ASME was shuffled into the Conde Nast building for lunch at the New Yorker on Tuesday. It was a powerhouse. I still can’t decide how uncomfortable it made me.
I got there late because Times Square sucks, and I really must be unconsciously trying to break the world record for being late to the worst things to be late to (other things on that list: work once, dinner twice, a funny movie, a Born Ruffians concert, a birthday party) I ran into the elevator wearing shoes that no swollen summer feet should be asked to fit into and watched all of Si’s babies flash past. Glamour. GQ. W. Vogue. Some tall New York Bateman looking dude, who I could tell had decided that slicked back hair was
his thing, got out at Wired and I caught a glimpse of their hallway. It was wide and empty and full of these life-size, crystal clear, backlit photographs of machines looking really sexy (oh Wired, where can we learn your savvy minimalist ways?). And when the door opened at floor 21, this woman barks “you’re ASME? Come” and escorts me to another windowless room where my fellow interns were sitting in big leather conference chairs introducing themselves (it looks like the magazine world is full of these windowless rooms – does my office defy all stereotypes? It’s downtown and see-thru) and I have to say “I’m Lilah Raptopoulos and I go to a small liberal arts school called Connecticut College and I made up a major and I’m interning at Inc.” to the DEPUTY EDITOR and she goes “Where?” and I go “Inc.” and she goes “Oh. That’s serious.” and then I plop down next to CJ who leans over and whispers, “Sweet shoes, dude”.
So that was really painless.
I can’t write specifics about the lunch, because D.E. CARLA ROBBINS told us our conversation had to be off the record, no tweeting allowed, etc etc. Somehow people always find a way to tell me that, and it’s a liberating experience to be around a bunch of kids who are used to it, too. Usually it’s along the lines of, “I feel like you’re interviewing me” or, “Please just…don’t write about this, you asshole.” Verdict’s still out about whether it’s flattering or offensive.
I can tell you that it’s hilarious to watch people try to eat in a silent room. I think I can also tell you my overall impression. After I got over that inevitable initial feeling (“How did they let me in the doors?”), I realized that the ASME interns are all working for very specialized magazines. Whatever Inc. writes about has to be applicable not just to an entrepreneur, but to an entrepreneur thinking about the entrepreneurial aspect of his life. Good Housekeeping, People, Popular Science, Field & Stream, all of these magazines have angles and distinct styles. The best analogy I’ve come up with is that we work for stews, not buffets. We write about various topics, but they’re all related (you would never put jellybeans in a stew), and when we put them together and cook them, they’re all gonna to start tasting like each other. The New Yorker is what can be best described as a general interest magazine – a cultural commentary magazine – a magazine written for entrepreneur and housewife alike, really for any ~*~intellectual~*~ (Swirly star design cited to my fifth grade best frenemy Anne). The New Yorker’s only focus is on the quality and depth of a writer’s reporting and voice. It’s a five star buffet that knows it’s five star – you can have a scoop of everything, from an unsolved murder case to Britney Spears’ failing tour to an in-depth depiction of the Gaza strip, and they won’t necessarily be related, but what connects them is that they’re all really high quality and delicious. [Side note 25 - I have a sincere love for all things tragic and comical regarding Britney Spears.] And the different flavors will stick with you so that you recognize them the next time. As you watch my metaphor begin to unravel, hopefully you’ve grasped my point. That’s the difference between specialized and General Interest magazines; one is focused on the role of the content, the other is focused on the uniqueness of the individual pieces that make up the content. One’s not better than the other. They serve different purposes.
A college paper often doesn’t have a collective style, simply by way of fewer resources. Look at the Voice’s opinion or arts section; it’s pretty discombobulated, with variations between writers in voice and quality and depth. But this actually allows us freedoms; we can create personalities for ourselves in our writing without having to adhere too strongly to a confined style. College is cool if you think of it as a microcosm where you can take on psuedo leadership roles and emulate the real world in this subreal Epcot sort of way. I was prepared to feel young at my job, but didn’t realize how it would materialize – my editors have kids my age. My voice sounds young on the phone. My idea pitches are a little bit off. This happens when you come into a place that’s been doing what they do, and well, for 30+ years.
But it also makes what we do in college that much more fun. It’s fun to be one of 15 students in charge of making something better. You know, even 18-22 year olds can produce a content-filled, interesting weekly newspaper, with an interactive website and a good readership base. I’ve had the chance to help the Voice on its Recovery plan since freshman year (maybe that was too easy; I went in offering to do some layout and came out with a 2 page opinions section. Turns out they needed an editor…and writers, and proofreaders, and an actual readership, but that’s a story for another post). But I’m realizing that after I graduate, I’m bound to be back at the bottom, trying to learn the rules before I can influence the rules. It’s conflicting – on the one hand, I want to say that learning to follow the rules of your workplace is an inevitable and important learning experience, and it’s naive to think otherwise. On the other hand, I want to say fuck it – look at those 23 year old entrepreneurs – aren’t we of an age that revels in breaking the rules?
Crimer’s post has a good point – there’s a lacking sense of purpose somewhere. But what kind of job will realistically give you that when you graduate college?