Monday, April 24, 2006

Olesker replacement quits, returns to Memphis

Recently hired Sun metro columnist Wendi C. Thomas has quit Baltimore, a day before her debut column was set to publish. She will return to Memphis and to her old paper, The Commercial Appeal, according to a statement published this morning on the Memphis daily’s web site.

"My heart is in Memphis," Thomas is quoted on "The Sun is a wonderful paper, and Baltimore is a great city, but it's not home."

Thomas was hired last month after a lengthy search for a replacement for veteran columnist Michael Olesker, who resigned in January amid a plagiarism controversy.

Sun editor Tim Franklin says he was "surprised and disappointed" by Thomas’ decision to resign. "I got a call yesterday afternoon that she was contemplating it," Franklin says, and received Thomas’ resignation in person this morning. "She had quite obviously made up her mind by the time of the meeting," he says.

Franklin says Thomas did not appear unhappy during her several weeks in Baltimore, where she has been getting to know the city and fellow journalists. "She seemed happy," he says. "I know other members of the staff had made a point to greet her and tried to make her feel at home … I don’t think any of us had any inkling of this."

During their meeting this morning, Franklin says Thomas "made it clear that she was welcomed at The Sun and that she liked the paper, but she wanted to go home and this was entirely a personal decision for her."

Franklin expressed confidence that he would be able to find a suitable replacement soon. "We did a national search, we had a lot of candidates for the job and a lot of talented ones, so I’m confident that we’ll find a gifted writer for this columnist job."

Thomas’ twice-weekly column was set to debut tomorrow. In her first installment, a draft of which was obtained by City Paper, the writer confesses to mixed feelings about trading Memphis for Baltimore:

"Nearly a month ago, I left Memphis, the city in which I grew up, the city where my parents and boyfriend still live, to take this job. I left behind a city and a state that I know all too well, and a great gig as a columnist there, to opine about a city and a region I barely know at all. I left behind the easy eating of pulled pork barbecue to work for my dinner, hammering out the white goodness in steamed crabs. And sometimes, I wonder if I left my good sense somewhere between the River City and Charm City."

Despite her misgivings, Thomas also expresses excitement about her new job. "I want to know how Marylanders see themselves. How far have we come, and how far do we have yet to go? The BELIEVE signs hang conspicuously all over town, but what do … we really believe? To be sure, my learning curve will be steep, but I’m hopeful that readers will help me climb, or shove me up, that hill."

Thomas’ first column, which will not run tomorrow, ends with the words, "Let the conversation begin."


William Wingo said...

I had been looking forward to the Wendi Thomas column. I didn't understand how the Sun wanted a out of town writer
to deliver "metro" content.
It takes at least 5 -10 years to get to know the nitty -gritty of Bmore.
I think Ms. Thomas best sums it up that she felt it would be tough to leave the pulled pork for the white crab meat.
Maybe the Sun will realize that diversity is more than
a tranplant.Its having the
feel for Baltimore and being knowledgeable about the heart of a city. What makes uyou click in one place sometimes does'nt click in another. BELIEVE it!

Freedonian said...

As someone who has to read the Memphis paper she writes for, please alow me to say this to your fine readers.

Please, please PLEASE take Wendi back!

I'm not sure how she got an offer from a publication as prestigious as the Baltimore Sun. More often than not, a glimpse of her column would be enough to have me and most of the people I know wondering whether or not she had pictures of the local editor with a transvestite hooker.

Her leaving Baltimore and coming back to Memphis is... *Sigh* Baltimore's gain and Memphis's loss.

Sheree Renée Thomas said...

Wendi Thomas was a talented columnist, certainly no less than any of the other white folk at CA, but her columns didn't quite echo the usual perspectives you read in the Commercial Appeal, which imho, is the main reason she was so controversial. The CA is as conservative as it gets, and her candor on cultural and socio-political issues that continue to undermine the city's progress is what rankled most of her detractors.

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