"The two of us live here, our kids go to school here, and we begin every day confronting the issues of journalism here."
Poor Sarah. Poor Sarah's mom. Today, in their giant backyard, draped in 40 pounds of streamers and encircled by thousands of dollars worth of merriment1, neither is taking much pleasure in knowing that they're at the best birthday party in the great, big gated Paradise Valley community where they live. It seems unlikely that either would care at this point — as the merry-go-round starts up for the hundredth time and the pony takes an unexpected dump on Raggedy Andy's shoe2 — that they're merely the latest in a long line3 of mother-daughter duos who are feeding the current trend4 in over-the-top, over-produced kiddy birthday parties. Neither Sarah (because she's too young) nor her mom (because she's too, well, frazzled at the moment) has given any thought to how they've been feeding the multimillion-dollar industry5 that's sprung up around Sarah's desire for everything she sees on TV and, just maybe, Mom's inability to "connect intimately" with her daughter.6
It's no surprise7 that experts are horrified8 by this burgeoning business9 in ridiculously opulent birthday parties, this newish industry10 that's busting at the seams11 with more and more lavish ways12 to acknowledge the first day of Little Johnny's fourth year. It's a trend13 forwarded not just by maniacal moms with disposable incomes and no extra time, but by moms in every income bracket who feel guilty because their busy lives keep them away from their kids. It's a trend14 that the super-est Super Moms support, even though many of them would like to give a permanent time-out to the guy who invented the chains of "grown-up" (some say downright sleazy) party places they're hiring for the day, places that pour their tiny daughters into glittery cat suits and glop them with enough eyeliner and blush to choke a birthday clown.15
Despite the myth, outsiders have always thrived here. William Randolph Hearst, a rube from San Francisco, came here at the turn of the last century and bought a newspaper that became the legendary New York Journal. Harold Ross, a rustic from Colorado, conjured up The New Yorker, while Harold Hayes came from the wilds of North Carolina to all but invent the modern magazine at Esquire in the 1960s.
But none of them worked from Phoenix.
Predictably, then, Hoffman's second blog post is about sex. Cadging from the AP, he tears into a state bill that targets masseuses who sexually penetrate unwilling clients. The measure is ripe for mockery and The Hoff obliges: "The new bill was proposed by Mary Olson (DFL-Bemidji), a freshman who apparently never got the memo that rape is already illegal."
Minneapolis, did you get the memo? The Hoff has landed. And you better not fuck with him or he'll cut you up. Real bad.
"There is no doubt that something real passed over Phoenix on the night of March 13. Hundreds of people reported what they saw passing slowly in the sky. Two New Times writers were among those witnesses."
--From The Great UFO Cover-Up in the
New TimesVillage Voice Media mothership (get it?), Phoenix New Times.
"Yes, I'm a cardholding member of the Evil Empire, a New Times hack who's been at it for ten years, the boogeyman every Birkenstock-wearing hippie burnout still clinging to a paycheck at alt-weeklies sees in his sleep, coming to take his job and turn his paper into a soulless corporate moneymaker. Have keyboard, will travel. My corporate cookie-cutting overmasters have parachuted me into four of their newspapers in five different stints (Phoenix, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Kansas City, and now Fort Lauderdale) like the merciless mercenary that I am...Kansas City was a tough case. I think of it as my Fallujah."
--From a letter to the editor, posted at Association of Alternative Newsweeklies.
-- The Media Mob.
-- Ortega's shocking series on edgy sex from New Times Broward Palm Beach, which informs us that "sex has come a long way since it was about a man climbing on top of his wife once a week." (Got that, Mara?) Part two.
-- UFO Maps.
Another point cited in Fefer’s favor, though, is that he's more sophisticated than managing editor Mike Seely, who joined the paper after the merger and ran it between Berger's departure and Fefer’s arrival. Seely, this former staffer complained, is "kind of a backwards-hat guy." Dawdy, too, is a vocal Seely critic, and references an e-mail exchange he had with Seely last October to bolster his case. The conversation began with Seely citing a story from the East Bay Express, the company's paper in Oakland, as an example of the kind of stuff he'd like from Dawdy, who specializes in mental-health issues. The article in question, by Lauren Gard, was on the link between the Internet and sex addiction. "One thing the writer hints at here are the tendency for massage parlors to double as hand-job factories or more," Seely wrote. "I’d love for someone to gauge whether this sort of thing is going on in Seattle.
Dawdy then mentioned knowing a therapist whose business consists largely of Internet-porn addicts working at Microsoft. Seely asked if the therapist would go on the record. Dawdy said it was doubtful, but that details could probably be gleaned from online chat rooms. To which Seely responded:
"yep. think it might be futile to start from there and simply replicate this story. frankly, if you were up to visiting some massage parlors to see if certain practitioners would finish you off, that’s the sort of street-level expose i'd be up for running. but i'd never force you to do that."
Dawdy took a pass. A week later, he quit.
Less well-known, but equally telling, is the hostility Lacey and his lieutenants reportedly have for what they term "victim stories." Broadly speaking, these seem to be stories in which a member of some marginal group — the physically disabled, the mentally ill, the poor — is ill-used by a particular system or society at large. According to several current and former staffers, Lacey and his editors generally balk at these pieces unless something sets them apart, like a counterintuitive twist (victim as victimizer!) or plenty of lurid detail. So defined, "victim stories" were the specialty of Gonnerman, arguably the Voice's best young reporter before her resignation last year. They were also the stock in trade of Jarrett Murphy, who wrote extensively on poor neighborhoods for the Voice and recently left the paper. And they were the kind of pieces Dawdy frequently wrote for Seattle Weekly.
