Sunday, July 26, 2009

Time can change me, but I can't change time

So one of the reasons I'm behind on my blog is this: last month, I left my job of 2.5 years as an editor at go2 Media, and I've been busy ever since with my new job and a lot of new freelance work.

I thought I'd take some time to reflect and talk about what I learned and experienced in those informative, interesting 2.5 years.

I used to tell people that after graduating with a degree in print journalism, I fully expected to cover cops and fires in East Podunk for my first job, as my mentors had done when they started out in journalism decades ago.

But the world changed. And so one fateful day in February of 2007, I found myself making my way, not to a giant newspaper complex in the ghetto or some cluttered copy desk out in the suburbs, but to a converted warehouse in the up-and-coming arts district of Fort Point. There, I climbed four flights of stairs (Mark, the man who would become my boss, advised me not to take the elevator unless I was "feeling daring") to interview for a job editing copy for a new startup company. 80108 Media was a venture-backed brand that was trying to make its mark in the world of mobile media, a world of which I had been only vaguely aware.

Here in this loft-like space, I was interviewed in a makeshift library by a young man wearing Diesel jeans who picked up my sidelong reference to Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs. I was also interviewed in a hip art gallery-slash-cafe by a curly-haired man who impressed me by telling me he had once made an album with the Velvet Underground's Mo Tucker, and who was impressed in turn when he found out that I had been a DJ for the indie station that was currently playing in the cafe, 88.9 WERS. These two men were to work closely with me for the next 2.5 years.

The Channel Cafe, where the course of my career changed forever.

Based on our shared sense of The Cool, we struck out to make a Cool Company. Our CEO met Sid Holt, former managing editor of Rolling Stone, at a gathering somewhere in NYC, and convinced him to make a weekly trip from his farm in Westchester to our South Boston offices to oversee our content strategy. The inimitable Christine Liu, now the editor of Citysearch Boston, came on as a consultant (and left as one of my best friends). We then hired a series of deeply cool interns to help us with our growing workload -- and one of them went on to become the talented Jessie Rogers, a.k.a. Madame Jessie, a.k.a. one third of the hit blog sensation Tea Party Boston, a.k.a. one of my favorite people in the world.

These interns, in turn, helped to recruit writers like Michael Fournier, author of the 33 1/3rd book on the Minutemen's Double Nickles on the Dime and, for a brief few weeks, Amanda Marcotte of the popular blog Pandagon. We also hired Jenna Scherer, the ubercool theatre writer at the Weekly Dig, to help us with our quickly growing editorial load. She also went on to become one of my favorite people in the world.

My job at go2 Media introduced me to some of my closest friends--
including Jenna Scherer, pictured above as the Spirit of Brittania on Halloween
(because only Jenna would already own a red teapot, a British flag, a blue wig and a toy sword)

At one point, we employed almost 100 freelancers in total, who wrote short messages about all kinds of subjects, from punk rock to volunteering, which we pushed out via SMS text software to phones around the country. We even attempted to make the word "thumbcast" our proprietary term. (We hoped it would catch on like "podcast," but instead it was more like "fetch" in Mean Girls -- it was not going to happen. But we did convince the Globe that it was going to for a second.)

We were, for a time, the epitome of a Web 2.0 company. We had a spiffy website, which we promoted at rock shows alongside free compliation CDs we had put together with bands like Swim Party and Taxpayer. (We also stuck Street Attack-designed bumper stickers with our logo on them Shepard Fairey-style on flat surfaces all over town, just for good measure.) We held powows with visiting writers and potential content partners at Flour and Channel Cafe. We wore jeans and concert T-shirts instead of suits and jackets. We blasted The Pixies from our computer speakers to keep our energies flowing as we emailed and edited nonstop. We held company-sponsored pizza-and-beer mixers for our Boston freelancers and organized happy hours on Fridays for the staff, where our co-founder turned on The Best of Bootie 2006 and we hosted marathon Gnip-Gnop tournaments.

Strangely, I turned out to have a knack for Gnip Gnop, as you can see from the brackets above.

We had a lot of fun. But I also worked hard during this first year, and received a raise at the end. I had a salary, an identity, a very good health insurance policy, a desk of my own if not a room, and I was Using My Degree. I felt happy and lucky.

I was further intrigued by our company's early 2008 decision to merge with go2 Media, another company in the mobile space. This provided us with a new opportunity to rewrite the business plan and to "monetize" our business with new mobile advertising campaigns (we had never really nailed down that "money-making" thing at 80108, which was a bit of a problem for our investors).

move also provided us with an excuse to tour the country and meet our writers to answer any questions they might have about the merge and about mobile media in general (we tried to have the answers). And so I had the opportunity to see the country through the lens of the local experts we'd hired to write about it.

In Atlanta, I drank Sweetwater beer and Tombstone Teas at Six Feet Under, a city institution that faces a cemetery, and surveyed the damage left by the hurricanes of early '08 (they even took out my 26th-story hotel window).

