By Ben Olson
Where in the name of Edward R. Murrow has eight years gone?
That’s how long it’s been since we brought the Reader back from the dead in January 2015. About this time eight years ago, I was filling notebooks with ideas and coming up with strategies over beers with then-editor Cameron Rasmusson to bring this little rag back into circulation.
Since then, every week has been punctuated by a deadline, except for the times when I was able to sneak away for adventures abroad.
It’s a strange life when you live under a weekly deadline. I’m thankful we’re not a daily newspaper, because that would probably reduce me to tears more than I’d care to admit. Regardless, the fact that we’re tasked with putting this thing together each week and pushing it out of the nest every Wednesday night so you can pick it up Thursday morning seems to have given the past eight years a manic, stop-motion quality.
Before beginning my tenure as Reader publisher, I tended to avoid routines. If someone said to me a decade ago: “You will spend every Monday through Wednesday in the exact same place, doing the exact same thing for the next eight years or more,” I’d have probably laughed so hard beer would come out of my nose. Yet here we are.
When Editor-in-Beast Zach Hagadone founded the Reader with John Reuter and Chris DeCleur back in 2004, I was just an itinerant writer who helped fill the pages with my twaddle. I saw their long workdays, their glassy eyes after staring at a computer screen for 12 hours at a time, their shabby paychecks and tendency to eat at gas stations, and didn’t want any part of running the paper — I just liked writing nonsense articles about killer bees and the occasional investigative piece that pissed off the right people.
But when I took over publishing the paper in 2015, I wasn’t fully prepared for the effect a weekly deadline would have on my body and mind. It’s like I’m laying railroad track and there’s always a train somewhere behind me, blasting its whistle and nipping at my heels. Fall far enough behind and you’ll get run over or the train will derail. Sometimes, when embarking on a long vacation, I’ll lay a few weeks of track ahead to buy some time off the line, but the train is always there, angrily chugging toward me when I return.
Years go by like this, in seven-day increments. Fridays are editorial meetings, where we plan the next week’s edition and make calls to set up interviews, laying the groundwork for the following week. Saturdays and Sundays are usually days off, but not if there are events to cover or meetings to attend. Mondays are production days, filled with interviewing, researching, writing and adding elements to the layout file. Tuesdays are the same, but with a bit of added stress. Wednesdays are the dreaded deadline day, when all of the 300 some odd tasks that need to be done are completed one by one and the paper is sent to the printer with feelings of anxiety and last-minute doom scrolling to find possible typos so we don’t have snarky emails in our inboxes the next day. Thursdays, of course, are for actually getting the rag out on the streets.
Then it’s rinse and repeat, every single week.
You’d think a life lived one week at a time would make it seem fuller, brighter — as if living in this fixed present state would make you smell the roses more deeply. It doesn’t. When you live on a deadline, your life disappears before you know it.
I have never regretted bringing the Reader back into circulation. I think a healthy community means giving a voice to those who don’t normally have one. I believe in what we’re doing. I believe in journalism. I believe in sharing our collective stories to somehow leave the world better than we found it. I believe in the power of truth.
Still, as Horace Greeley said, “Journalism will kill you, but it will keep you alive while you’re at it.”
While we have you ...
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