But that's just part of the story. Robson also left because he became convinced the New Times mindset would guide the new VVM, and that City Pages would suffer as a result. When Andy Van De Voorde, VVM's executive associate editor, introduced Hoffman to his new employees, Robson recalls, "he did it by saying, 'This guy was kicking our ass for the competition, so we figured it was a good idea to hire him to go kick other people's asses.' That’s emblematic of how they do things. It’s this kind of cheapskate-tough-guy swagger."*
But the keenest insight into the
New Times Village Voice Media ethos comes at the end, in a series of embarrassing responses posted beneath the story from a claque of VVM toadies. The most measured of the bunch also happens to be the most hopelessly deluded. Here's Pete Kotz of the Cleveland Scene (whence hails lesbian marriage pioneer and new City Pages editor Kevin Hoffman):
Hey Adam: I have no beef with your story. Looks like you got to a lot of people and did your best to distill a he-said/she-said culture clash. The only thing I thought was off was the "victim" element. I've been with New Times for six years and I run these stories by the pound. (The latest: http://news.clevescene.com/2007-02-21/news/black-on-black-crime/) I think the difference is we don't try to write essay No. 765,982 on Why Bush Sucks, or Corporations are Bad, or that kind of generic screaming into the wind that's been done so many times before. It's not a political decision. In a way, it's just an aversion to writerly self-importance. The cool thing about the New Times ethic, at least to me, is that it's more respectful of the reader. The whole game is built to engage people -- meaning you have to report, ammo up with a fresh story and a fresh take -- because their time is precious and their allegiance doesn't come easy. You gotta make yourself worthy. I think the old Village Voice method too often put politics above engagement. The stories often seemed to assume that the reader naturally agreed with your viewpoint, naturally agreed that this was an Important Subject, instead of working to convince them of both. It lead to a lot of stuff that should have simply been headlined, "Holy Christ, Look at How Smart I Am." Having sadly spent much of my early career practicing this same kind of journalism, I found that it was great for getting back-slaps from my buddies at the bar, but made virtually no impact on the larger audience. Obviously, there are a lot of personality collisions taking place here. But at the end of the day, it's really just an argument over the best way to keep alt weeklies thriving in the future.
(One day, we swear, we will wade through the jottings of
New Times Village Voice Media editors and pluck every macho metaphor we can find. Ammo up, motherfuckers.)
Kotz's missive is, to our minds, a perfect distillation of the
New Times Village Voice Media paradox. Yes, in theory, it all sounds so very wonderful -- precisely what made us sit up at the job fair. In practice, well, we get nippling and retards fucking and Mike Lacey on politics and Silke Tudor on whatever it is Silke Tudor writes about, and we get whales, lots and lots of whales. None of which stories betrays any aversion whatsoever to writerly self-importance.
If asked to pick the one thing we admire most about Village Voice Media’s Roster of Talent, it would be the elegant, sophisticated names on it -- no "John Davises" or "Bob Clarks" in this lot. Oh, sure, the alternative press has always embraced a link to the upper-crust geniuses of
(1) Peter Rushton Maverick; (2) Andrew Ignatius Vontz; (3) Pieter Vanderlyn; (4) Carrington Fox; (5) Andy Van De Voorde; (6) Nehemiah Partridge; (7) Ernest Barteldes; (8) Benjamin West; (9) Benjamin Westhoff; (10) Jeremiah Theus; (11) Michele Felice Corné; (12) Adam Cayton-Holland; (13) Ben Paynter; (14) Winthrop Chandler; (15) John Nova Lomax; (16) R. Scott Moxley; (17) Francis Guy; (18) Malcom Gay; (19) William Winstanley; (20) Dean C. Minderman
The median was 400 bullets per whale. Formed to subdue the rapacious commercial whaling industry, the International Whaling Commission in 1986 imposed a moratorium on whale hunting. Gray whales are bottom feeders. Last year, more than 300 gray whales washed up dead. In 1997, 1,520 gray whales were observed in birthing lagoons.
Whales are highly evolved mammals. Hunting whales is what gives us pride. Without the gray whale, these people will die. Aridjis calls the gray whale "an icon for democracy."
The whale, after all, remains but a whale.
There's 100 Western Pacific gray whales. Photographing the whales is relatively straightforward. Gray whales tend to calf every other year. There are very few gray whales.
The gray whales were easy targets. Seventy years would pass before the gray whales could recover from the devastation of commercial whaling.
The Makah wanted to hunt whales again.
"Let's go whaling."
Several gray whales were in the area. The whaling canoe began tracking a 30-foot whale that appeared to be feeding. The whale was stunned.
"It's not his whale. It's my whale."
The whales appeared normal. We must eat whales. Five whales require less strict rationing. Dead whales became dinner-table conversation.
Unless the victims are whales. For years it was whales, whales, whales.
(Ferociously anti-whaling Mexico banned whaling in the 1960s.)
Whale watching has led the way.
Whale watching trips. Only the whales.