This morning I visited the PD editorial meeting with field trip organizer Jill Miller Zimon. We had company in a fresh-faced Columbia School of Journalism student from Akron who was following recruiting and training editor Margie Frazer for the day. Having previously been through college-paper versions of the morning meeting, I knew what to expect, but I have to say that I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that the PD is not actually a secret GOP front after all. (At least not in editorial).

And admittedly, I have a biased view of print media these days, one I come by as:

a. a news omnivore whose primary source of nourishment is the internet.

b. a former newspaper staffer (art critic, to be exact).

c. someone who, despite what Dick Feagler might think of bloggers, is an extremely critical critical reader (call that the “C2 factor”) — I don’t think a lot of what makes it into print is necessarily interesting or newsworthy.

With that out on the table, I have to say I found myself almost feeling sorry for the PD afterwards. I know mocking old-media dinosaurs is the snarky-hip thing to do, but from my brief impressions during the meeting, and also the conversations afterward, I got the sense that they are definitely trying to meet the needs of their huge and varied readership…even if they don’t quite know how (yet).

You’ve got people like me and Jill, who have likely read about any (inter-) / national story in great detail by the time it shows up in the morning dead-tree edition. You’ve also got readers who solely rely on the newspaper for their news. How do you meet the needs of both? It’s easy to say: “Expand all online content! Let paper-based old people wait 24 hours to read stuff! We want our news now, now, now and step on it!”, but in reality it’s been difficult to monetize the PD’s online offerings effectively.

Oh God, I just used “monetize” in a sentence. 1999 called, Shannon, it wants its jargon back!

I mentioned as a somewhat successful example of pay-for-content, even though I don’t actually subscribe. Instead, I submit to the mini-ads every time I want a day pass (which I suspect probably nets them more money than my puny subscription fee would anyway). But the Plain Dealer / deal doesn’t work that way, so I can’t see the current model sustaining itself if they want to attract readers like me.

This is only one of the problems hanging over these editors’ heads like the sword of Damocles. How do you keep the Gen X-Y-Z people happy and expand your online content, but manage to make money doing it? We also learned that, relative to cost of living and other factors, Plain Dealer reporters are some of the highest-paid in the nation. I’m sure that’s not helping matters either, but as we all know, it’s tough to take away a nice fat paycheck from those who have grown to expect it and who belong to guilds and unions hellbent on protecting their members.

Other things to feel sorry about: the paper suffers plenty more whiners and complainers than ever see print in Letters to the Editor. Dealing with them is Ted Diadiun‘s job. Today, complaints focused on priest jokes in Sam Fulwood’s column and the recent story about a dog store, when readers apparently wanted additional “Iraq! All! The! Time!” coverage instead.

(Sidenote to the Catholic reader who complained about the priest joke: Honey, when your parishes stop putting up annoying preachy stuff at election time, such as the abortion cemetery at St. Pat’s, then you can complain about stupid jokes in the PD. ‘Til then, shhh!)

As for determining actual content in each section, well, that’s the simple part. Much of it is determined by ad placement, and the respective section editors use a breezy shorthand with each other that belies the amount of effort put into prepping each story. Jill asked about the longer series. How are they are fitted into the regular story rotation? (Lots of advance planning). How do they affect the reporters writing them? (Some can juggle daily stories+, and some devote themselves to the single long-term story). I found it interesting that certain reporters are allowed to just hunker down and work on only one story for a week or two: I was under the impression they were constantly juggling and multitasking more than one story at a time.

We stayed after to talk to Ted Diadiun, and one of the topics broached was the reliability of sources in the blogosphere. I briefly outlined how I determine a source’s credibility, and the steps I take to check something out before writing about or linking to it. He chalked it up to my “journalism background” — something I don’t have, actually. (I was a German / poli sci / history triple major). I think all readers and writers have the ability to consider what they read critically. I think it’s a skill learned very early on in school, and if it isn’t, it should be. (Heck, I was raised by hippies — how better to learn the whole “question authority” rigamarole? But I do remember being taught to evaluate source material very carefully in high school, if not before).

All in all an interesting field trip and a fruitful, albeit brief, glimpse into the editorial workings of the PD.

My brain is one big webpage. Here’s the hyperlinks to what it’s processing at the moment:

Oh, and my part-time job, and making cookies for Heather’s party on Saturday, and playing with my furry house-beasties Anezka and Spike and………..well, you notice “sleep” isn’t on there, right? But I’m not complaining.

