“Oh,” she said, not missing a beat, “I can assure you I will be jumping around.”
There were plenty of other intern interview highlights: like the time when the interviewee came prepared with a bizarre two-page screed, which she asked us to read aloud to her during the interview; the time when the interviewee threatened to sue us for asking how old she was; or the time when the interviewee spent the entire half-hour interview staring directly at former A&E Editor Kate Kilpatrick’s chest (we actually hired the latter two). But it wouldn’t be fair for all of our internship program memories to come from those who did the hiring (and occasional firing). So we asked a few past interns for some of their best and worst memories of interning at PW.
What’s your fondest memory of being a PW intern?
Sammy Mack: I loved fact-checking. Seriously. I loved the hunt. I loved the confirmation. I loved that in the process of doing it, I learned Philadelphia.
Sarah Watson: My time at PW also introduced me to the love that is newsroom conversation. I remember sometime in my first month having to verify which body parts were missing from a corpse in a story Brian Hickey wrote. Then there was having to verify how many tons of pigeon shit actually had been removed from City Hall. People don’t think about these as facts, but if you get them wrong, that black cloud is over your head forever.
Pamela Takefman: Being able to talk about the use of the letter “zed” with Steven Wells. And just being but a cubicle wall away from him. Gosh, was he colourful (accept the “u” in memoriam).
John Steele: Talking with Steven Wells and Brian McManus about the Smiths, R. Kelly, religion, British accents, hair metal, Joey Sweeney, Tom Knox’s butler, drunk spelling, sumo wrestlers, etc.
Kaitlin Menza: This is going to be narcissistic but … It was my first byline. The first thing I ever wrote for PW was like 100 words discussing the virgin/whore dichotomy as exemplified by Carrie Underwood’s popular single of 2007, “Before He Cheats.” I remember taking about 50 copies of PW from various yellow boxes around Philadelphia and the Main Line.
What’s the worst thing you were ever asked to do as a PW intern?
Tom Acox: Jim Newell and I were sent to Jessica Pressler and Doree Shafrir’s apartment to help them move. They gave us beer and pizza, which was awesome. I emailed Jessica a lead for a story years later that started, “Hey, you might remember me, I helped carry Doree’s couch.”
Sarah Watson: I still have nightmares over the Urban Outfitters story [which documented the retailer’s rise]. I have about four dozen gray hairs on my head that I directly attribute to Jonathan Valania.
Caralyn Green: How about “Defend Its Existence”? I still have to thank Brian McManus for my name being associated with shit music for as long as the PW archives are kept live. After more than a year of singing some weird, twisted praise for Raven-Symone, Danity Kane and Celine Dion, it felt like such a decadent rebellion to spend my time with music I actually cared about.
Gina Santino: What was the section of PW that featured random people on the street answering random questions? I really hated having to go out, stop people, ask them questions and take their picture.
Any fact-checking horror stories?
Jill Russell: You gave me a story to fact-check about two brothers who’d been molested by an area priest when they were young. I remember looking at you after reading it and saying, “Soooo, I actually have to call them to verify that he actually did [this] and [that] to them on [this date] at [this place]?” And then I remember you just sort of giving me that unimpressed Jeff look, like, “This story isn’t gonna fact-check itself.”
Amara Rockar: An editor who shall remain nameless mixed up the contact info for the Editor’s Pick section, so I called the organizer of the Womyn’s Music Festival and proceeded to ask her questions about Delilah’s Entertainer of the Year contest. In the beginning, I was surprised that she didn’t sound like what I was expecting and she was annoyed that we got the date and time for her event wrong. After I listed the various stripper contest categories and prizes in detail, she very quietly and angrily asked me if this was a joke.
Pamela Takefman: I had to fact-check a story about drifters, crust punks, gutter-gentlemen. How do you fact-check a story about people who are inherently transient? Well, in Philadelphia, you call the anarchist headquarters on Baltimore Avenue. Feeling so disheartened about my difficult task, I tried them with much hope and got, “Hello Anarchists, please hold.” What great bureaucracy and customer service from the anarchists! The U.S. government sure could learn a thing or two.
Jason Sheridan: Somehow, it always fell to me to fact-check the horoscopes. PW used to run horoscopes that would say what the week held for someone, and then a piece of tabloid gossip that was tangentially related. One day there was an item about Sandra Bullock and Jesse James getting married in secret. I couldn’t find any sources. I call Bullock’s agent and find out she recently moved to another agency. I call the new agency, get the agent’s assistant, then get the agent on the line. I tell her I’m from the Philadelphia Weekly in Philadelphia, Pa., and she says, “I know where Philadelphia is!” I quickly explain to her my question and she starts berating me for bothering her with tabloid nonsense. Eventually, I just tell her, “Look I’m just an intern and trying to get this figured out.” She sighed really loudly and then just said no, they are not married.
Which staffer did you most look up to and why?
Tom Acox: Neil Ferguson was the coolest guy going. He actually inspired a character in a screenplay I was writing at the time (look for it in theaters in the summer 2017!).
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.