux’s gorgeous, capable daughters, Hannah and Zoe, are now in their 20s, but they spent a lot of their youth hanging around the Indy and sometimes riding with their mother as she traversed the city selling ads to one mom-and-pop retailer after the next. Hannah is living in Vancouver, British Columbia, with the firefighter she met in Greece; Zoe is a junior at the College of Charleston; and Sioux and Paul are left at home with Issy, their yellow lab, and the two Yorkies, Harry and Thor. Often when I’m with Sioux her phone will ring and it’s one of the girlsfinding the perfect mom on the other end of the phone, unflappable, no-nonsense and always ready to talk.
It’s the same at the Independent. Unflappable Sioux Watson leads our staff of 30 with an élan that the rest of us can only envy. She brings the flash, the fun, and underneath it all, a sense of stability to a small newspaper company with big dreams living on the cusp of the Internet future. For Sioux, the future works, and it works one small practical step at a time.
Because of Sioux’s leadership, the Independent is after 25 years still a great place to work, still publishing great stories week-in and week-out, and still striving mightily to help build a just community here in our North Carolina home. Thank you, Sioux.
Steve Schewel is the president of Carolina Independent Publications.