Update, lest I forget: Tamas just reminded me I have to do my piece for the “Spun” show at CVBSpace in Manhattan next month! That show’s going to be really cool, too. Thanks for the reminder, external-hard-drive-brain!

I think there’s not much more to add to the Crusty Old Curmudgeon-fest that took place in our absence other than this: as we sat on the couch in Boston, laughing at just how sad Feagler’s little rant was, reading the NEO reaction, etc… my former roommate asked what was happening. We explained that there’s a columnist in Cleveland who always writes about what it was like when he was a kid, and that he wrote a column decrying blogs. Like Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, as someone referenced over at BFD. What can he possibly know about blogs? he’s just an Unfrozen Caveman Journalist! Except he confused blogs and wikis. And now everyone’s worked up about it.

His response?

“You’re kidding, right?”

Too much navelgazing, kids. Too much. I quote Tamas’ comment on BFD:

Feagler is just a symptom of a greater disease.

As I head out tomorrow on the long drive home, I feel my sense of disappointment will grow as I get closer to Cleveland. Having spent the weekend in Boston, New York City and even Portland, Maine, I felt a great sense of energy in each city. Things get done in these places. There’s energy out here. In Cleveland I just feel a greater need to pop some antidepressants. Whenever I even remotely feel that I can bring back some of this energy with me and apply it to my life and my city, I’m reminded why I’m ultimately just beating my head against the wall. And I continue to entertain thoughts about not returning to Cleveland at all.

People like Feagler and the Cleveland media continue to make our city a bigger joke. So what happens when there’s nobody left to laugh?

My point exactly. I moved back to Cleveland because I thought finally…finally things were starting to happen. We were positioned for a renaissance, a revival, hope, vision, dreams…it would be good to return home and take part in the glorious revolution.

Except our revolution wasn’t quite the French kind. No one’s risen up against the aristos. The mainstream media, a la the Plain Dealer and Channel-we-hate-blogs-3, is still in control, as are the old-school power centers. You can’t even count on decent arts listings in the paper! You can, however, count on this city to object strenuously to anything new or innovative. The only way Great Lakes Brewing Company gets away with its environmentally-friendly practices is by promoting them sotto voce.

This city happily chops people down to size, but only rarely nurtures growth. Is it any wonder we’re debating whether we truly want to live here long-term? As Tamas remarked, even Portland, Maine has more going on, and it’s less than 1/5th of Cleveland’s size!

By the way, is there anything better than coming back home to a clean house and an advance copy of your next book? If there is, I haven’t found it yet.

I sold out to The Man yesterday.

Or, more precisely, I sold out to the SUV-driving Christian soccer mom. I suck.

My NYC publisher asked me to take a link to my shop off the About page of my book/knitting site because some big catalog (who would buy lots and lots of my books) said it wasn’t child-friendly.

Pray, what offended thee, my dears? The all-time bestsellers list in the corner, including The Only Bush I Trust Is My Own panties and Happy Fucking Holidays cross-stitch kits, which I probably can’t keep in stock because all your children grow up and buy them as a rebellion against your lameness? Or is it the gorgeous front page models, some of whom have (gasp!) tattoos and (shock!) piercings? (I have it on good authority they may also enjoy premarital sex, smoking and cussing! Look out! The world might end!)

Just a few of my models…aren’t they pretty?

Never mind that any semi-computer-literate kid could Google me and probably come up with much, much worse than a pair of politically-themed panties or a cross-stitch kit that sums up the opinion of most sane people when it comes to this time of year.

So I took the link down, hating myself the entire time. If I was Stephen King, I’d’ve told them to stick it. But I’m not. Yet. These are probably the same morons who think Debbie Stoller’s (most bestsellingest knitting book in the history of recent publishing) is evil because it’s called Stitch ‘n Bitch. And, even worse, she runs a magazine called Bust. (Which of course can mean boobies! And boobies are baaaaaad!)

What’s next? On that same page, in the biographical info about some of my contributors, we make mention of their (same-sex) partners. Should I have to take that down, too? Might set a bad example. Might create an entire generation of knittin’ lesbians just by giving credit to the (lovely, I might add) people who share their lives with the designers who made the book what it is. That would be where I draw the line, by the way. If I can make mention of my boyfriend, if some of the others can reference their husbands and children…well, I’ll be damned if I’ll remove mentions of domestic partners. The entire page would come down first.

