It was the summer of 2004 and I had one class to take to graduate. I was staying in Philadelphia, and all my friends were moving to New York. I started my personal blog in May to keep up with my writing, but looking back at those early entries they’re mainly about how sad I was.
I got happier, I guess, and ended up using the blog for writing exercises, lame jokes and an extended imagining of what the CBS movie Spring Break Shark Attack, relentlessly aired during March Madness 2005, would be like. I also wrote a drinking game for Live 8, the concert that was coming up that summer. Eventually, that made its way around the Internet, and the Inquirer wrote about it.
I was working at a small newspaper startup as its arts and entertainment editor, and while waiting for stories to move across the wire at my job, I wrote an email to some friends about a recent weekend in Las Vegas. I stylized it as a gossip column, with bolded names, blind items, et cetera. I was just killing time at work, I thought.
A few weeks later, one of the people I went on the trip with—now a New York Times reporter—was writing a cover story for PW. Tim Whitaker asked the reporter if she knew of anybody who could do some comedy news writing. She forwarded him my email. It went from there.
PW hired me as a blogger when I was 22. You hear that, kids? My blog was acquired by a media company in two-thousand-and-fucking-five, so don’t get too excited now that your blog is partnering with Fancy Blog Network No. 472.
We settled on keeping the name of my personal blog, Philadelphia Will Do, because the other names we came up with—Pavement, Sidewalker, Philarious—were stupid or unusable. The title Philadelphia Will Do comes from an old W.C. Fields movie, My Little Chickadee. (Mae West is in it!) Fields’ character is about to be hanged. The executioner asks him if he has any last requests. Fields says, “I’d like to see Paris before I die.” The executioner tightens the noose. “Philadelphia will do,” Fields quips.
At the time, I was attempting to leave Philadelphia and move to New York, and I thought it was a pretty cute and appropriate title.
We started the blog in August. It was just as Hurricane Katrina hit, so my first few weeks consisted of me finding my way and attempting to make light jokes about hurricanes without offending anyone. (Later, I’d drop this “not offending anyone” strategy.) The clear inspiration was my favorite blog at the time, Jessica Coen- and Jesse Oxfeld-era Gawker. I wanted to make jokes, keep it light and maybe every once in a while make a point or two. I like to think it worked out. The paper got a lot of traffic. I got a lot of attention; in January of 2006 the Daily News named me one of its “21 to watch.” I don’t think I’ve really ever been worthy of watching, unless you like one-man karaoke versions of “Regulate.”
When I was in college, every alum came in and said we’d have more editorial freedom at our college newspaper than we’d ever have again in journalism. Bullshit. The best thing about working for PW is that I had complete editorial freedom. Whitaker backed everything I wrote and warded off calls for my firing from a litany of suspects: Ron Paul fans, Barbaro fans, authority fetishists, state Sen. Mark B. Cohen. Obviously, there was a downside: I wrote some stupid stuff. But that’s OK; I think the blog was stronger because I had such freedom. I don’t think enough newspapers let their bloggers have free rein.
I wrote a very sympathetic profile of Charlie Manuel in 2005 when Phillies fans hated him. It is one of the few times in life a sports prediction of mine has been correct, so I’d like to gloat.
I’m 28. A lot of the stuff I wrote I now find embarrassing, or lazy, or both. But that’s going to happen after more than 10,000 posts over three-and-a-half years. I like to think I was both the best and worst reporter covering the 2007 mayoral election. I look back at some of the things that happened during that election—Milton Street singing a hymn draped over a casket; Dwight Evans doing a “Where’s the beef?” campaign event; the press conference by the guy in the shark costume who was following Tom Knox around—and I wonder if I was just on particularly strong drugs at the time. I hope I let people waste some time.
The best email I ever received while at PW ended like this: “Perhaps you should try a different career, like nursing.”
The paper you now hold in your hands, PW, has been around for 40 years—more or less. Like most media stories, it’s a bit more complicated than that. No matter the changes, though, there is a through line in the paper’s history: a renegade spirit and a determination to give voices to the voiceless.
Savage Love: Sondheim is solace