Alibi V.26 No.35 • Aug 31-Sept 6, 2017 

Feature

Weekly Alibi Turns 25

What I’ve learned over a decade of making newspapers

Christopher Johnson
Christopher Johnson, Weekly Alibi’s first publisher enjoying the product of his labors;
“But, Karlsen,” you say, “why aren't you telling us about all 25 years?” Well, astute reader of headlines and subheadlines, I've only worked here for 11 of them. “But, Karlsen, why are you the one writing this? Surely there's someone more qualified to write the 25th Anniversary story—someone who's been there from the beginning.” Of course there is. We have several staffers who have been here writing, running wires and designing or publishing since the very first issue (or at least the first volume). However, nobody really cares about a 25th Anniversary article. Just ask Dan Savage; The Stranger published their 25th Anniversary and he was keen enough to observe, “I don't think readers feel sentimental about the publications they read. Editors feel sentimental about the papers they edit, writers feel sentimental about the papers they write for, and publishers feel sentimental about the papers they run into the ground … But readers don't care.” I almost completely agree with him. Readers probably don't care. In our case, however, neither did the writers, editors or publishers so the buck got passed right on over to Peter Karlsen's desk, and at the desk of Peter Karlsen, just like on that of fellow chump President Henry Truman is a sign that reads “The Buck Stops Here,” which means that I'm the guy that ends up doing it. So, not that you care but since we're writing this anyway, what have I learned over a decade of working at a newspaper? Take that fucking sign down, for one.

Deadlines

The amount of procrastination that goes into any project is directly proportionate to the amount of time between assignment and deadline. As the majority of Americans have had some amount of higher education (almost 60 percent and yet we somehow still managed to let Trump get elected), we know this to be true from the last minute cramming for exams and the all-nighter term papers. But nowhere do you see it so clearly as in the transition from a daily to a weekly paper. I remember taking the job at the Alibi and thinking to myself “Man, this is going to be awesome—we'll have a whole week to work on an issue, it's gonna look so good!” Not so, my friend. In order to publish a weekly paper you end up dicking around for six days then working seven times harder the night before you go to press. You can make up all the deadlines you want but here's the truth: You'll never tell an advertiser it's too late until the paper is literally being sent to the printer because, you know, money talks, and you'll always take a late story because you've generally exhausted all of your in-house marketing with padding the rest of the paper. If you turned things down just because of “deadlines” you'd be publishing blank pages.

Carl Peterson
Carl Peterson in the publisher’s natural habitat as photographed by Patterson and Gimlin
Editorial Discretion

If you don't like phone calls from a lot of pissed off readers, you shouldn't write about sex or hard drugs. It's probably best to stay away from religion, too, unless you want to risk some extremist shooting up your office. There is a surprisingly high level of Burqueño prudery. We killed the Sex Survey for good after only its second run. We always got groans from the community (see what I did there) about distasteful language and imagery, though it was by even moderate measures pretty tame. However, on our third go 'round, the term "butt plug" appearing in a piece of marketing was considered so offensive to an anonymous reader that they then mounted a letter writing campaign shaming advertisers who ran an ad in the paper. Hypocritically, I'm given to understand the anonymous letter writer now does marketing for a sex shop. Also probably still reading the paper. Go figure.

A piece of apocrypha handed down from publisher to publisher from time immemorial and bestowed upon me as I took up the mantle: Do not publish even an abridged guide to making meth. Neither the community nor law enforcement will very much appreciate you making public the findings of your curiosity. In fact, it's very nearly enough to be the end of your publication.

One last thing, and I'll file this here less as a matter of editorial discretion but more for the getting calls from pissed off readers thing: Don't fuck up the crossword puzzle. You can do a lot of things wrong with your newspaper, but if you don't want to hear about it, the crossword puzzle can't be one of them.

Consistency

If you're going to do something wrong, do it wrong consistently. It almost doesn't look like a mistake if you do it wrong the same way every time. Also, evidently people want to see the same thing over and over again. Or maybe they don't but they don't notice when they do. There is a much storied editor who ran the exact same articles—verbatim—from year to year. Also, look at all those same-y covers. Production department, are you really going to put another dinosaur on the cover? Oh, no, it's a robot this week, that's clever. We can't just blame the writers.

Jesse Schulz. Note the sloping brow and powerful, though recessed, mandible useful for brow-beating and aggressive display, respectively.
Jesse Schulz. Note the sloping brow and powerful, though recessed, mandible useful for brow-beating and aggressive display, respectively.
Personnel

Oh, what to say about the variety of crusty journalists, patient admin, feisty production squads, prodigious tech monkeys and fierce salespeople we’ve employed over the years ... Let’s just say that to get them all to move in one direction is like trying to herd cats—drunken, verbose, intelligent, hilarious, stubborn, snarky, wonderful cats. Weekly Alibi would be nothing without the people who’ve put so much blood, sweat, tears, tequila and coffee into making it the best alternative weekly in New Mexico, and for that we thank them.

Weekly Alibi has been a stepping stone for a great many staffers to advance their careers toward a job that will pay them enough to eat, among them New York Times writer Simon Romero. It is rumored that the early Alibi administrators would cut out the step of paying employees by giving gift certificates that could be redeemed at a notable local bakery, Fred's Bread & Bagel. Employees became concerned with that pay scale when they discovered neither landlords nor PNM were keen to accept bagels for housing or utilities and eventually forced the management to pay them with legal tender.

Back in the pre-recession glory days of the early aughts, people were even being paid enough to want to stick around. Some departments see a more vigorous churn in the comings and goings of staffers, but the production department is not one of them. If you pay an artist enough to get by, they seem pretty happy to do just that. To wit, I was a lowly graphic designer for seven years getting by on what barely counted as a five digit salary. Also, if you pay an art director enough to buy a house, he isn't going anywhere. Well, not until you cut his salary and he has refinance his mortgage, go to nursing school and become an RN to afford it. Then you make the lowly graphic designer a slightly less lowly art director. Then you very suddenly make him the editor and interim publisher—“interim” because he got ambitious during those seven years and started going back to school.

I've mentioned the great churn, the comings and goings of employees, but it's easy to overlook that means a lot of them leave then come back, or quit but don't actually stop working. One of these people, Constance Moss, we're welcoming back for the third time. She has at this point done everything except production and is taking over as publisher. The interim publisher who is supposed to quit sometime, maybe, will linger as editor and associate publisher mostly because he likes really long titles.

Some staffers stick around because they've got a good gig, do a great job at it and don't want to mess up a good thing. Then they get sick of upper management doing weird things with their department and finally, after 20 fucking years, step up to become managing editor and reign things back in. In short, our beloved Devin D. O'Leary is taking charge of the editorial department. That took long enough.

To end this shameful, very public practice of auto-fellatio, I'll say that aside from sticking that “25 years” logo on every goddammed thing, we've at least been somewhat more discreet than we were with our 20th anniversary. Remember how we published old stories for an entire year, climaxing in a bound, 88-page retrospectacle? Kripes. And I suppose if you've made it this far you might actually like reading our paper. So here's the tin can conclusion as suggested by our president and publisher emeritus: The best way to support the paper is to remember that “to love us is to plug us.” Our advertisers know the ads work but it means more when it they hear it from you.

…Man, “plug” is gross sounding word.