In Austin, I jogged along Lake Travis and sipped margaritas with writers like Josh Huck and Laurie Lyons, freelancers who have now become friends, and fell in love with that city -- its laid-back cool, its sense of humor, its riparian smell.

In San Francisco, I drank classic cocktails at Beretta in the Mission with writers like Olivia Mark and Virginia "Gin" Miller, who's since gone on to write about that sort of thing for the SF Chronicle.

In LA, I wore my James Perse t-shirt and big sunglasses to lunch with Jolie Loeb, who was among the first writers at our company and the only one to receive a custom-made mix CD from me. I went to dinner with Allison Pescosolido, who now runs her own food blog, Alli411. I had my first taste of Intelligentisia coffee and the hipster 'hood of Silverlake. I was even present for a Paris Hilston sighting at the Newsroom Cafe (I say "was present for," because I didn't see her. I was too busy drooling over their veggie burger at the time).

Me and Miss Jolie Loeb, whose cheery emails brightened many of my days at go2 media.

In San Diego, we put the top down on our rented convertible as we drove along the coast of SoCal, stopping at the Starlite Lounge, where we pulled up a long table and spent all night in the company of crack writers like local SD legend Annamaria Stephens and CityBeat's "resident film dude," Anders Wright, two other freelancers that have become friends.

And in New York City, we took the whole team to meet our talented writers there, playing This American Life episodes all the way down.

I now had faces for almost all the names I had been working with for so long. I had a lot of new friends and good memories. I felt rewarded for sticking with the company through its awkward adolescence and its recent marriage to a more established brand. I still felt happy and lucky.

I was also given new opportunities at go2 media. I was charged with designing our new food product and integrating it with Yelp, which we did successfully earlier this year. I launched our first Twitter feed, which informed our so-called "Twitter strategy" (which would make a great band name, I think, but it's still not something I can say with a straight face). I launched our editorial product in Pittsburgh, Portland, Houston and Detroit. And when our office manager left to pursue his dream of co-owning his own company, I took over the task of organizing weekly lunches for our small crew with my friend Jack, which gave us license to order Indian lunchboxes and authentic Mexican for our group each Friday.

But after the merge, we moved from the hip warehouse space to a rented office in the Financial District, and our focus shifted from creating something new and interesting to creating something that would make money. These two things do not have to be mutually exclusive in the new media world, but they suddenly seemed to be in our world. And that changed everything.

We still wore jeans to work, but we felt increasingly out of place in a neighborhood in which everyone wears suits. We still played the Pixies on the stereo, but under the too-bright lights that lit our cubicles, they were starting to give me a headache. I still loved spending each day in the virtual company of my writers, wrangling good copy and keeping them on deadline, and I certainly felt proud that my company was able to monetize this new model of media. But I missed the exciting times we had had before. I needed a new challenge, and I needed a change.

Me at my desk in the Financial District.

By this time, winter was coming to the Wild West of the venture-backed startup world. Advertising budgets were shrinking. Investors were demanding that everyone do more with less. One company I consulted for offered me a job one week, then ceased to exist the next; another publication I wrote for on the side lost half its staff in a contentious power struggle and opted not to replace them; newspapers all over town slashed their freelance budgets. Waves of layoffs crashed over our company again and again. I survived all of them.

Until Q3 of 2009.

Luckily, due to my yearlong association with Bostonist and its mafia-esque writers' network, I found out about an excellent job opportunity copywriting for a badass female-owned company called Overseas Adventure Travel, and applied for it right away.

Forty-eight hours after I left go2 Media, I interviewed for and landed that job. I started in July, working fulltime freelance hours in a beautiful old building near Barbara Lynch's Drink complex in Fort Point, the neighborhood I loved and missed. It felt like fate.

Every morning, I walk through the front hallway, which is wallpapered in real postcards sent by travelers on OAT's trips, which go everywhere in the world: China, Cambodia, Egypt, Rwanda, even Antarctica. Each floor has a theme, and ours is apparently "the sea": an aquarium forms one wall of our conference room, while the other wall is shaped like the side of a boat, complete with portholes.

colleagues here are kind and smart. I am adding to my "bucket list" and learning about the world every day. I am meeting many different kinds of people and experiencing how it feels to be part of a company that takes up more than 20 sq. feet of space.

I have a lot in common with my new coworkers.

And here, instead of a "custom-designed proprietary content management system (CMS)" to do my editing, I use a red pen.

In that regard, at least, my work more closely resembles the kind of job I thought I would have, back in my journalism school days. But the world has changed. And I am happy, for now, to be changing along with it.


Blogger Jessie said...

<3 you!

11:22 AM  
Blogger Danny Holland said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Danny Holland said...

Let me try that again... Great post Ryan. Congratulations on new your new job, it sounds fantastic.

10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post!!
Thanks for sharing.

Management consultant in Netherlands!!
Financieel adviesbureaus -the best business consultant.

1:16 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home