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so what do you do?

So What Do You Do, John Strausbaugh?
The people in your media neighborhood.

BY 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.

Occupation: Editor, New York Press.

Why so many pictures of Elvis and Jesus on the office walls? Elvis 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 from it.

First job: Delivery boy for The Baltimore Sun for $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 Enquirer and the Weekly World News and 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. Not yet, anyway.

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.

 

So What Do You Do? appears on Tuesdays.


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