I once lost my job, and at least slightly altered the history of what was then known as “alternative journalism,” because of an obnoxious comment I made in a bar. Human history is full of stuff like that: Random encounters that didn’t seem to mean anything at the time, but assume a different resonance in the rear-view mirror.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that story lately, mostly because of its minor-key resemblance to what’s been going on at the Denver Post and the Los Angeles Times, two venerable daily newspapers whose newsrooms have engaged in more or less open rebellion against their corporate owners. But my long-ago personal drama took a much stranger turn toward contemporary relevance this week with the indictments against the proprietors of Backpage.com, a now-shuttered website that has been accused of tolerating, enabling or facilitating the sex trafficking of underage girls and boys.
One could argue that there’s a distant but discernible connection between my entertaining anecdote from 20-odd years ago and that still-murky criminal case. And I’m tempted to suggest that the story that leads from there to here is also the story of what happened to the American independent media, and maybe, along the way, the story of what happened to America. But that part is up to you.
So here’s the scene: Some upper-middle fancy hotel bar in Boston, in the summer of 1994. (I think.) I had just gotten off a plane from the West Coast into a classic Northeast Corridor heat wave, and had almost certainly been drinking en route. I was the editor of SF Weekly at the time, in town to attend the annual conference of …read more