After seven years at the Santa Barbara Independent, Penelope Huston-Baer is moving on to a position at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. Robby Robbins, classified manager at Independent Weekly in Durham, and AAN’s classified advertising chair, will be filling her shoes.
“My decision was completely complicated,” says Huston-Baer, who was considering the offer of a different position at Santa Barbara Independent when she was contacted by a headhunter for St. Judes. Moving to Memphis appealed to Huston-Baer because it’s her hometown, and because she, her husband and her 20-month-old daughter would be closer to her stepson in Little Rock.
At St. Jude, she will be the corporate alliances liaison, responsible for “co-branding and strategic partnering.”
“I love [the alt-weekly] industry, and it’s all I’ve ever done,” says Huston-Baer, who has served on the AAN board of directors for two years in an at-large position. “I couldn’t imagine going into corporate America. But St. Jude is an amazing organization.”
The job offer came the morning Huston-Baer was leaving for the AAN Convention in Little Rock, and St. Judes asked her to make a decision in 24 hours. “I essentially told my boss [Editor in Chief and Co-owner Marianne Partridge] in the airport,” she says.
She announced her departure at the convention and formally vacated her seat on the board of directors at the annual membership meeting on Saturday, June 17. Mark Bartel, publisher of City Pages (Twin Cities), was elected to fill Huston-Baer’s seat for the remaining year of her term.
Although Huston-Baer had to fit a drug test in-between convention activities, she says there were positive aspects to the timing of the job offer. For one, she “had the opportunity to say goodbye to a lot of people.”
For another, it allowed the Santa Barbara Independent to recruit Robby Robbins to take her place as director for new media.
“Robby has been my best friend, and at so many times, my mentor,” Huston-Baer says. “I could not be more excited that he’s coming here. It’s changed the whole tone of my departure — instead of being sad that I’m leaving, they’re doing a dance that I’m leaving.”
“She’s just glad I’m helping her leave without guilt,” Robbins counters. He has been approached by other papers many times during his 12 years at the Independent Weekly, but he never seriously considered a move before, certainly not all the way across the country. “There were geography limitations on where this Southern boy could live,” he explains.
Robbins’ family resides in North Carolina, making it “heart-breaking to leave,” he says. He also thought he might have trouble maintaining his “10 dogs, three cats, nine cars, car-hauler, and camper” outside of the South. Nevertheless, inspired by the life-assessment that comes with turning 40, he decided to take the “very nice offer from a great newspaper” in California.
The move is a double whammy for the Independent Weekly, because Robbins’ significant other, Bryan O’Quinn, also works there as sales coordinator. However, O’Quinn will be staying behind for a few months to take care of logistics, while Robbins starts work in Santa Barbara on August 1.
“The job change will be the easiest part,” Robbins says. “They use the same software, they use the same Avenews system. It’s the move that’s the huge undertaking.”
Before Robbins and Huston-Baer swap coasts permanently, he will be flying to Santa Barbara over the Independence Day holiday to train with her. “It’s just really blessed timing for our paper,” Huston-Baer says.