Monday, May 3, 2010

Talk Hard

I should have taken acting classes.

After accepting the job at SM, I did five things to prepare:
1. Listen to Michael Franti's All Rebel Rockers in its entirety. Repeatedly. Mostly screaming out the lyrics to "Hey World" at the top of my lungs every time it came on.
2. Checked out Never Tire of Protesting, by George Seldes from the library. Seldes is widely held as the grandfather of alternative media.
3. Reread the entire run of Transmetropolitan.
4. Rewatch Pump Up The Volume.
5. Reread every issue of Doktor Sleepless that had been published to that point.

Think of it as getting into character.

People often asked me about my vision for the paper, but how do you tell somebody that you're going to run it like a pirate radio station and expect them to take you seriously? For me, each of those works explores a facet of pirate radio that emphasizes the power of voice and character as well as what can and should be done with both.

For those in the audience who are unfamiliar with the wonders of the mid-Willamette Valley here's a primer – Bookended by two of the coolest cities on the planet, the mid-valley is the last refuge of those trying to escape those cities and those unable to afford the cost of housing in them. Each half would gladly strangle the life out of the other, but neither would foot the bill to pay for the clean-up. It’s created an uneasy peace.

Within that odd mix, you'll find a surprising number of people who are actually on the same page, but we have no voice through which that point of view is heard and that’s why the paper had to become its own character, and the relatively infrequent nature of the publication made it a perfect launchpad for such a model.

People have baggage. All of us do. Whether it's that time we cried in public, the speaking engagement we stumbled through, the employee we had to let go, or something more sinister, the baggage we collect during the course of our lives gives someone somewhere the means, justified or not, to marginalize our words and actions.

Characters arrive in our lives without a past. They might reveal some of it over the course if time, but we'll mostly remember them for the things they said or did that resonated with us in the moment. How long did it after the birth of Tyler Durden before all of us wanted to be space monkeys? How quickly does the Hollywood star fall from grace once the closet is aired out?
To pull off the pirate radio thing, the paper had to become its own character and I still think that is the only way to grow an audience given the tough crowd that is the mid-Valley.

Which is why I wish I'd taken some acting classes.

I am supremely proud of all of the work that appeared in our paper during my year as editor, but the times when we touched my "pirate radio" goal are most precious.

The first was this column, which I hoped would serve as my introduction to readers even more than the article announcing I was joining the paper. The second was this article by Sheldon Traver. As a result of this article, two of the interviewees ended up with a U.S. Senator on their side. This is the one article when I felt that the paper itself achieved sentience and became a character. (I have to note that the reason we were able to pull it off was because of the nearly overwhelming amount of reporting Michelle did for this article.)

My guess is that acting lessons would have been useful because they would have given me the tools to begin building the newspaper’s character more proactively. Most of the time it felt like walking in a dark room with moments of reassuring relief every time I touched a wall. I was fortunate to find many walls in the form of people with whom the paper was resonating. I am eternally grateful for each of them.

Photo by Thomas Hawk

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