Jill Russell: Tim Whitaker. He was so kind and warm and smart—I couldn’t dream up a more genuine or caring person. To have someone like that running the show was the best. To see that he actually took an interest in the team, even getting to know the interns, was sort of inspiring. Usually you think someone in his role would be too busy for that, but Tim wasn’t. He kind of seemed to have everyone’s back and it felt like a family. Steve Volk, who was my first mentor, was always badass. He wrote the cool crime stories, the offbeat stories and he was always willing to give you advice and listen to you. He was never acted too busy, though I had a suspicion he was always too busy.
Sarah Watson: Steve Volk. The man’s facts were solid. He was easy to deal with and had some hilarious war stories. He told me I had great reporting instincts. I also really liked working with Gwen Shaffer—her facts were ironclad as well and she let me tag along a few times on some stories she worked on.
John Steele: The late, great Steven Wells was a caustic, passionate orator of modern times. He understood how to evoke emotion with just a few sentences. He taught me to go for the throat with words, to find the most exciting, exceptional detail and put it right to the front of the story.
Sammy Mack: Fact-checking Steve Volk’s stories was an exercise in how to be a reporter. When Steve handed me a draft of a story to check, it was already annotated and had an appendix of contact numbers. And his sources always expected my calls. Which meant two things: Steve was good at building sources, and he was really transparent with them about the whole process. Going through stories like that was sort of like learning to build a house by cataloguing every brick that was already laid. Later, Jeff Fusco took me under his wing. He and I did a bunch of man-on-the-street columns together. The general formula was this: Jeff would take pictures of fabulous people and I would ask them what they were wearing and where they were going. Jeff worked really hard at it. I’d watch him take, like, 100 pictures of one hipster couple for a black-and-white fashion box that was maybe 10 square inches on a page. Jeff made opportunities for me, too. He cooked up a bunch of photo features that needed a writer to tag along. It’s a gift to be 19 years old and have a working relationship like that.
Kaitlin Menza: I was amazed by Kia Gregory’s work, and meeting her felt like meeting a celebrity. But of course, you can’t ask a question like that and not think of Steven Wells. Steven scared the living shit out of me, but I shared a cubicle wall with him and enjoyed his steady stream of vulgarities. I couldn’t imagine a cooler life than that of a rock critic, and I spent a summer in complete awe of him. When he passed away, I cried all day, amazed by the possibility that such a force of nature could cease to exist.
Caralyn Green: Swells, of course. Words just flowed out of him in a way the rest of us can only hope to imitate, and poorly at that.
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.
Letters to the Editor