One of the Alibi’s earliest editors remembers the olden days.
Lauri Sagle is an instructor of English at the University of Hawai’i and the recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence. She is a core contributor to the English department and an integral member of the women’s studies department. She left the Alibi on December 28, 1994.
The early days of The Alibi, then known as NuCity (before a Chicago publication with a phonetically identical name threatened to rip out all of our editorial teeth), were the types of days that every flash-of-genius writer chortles over when he's being interviewed by Oprah about his sizzling debut novel, or every tech guru recalls as she laughingly characterizes her time spent paying her dues before the Big Brilliant Idea that Changed Technology ForEver. They were days of subsisting on Fred's bagels (since we mostly got paid in "bagel bucks" instead of cash); working (sometimes even crashing) in a hot office box with Department of Health condemnable carpet; and simply assuming, with the nearly impervious certainty of youth, that everything would get better, and that we'd have fun in the meantime.
But since I was a bit older (a UNM grad student) than the whippersnappers (freshly minted University of Wisconsin alumni who'd graduated at age 14 after starting the now-famous Onion and who then bounded over to Albuquerque to launch NuCity), maybe my perviousness was perviouser because a couple of symbolic events shook my sense of admittedly weak professionalism.
One came in the form of the "serious" debut of our politics issue. We'd worked hard on the format and content: local pols running for office had been profiled; corresponding election season events had been catalogued; illustrations had been applied to cleverly embellish the stories. I, as the Managing Editor/Editor, along with our Copy Editor at the time, had the last look through before giving the final approval. Perfect! So proud! So political! So grown up! Too bad about the blaring, mega-point headline that spelled the word "candidate" wrong, as we saw the next day before the issue inexorably hit the stands–a classic minor-major detail. The other folks at the paper who were psychologically healthier than I was just laughed it off, smoked a cigarette, and began laying out the next issue.
The second event actually came before the first one chronologically, but it had bigger ramifications at the time. We were applying for membership in AAN, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, and a group of us (Chris Johnson, Dan Scott, Landry? Dabney? O'Leary? Jonesy? Petersen?) had flown over to California with our precious offering–an issue that featured a solid, well-researched story by the inimitable Tim McGivern, illustrated by the swashbuckling Jason Waskey. We actually had to appear before a panel of AAN judges in an American Idol meets the North Korean Ministry of People's Security moment. And we were eviscerated. Bomblets like "juvenile" and "unprofessional" and "unworthy" were tossed about casually by people who were supposed to be cool! They had the word "alternative" in their dang title! Where was the encouragement, the pub invitation, the tender promise of mentorship? AAN was important since, through membership, we could use their big stories in our paper and they could pick up and circulate ours as well. It was the only time, to date, that a professional setback made me cry. One journalist in the judging group did attempt to defend us and spoke to us afterward as well. He was the lone African American on the panel and commended the diversity of our coverage. Chris and Dan lobbed a few choice expletives, laughed, said we'd be fine, and smoked some cigarettes.
They were right. We eventually did make it into AAN, now operating under the expanded 21st identity of Association of Alternative Newsmedia. "Canidates," both in title and in practice, are long forgotten. (Although we did once have an interesting conversation with at-the-time New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, which presaged his perpetual libertarian presence on the national ticket ... but that's another story.) So while most of us, past and present, may not be Oprah dazzlers or tech zillionistas, we probably have better carpet now, and the Alibi still laughs, spits out an expletive here and there, maybe smokes a cigarette when the spouse isn't looking, and publishes onward.