Monday, April 16, 2012

How I survived the good old days

Posted By on 04.16.12 at 10:40 AM

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Tuesday marks my 15th year at the Reader, but I can't honestly say this means anything more to me than a convenient hook I can use to get this blog post written, so I can move on to the next task. I miss a lot of people who used to work here, but otherwise I have few fond feelings for the Reader's illustrious past. Back when we published 174 or even 198 pages a week, the editorial department was a horrible sweatshop. People worked until 10 PM, 11 PM, midnight, 1 AM. They'd lie down on the cheap carpeting of their offices for cat naps so they could get up and keep working. Occasionally someone would burst into tears from the pressure, the endless drumbeat of more, more, more. In this business one quickly learns the dire imperative of getting this fucking blog post written, so I can move on to the next task.

And now? Well, the editorial department is still a horrible sweatshop; it probably always will be. That's the breaks when you're putting together a good product that people are accustomed to getting for free. The only difference is that, through the miracle of digital technology, we can all take the job home with us. Now, instead of working until 10 PM, 11 PM, midnight, 1 AM, I'm typically at my computer working by 7 AM, 6 AM, 5 AM, 4 AM. I don't have to worry about getting killed on my way home, only about killing myself with that fourth cup of coffee.

The biggest difference between the Reader I came to work for 15 years ago and the one I'm working for now may be this very blog post. Back in the day, the editorial philosophy was that we'd find people with unusual personal stories or idiosyncratic interests, and some unlucky editor would be charged with turning their shoddy reporting and godawful prose into something we could publish without embarrassment. (There are eight million stories in the naked city, but 7.9 million of them need revision.) The process often drifted into ghostwriting, but as a result—and despite the Reader's chronic reputation as a bunch of hipper-than-thou insiders—the paper had all sorts of great oddball items by people who'd never been heard from before, and never would be again.

Now, as the department and its resources have shrunk, the Reader has become more of an inside shop. There are select, curated features like You Are Here or Culture Vultures that pull in people from around the city, but most of the paper is written by a small cadre of people who (thank God) can actually write. The trade-off is, we sometimes write about things that require little expertise—like "nostalgia."

One thing that's never changed in 15 years is the ongoing chorus of people saying the Reader isn't as good as it used to be. I started hearing that the moment I walked in the door: "The Reader isn't as good as it used to be." So either people are naturally inclined to overvalue the past, or I'm personally responsible for the decline of a great newspaper.

Sorry about that.

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