So What Do You Do,
John Strausbaugh? The people in your media neighborhood.
TAFFY AKNER | With Elvis and
Jesus kitsch lining the walls and let's not get into the book shelves
of odd canned and dried foods it's hard to tell if
Strausbaugh is the coolest dude ever... or the world's biggest geek. Over the
course of a 45-minute interview, the 50-year-old Baltimore native smoked seven
Camel Lights and seduced his interviewer with freelancer dirty talk like, "I
read every pitch and every email I get," and "We don't need famous
people to make an interesting story." Dude or geek? It doesn't matter.
Strausbaugh is a rock star.
Why so many pictures of Elvis and Jesus on the office walls?
is the King. And Jesus was the
king before the king. I was brought up Catholic, so I love Catholic stuff.
My Elvis fish borrows
First job: Delivery boy for The
Baltimore Sunfor $30 a month. My [fraternal] twin brother and I were
in a rock band when we were 12 or 13, and we wanted to buy a guitar, but it
was $350. So our dad bought it for us, and we paid him back.
Smartest thing he ever did for his career: Whine at [Press
founder] Russ Smith until he caved in and let me move to New York and go to
work at New York Press in 1990.
Heroes: My friends; people I've met who are doing things
that impress the hell out of me (they're often not famous for it often
they're laboring in something like obscurity, which makes their efforts that
much more heroic to me).
Latest obsession(s): My girlfriend.
He'll always read a story by: I read at least the opening
few grafs of every story that comes in to New York Press. Honest. We've
found many of our favorite contributors that way.
Stories he's proudest of: The ones that stir readers up,
make them angry, make them think, make them fight back with their own counterarguments.
Sometimes it's a political column that fires them up; sometimes it's as simple
as telling them that their favorite pop star or film director sucks ass. The
point is to jerk readers out of the complacent group-think that head-bobbing
people can fall into when they get too used to hearing only opinions they agree
with. At New York Press, we try to keep hitting them with opinions they're
almost guaranteed to disagree with violently. It's good for them.
First story he ever published: It was sort of like an early
version of that movie, A.I., published in a science fiction mag that
I don't think exists anymore either Amazing Stories or Astounding.
Best personal source for gossip: I despise gossip, at least
in print, where it can do so much damage with so little effort. If you read
New York Press, you'll see we print very little of that kind of material.
Let "Page Six"
do all the girly-man bzz bzz bzz.
Why there's so little photography in the paper: Our first
art director was an artist, so we use a lot of illustrations. The Village
Voice was using a lot of photography not very good photography
so it was another way of placing ourselves as the "anti-Voice."
And, in fact, our printer back then couldn't do photography well. So when we
did use photography, it turned out ruddy and ugly. Over the last few years,
we've gotten better printers. But we still like illustrators.
The prophetic journalistic wisdom of Tiny Tim: Tiny
Tim gave great interviews. He was very polite. He would never refer to you
by name, always as "a gentleman of the press." It was all canned.
He was saying the same thing to everyone else who interviewed him. But he said
one of the most important things anyone's ever said in an interview to me, which
was that he believes every word he reads in the National
Enquirerand the Weekly
World Newsand the tabloids every word because eventually
it comes true. And he's right. He said that to me 25 years ago, and he was right.
Everything comes true. Granted, UFOs haven't landed on the White House lawn.
Strausbaugh's three cardinal rules of editing: 1. Editing should not mean rewriting. I hate it when a person who's supposed
to be a writer brings me a pile of Lincoln Logs and expects me to build the
cabin for him.
2. Editing should never be rethinking, either. The editor's job is to help the
writer say what he thinks, not tell him how to think. I go nuts when I hear
those stories of people handing in articles and then being put through torture
because some putz of an editor doesn't agree with the writer's opinion. That's
such Bush League campus-newspaper crap. If you trust the writer enough to want
to run his work in the first place, then you should respect his opinion, even
if you don't agree with it. And people wonder why so many magazines and papers
are so boring.
3. It's almost always the least talented, least professional writers who are
the biggest prima donnas, the most full of themselves, and the worst pains in
the ass. It's some sort of compensating mechanism.