Wednesday, November 08, 2017

My thoughts on Chicagoist: part three.

Blame the guy on the left for "Tankboy" remaining my byline. Photo by Rachelle Bowden.
It's been quite a week of personal loss for me. At the same time, there is only so much mourning you can do before you simply have to move on. More importantly, there's only so much mourning you can do before people who were sympathetic just start to roll their eyes and get bored. So let's wind this down for now. Tomorrow I'll post about what the future holds, but consider this the end (for now) of the "My thoughts on Chicagoist" series.

Chicagoist got me on TV, on the radio, into magazines, onto panels, and into more amazing events than a human being should probably encounter in a single life. But none of that was what made my experience at the website so great.

I had the great fortune of bringing many great writers into the Chicagoist fold, helping them find their voice before they moved onto bigger and better things. The truth is every writer I added to the A&E beat made my life better, and the city's life better, by graciously sharing their talents.

And my co-editors through the years were tremendous partners as well. They pushed me to make my beat better, and pushed and prodded me into being a better, sharper writer.

There is no way I can personally thank every person I worked with here, but a single look at the Chicagoist staff page and the "thanks" section at the bottom, is proof of what an immense amount of talent I've had the honor of working with over the past 12 years at Chicagoist. And I'll get this out of the way at the top—thanks to Jen Chung and Jen Carlson for all their help through the years, and to Jake Dobkin for his unerring Dobkin-ness. Without that trio there wouldn't be a Chicagoist in the first place.

Chicagoist Prime and Jen Chung.
On the editorial side the early years have to include shoutouts to Rachelle Bowden (Chicagoist Prime!) and Scott Smith (who you can also blame for me continuing to use the name Tankboy since even back then he recognized the value of "brand recognition" in online media). And the return of Margaret Lyons to the fold brought a new era of focus to the site, along with an even sharper with to the tone. After her little Marcus Gilmer, who started as a music writer, ushered Chicagoist into an even bigger and better era of both content and recognition. Once he exited, Chuck Sudo left his longtime role as food editor to steer the ship, and though we constantly argued over Chicago Manual vs. AP style (he won, and AP became the standard) we, with the help of Sam Abernethy, started Chicagoist on its journey to add more original reporting to our already original food and arts coverage. We were a pretty tight knit crew and the site continued to flourish.

Here I'll take a slight detour and tip my hat to food editors Melissa McEwen and Anthony Todd. Melissa's crazy insane ability to take raw data and turn it into an entertaining post always amazed me, and Anthony ended up being a confidant when times got weird—that happens over a decade—even if he never could convince me to widen my palate much beyond my love of hamburgers.

Jesus, this is going to go on for a while.

One of Chicago's best blogs. Period. The Trib got that right, for sure!
Lisa White came in as an associate editor, and I was happy about her joining the team since we had already been friends for years, and when she took over when Chuck left the site got even better because she loved arts and food coverage equally, and had a deep understanding of both. At the time we were also starting to cover more and more "serious" news so she eventually brought Rachel Cromidas on, and her skills and experience at harder reporting added a new dimension to Chicagoist. When Lisa decided it was time for her to move on to new things, Rachel stepped in and helmed the site until its end. And over the last year I had the distinct pleasure to work with Stephen Gossett, who could somehow write thousands of words a day on a wide variety of subjects, and make each post insightful and smart (often with a knowing wink and sly smile) that I found, frankly, superhuman at times.

There are a ton of stories between the lines typed above. There were fights. There were laughs. There were meetings resembling stare-downs in Wild West saloons, and there was hugging (I hate hugging, but it was O.K. with these people) and deep friendships that all still remain in place. I've worked many jobs in my life, and usually when someone leaves they drop out of your thoughts, but the people above and I have kept in touch over the years and I could count any of them to bail me out of jail. Still.

And the A&E writers. There were so many over the years. I'm afraid if I start thanking each individually this post will rival the New Testament in length so I'm going to cheat and just mention Aaron Cynic (who primarily covered politics and the tin-foil cap beat (I kid, I kid, Aaron!) over the last 8 years, but also brought his talents to plenty of music posts, and Michelle Meywes (oh, wait, now her last name is Kopeny!) who I poached from Gapers Block (sorry, not sorry Andrew!) and remains one of my absolute favorite writers.

So, another detour. With Michelle, we started dating when I was at the -ist and she was at GB. And to be honest I wanted to steal her talents much earlier than I did, but we both agreed it was better for her to establish herself as a writer on her own, and not a writer whose editor was her boyfriend. She hasn't decided what her next steps will be, but whatever periodical or website snags her is going to be incredibly lucky. And I'm not saying that as her husband; I'm saying that as someone who views her as serious competition.

Early group photo. I think I was outside smoking? I was good at avoiding group photos.
Last night we were bowling at the kick-off of the Chicago Media Bowling League season, and she was talking with a teammate, and I overheard them discussing what they viewed as the best advice I gave them as a writer. I'll get it wrong, but consider the below my attempt to paraphrase the gist of their conversation. Also, young 'un, just starting journalists of all beats, you might find this helpful.

Bands are not your friends. Publicists are not your friends. If you're covering a story, the people you interview, and the subjects you are writing about are not your friends. I'm not saying you can't like these people, or that outside the piece they are your best friends in real life. But when writing, your only friend is the truth. And you should never let a personal relationship get in the way of that.

That seems like a good place to end. For now. Thanks for reading, friend.

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