Hobart Rowland, A&E editor
A few things I recall: weekend upon weekend of proofing and editing; moving between floors of the old office building (though I can’t recall why); bike-tire marks decorating the walls; trying desperately to keep that ornery rebel Joey Sweeney in line; and talking early Bowie and chain-smoking with Marah’s Dave Bielanko at a Superdrag concert.
Collin Keefe, writer, web editor
Lauren McCutcheon and I came up with Lush Life. One of the first ones I penned was about the “Cop Shop,” the corner market and go-to spot for delicious and refreshing 40s of malt liquor at 13th and Lombard. It was nothing. Just a stupid couple of sentences about buying beer. Honestly I probably spent about 10 minutes on it.
Years later, when my wife Holly and I first started dating, she lived practically across the street from the Cop Shop. I still smoked cigarettes then, so I once again found myself a regular customer. One night I stopped in ... to pick up some beer and a pack of smokes and was completely shocked to see my little 150-word sidebar framed and hanging on the wall. It remained on the wall there until the place changed hands a couple years ago.
Liz Spikol, writer, editor
I wrote a column [“The Trouble with Spikol”] for 10 years about personal issues—addiction, mental illness, fun stuff like that. I got a lot of mail in response. But nothing got a response like when I wrote about the Jewish community. One time I wrote an article expressing some sympathy for Palestinians. It got picked up by media outlets all over the Arab world, and was published on anti-Semitic websites. Someone even phoned my parents to say I should die. Years later, I decided I wanted to have a Jewish-related cover for our holiday guide. The overall theme of the issue was pets. I volunteered my adorable hamster Tinsel (R.I.P.) for the cover shot, but we had to make him Jewish if I wanted to pay tribute to Hanukkah. Art Director Sara Green brilliantly conceived a costume for him with a yarmulke and side curls. I felt I was doing the Jewish community—my community—a good thing by bucking the Christmas trend. Within hours of the papers’ arrival in the boxes, we got angry phone calls suggesting that putting a “rat” on the cover was deliberately invoking the legacy of portraying Jews as rodents. I got a call from a reporter at the Jewish Exponent who asked about my authenticity as a practicing Jew.
I started at PW in 1998 as a part-time copy editor, and over the years, the culture of the pub changed drastically. Those of us who were editors fought bitterly with “the business side.” I remember two arguments that serve as bookends to my PW career. One of them was about a special issue—maybe a summer guide. We were allotted 176 pages total, and that seemed stingy to us. As the publisher walked by my office on the way to Tim’s office, I yelled out: “Two hundred pages! We won’t accept any less!” And we got it. About seven years later, we were asked to make drastic cuts to the editorial department. We worked for days on a plan that would keep as many jobs as possible, twisting the functioning of the edit department like a soft pretzel. We went into the meeting feeling optimistic; we had tried our very best and saved a great deal. We were quickly told the twisting and cuts weren’t enough. That’s when I understood it would never be enough. The industry had changed.
Emily Brochin, intern
PW wanted to run a cover story called “Die Hipster, Die” and needed some models to lambast and I was volunteered for the job. The editor and photographer showed up at my house with a pile of accoutrements and raided my closet, and they proceeded to assemble an epically puke-tastic 2004 hipster uniform. I ended up wearing legwarmers over high heels, a bullet belt of some sort, giant headphones, sunglasses, and holding a can of PBR. The cherry on the sundae was the pair of knitting needles poking out of my handbag. For one brief and shining moment, I was the Citizen Kane of petulant 20-somethings across Philadelphia.
Sean Burns, film critic
Five years after it was released, I received this letter about my review of Memento:
I have just had the severe misfortune of reading your review of Memento for Philadelphia Weekly. Though I am well aware that my criticism of your critique is somewhat belated, I nevertheless feel compelled to question your intelligence, social standing and lineage to the nth degree.
I remain, sir, your obedient servant,
JS de Lange
Lauren McCutcheon, food critic
A long time ago, someone told me that it was much easier to write snarky critiques than positive reviews of anything. So when I became the restaurant critic for PW, I did my best to avoid trashing independently owned, mom-and-pop-type places. If the restaurant was little, and it was bad, I just wouldn’t write about it. Bigger, popular places with lots of money behind them, however, were fair game. After three of the worst meals of my life at the one-time institution that was Bookbinders in Old City, I wrote a review that began, “Bookbinders is bad.” To which the current GM (and former owner) responded by emailing me: “I guess a blowjob is out of the question.” To which I responded by forwarding his email to our gossip columnist.
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.