I have known Will Moredock for two and a half years, but I only met him last week. Otherwise, our acquaintance has been markedly one-sided. Like many of you, I was introduced to the Charleston City Paper's resident liberal columnist via the one-inch-by-two-inch photo that has run next to his weekly rant for the last 10 years, a photo that has been a part of the City Paper family much longer than I have, even if Moredock himself has only made the rare (like, unicorn rare) appearance in our physical offices.
And after 10 years and 500 columns (read this week's here), Will Moredock is no longer a City Paper columnist. Nor will he teach classes for the College of Charleston's communications department, nor will he work in the publishing realm as a part of the local Frontline Press. Instead, Moredock expects to spend much of his time working on other writing in an office in a former military barrack at the Navy Yard, in a space where Marines used to sleep that is now rented out to artists, musicians, and other creatives by the North Charleston Cultural Arts Department.
It was a decade ago when Moredock relocated to Charleston from Myrtle Beach, where he researched what would become his book Banana Republic: A Year in the Heart of Myrtle Beach. In preparation for the move, he reached out to Stephanie Barna, CP's editor, for a freelance opportunity, and after a handful of meetings he was surprised when she offered him a column instead. "My jaw dropped," he says over chips and salsa at Santi's, not too far from the City Paper offices where he's never had a desk, a phone extension, or even an e-mail address despite technically being one of our oldest employees. "And I can't believe I actually hesitated, and I can't believe I actually wondered, 'Will I have something to write about every week?' "
But he has, whether he's complained about uproarious motorcycles revving their way through the Battery, criticized the recent Voter ID law, or profiled a local figure who might not normally inspire ink. And for it Moredock has been paid a paltry sum per column, each and every week, from the day he started to the day he stopped.
"Seriously, I walk around with this column in my head all week long every week for 10 years," he says. "When we have Best of Charleston and we don't have a column that week, holy moly, it's like a vacation. I walk around with that thing in my head: What will it be this week? What will I write? It's just constantly there, how will I develop it, and it's just one little 800-word column."
Still, he would have to make room for that column on top of all the other things he was doing to make a living. So now he's ready to move on.
Moredock's work for the City Paper has always taken on a local focus. The writer was never asked to confine his topics to South Carolina politics, but he personally took that concept as a mandate from the beginning, and the constant bumbling controversies the state seems faced with provide irresistible fodder. "I wanted to educate myself, and I wanted to educate the folks who read me," Moredock says. "I wanted to educate them about South Carolina politics and history and culture and how they fit together, and they do fit together. If you understand the history of this state and the way it was created and the people who created it, it's not hard to understand the mess that this place is today and always has been."
The online versions of his columns often inspire combative threads, with dozens (though who can really tell, since they're often protected by anonymous usernames) of individual commenters joining in on the we-hate-Will-Moredock fracas. Moredock himself stopped reading these comments long ago — for his mental health. "And I frankly wish the City Paper would take the kind of steps the Post and Courier did in making people sign their stuff. It might tone it down. As long as you can just dump it out there anonymously, people will do it."
At the same time, these comments, and frankly any letter-to-the-editor section of any local publication, have helped Moredock realize that there is a frighteningly large number of ignorant people out there who still don't understand the history of this state. "They are outraged and flabbergasted to learn that we were not conceived by a virgin and deposited here by cavaliers and Southern belles," Moredock explains. "Back when I was reading responses, any time I tried to allude to historic racial injustices in this state, I knew I was saying something worth saying because of the fury that it touched on, just the rage that some people struck back with. Obviously, this was something that people needed to hear." And for every outraged e-mail he received in retaliation, he hopes there were many more who were enlightened.
South Carolina born and bred, at the age of 62, Moredock can admit that he's seen the state change in the last 40 years. He can't say the same for this past decade, although he does see the Tea Party expanding its control locally. "Those people, they've touched a nerve here, there's no question about it, and they seem to be rising in power," he says. "And yet they have no suggestions, no recommendations, no solutions, no nothing except cut more taxes and recruit more industry. And those are not the answers, certainly not by themselves." As for Charleston, his biggest concern currently is cruise ships. Moredock worries that Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr.'s legacy will not be seven successful terms, but instead will be marred by this recent development. "I love Charleston. This is the best place I've ever lived. I will live here for the rest of my life," he says. "I just hope that we haven't overdone it. Tourism has brought a hell of a lot of money into this town, but let's be honest, it provides a lot of low-wage jobs. And now this whole cruise ship business, I don't understand why Joe Riley has dug his heels in so deep on this."
Moredock is obviously a man with opinions, 500 of which he's presented in these pages, with the rare exception turned down by City Paper editors. Redundancy was inevitable, but it's not something Moredock is content to do. "One of the reasons I'm leaving this column is that I felt like I've been repeating myself," he says. "When I dedicated myself to writing about South Carolina and South Carolina politics, one thing about South Carolina is that it doesn't change, and when you've written about it for 10 years, you are definitely writing the same column over and over again." Still, it will be a little difficult for Moredock to shut that part of his brain off, the one that dwelled on his weekly required 800 words. So he's looking forward to sitting down and channeling that energy and those emotions from his columns into new work, projects that have been on his mind or in some state of progress for a long time, including a future feature story for the City Paper. And he knows he'll never finish them if he's still doing three or four other jobs.
Moredock is moving on with his life, into the Navy Yard hideaway that he's filling with plants and books. He's looking forward to filling the hole left behind by his obligation, and he hopes he'll get paid more to do so.