And on that bitter, cranky note, might I add that I will have a table at Bazaar Bizarre Boston this weekend? Look for the anezka handmade table on your guide, #34. I’ll be signing copies of my book in addition to selling other fantastic stuff, such as the items referenced above.

When you buy from anezka handmade, you make the Baby Jesus cry.

(That should be our new tagline, no?)

Maciej is awesome. Anyone who comes right out and calls Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being a “sexually-transmitted book…inflicted on a generation of American youth” is ok by me. To his alternate Slav reading recommendations I must add: The Engineer of Human Souls by Josef Skvorecky.

It easily ranks high on his “Slavoliciousness” scale, and remains one of my favorite Czech novels, if not the favorite. I didn’t read it when I was still living in Prague, but about 2 years later, when I returned for a visit. After picking up a copy at the original location of the Globe in Prague 7, I read almost all 500+ pages on a series of overnight trains…couldn’t put it down!

Also, if you’re looking for some really good poetry, the Czechs kick serious ass. Jaroslav Seifert, for example, or Karel Hynek Mácha

By the way, if you want to see some really killer photos of the actual Depeche show I went to the other night and not the St. Petersburg photos I linked below, click here. GREAT shots!

Glee! My Bauhaus show review was chosen a Blogcritics Pick Of The Week! Why?

Concert Review: Bauhaus Live(s) was Shannon Okey’s contribution to Blogcritics on Nov. 20. Complete with photos of the show, she gave a detailed and expressive review that put the reader in a front row seat.

Awww. That made my day! Also on my joy-radar: the fact that I’m finally going to have a chance to curate this show I’ve been wanting to do forever, due to a sudden, fortuitous opening on the calendar over at 1300/Assemble. It should be up in January; more details as they become available. What a way to celebrate your 31st birthday — perhaps the show should open on the 6th for that reason? Hmmm…

By the way, I’ll probably be selling stuff from my shop at the AllGoSigns event this weekend. Stop by!

One final bit of linky goodness: the sort of morning I wouldn’t have even been surprised by less than a few years ago. There are server rooms at some local IT firms that can tell some tales, that’s all I’m sayin’…

It’s 106 miles to Chicago. We got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.

— the Blues Brothers

Well, it was more than 106 miles to Chicago, but you catch my drift. Instead of the cigarettes, I was armed with my best friend, my 1988 Depeche Mode tour shirt, and a surly attitude made worse by both the incompent service at our pre-concert restaurant choice and an Allstate Arena security guard who got off on harassing me.

Then the show started.

I hadn’t been to that venue since it was the Rosemont. A dear friend of mine had Grateful Dead tickets, it was warm out, the air reeked of…well, you can guess. Last night was bitter cold and the only thing you could smell in the air was anticipation and clove cigarettes. Every major concert I’ve been to in the past year has been “Favorites of My Childhood Return To The Stage” (such as the Pixies, and Bauhaus), so there’s an extra dimension to the usual preshow excitement. Childish glee, if you will.

On the stage: a giant silver ball with a peep-window and words which lit up according to the song: “sex,” “angel,” “love,” “vice”…as well as UFO/donut-shaped keyboard stands for Fletch and the (sob) Alan-substitute keyboard player.3 Nov 2005 St. Petersburg FL, photo by Nick Mariano

Dave Gahan was wearing his usual:

Tight black pants + suit jacket. This quickly became…
Tight black pants + leather vest, then finally…
Tight black pants + glistening six-pack + tattoos.

Fletch wore his usual glasses / Casual Dad look (not that there’s anything wrong with that). All the better for his “hit keyboard key, then raise your hands in the air and wave ’em like you just don’t care” schtick. There was a live drummer. And then…there was Martin.

Oh, Martin Gore. Seventh Sartorial Wonder of the rock world. Who else can get away with wearing (among other outfits over the years) bondage gear, frilly dresses, rubber pants, black nailpolish and a curly bleached coif on stage? I submit to you last night’s getup:3 Nov 2005 St. Petersburg FL, photo by Nick Mariano

Black boots covered in feathers, black leggings, a black pleated leather kilt, black top, black feathered wings, and…oh, I couldn’t even make this up: a black chullo-style hat with a giant, fuzzy wool mohawk on top, akin to a Tibetan lama’s headdress. Not bad for an ex-bank teller, eh?

The setlist? Similar, if not the exact same as previous shows. Despite my previous snarky comments about Martin Gore suddenly inheriting a cache of Kraftwerk records (there’s quite a few beep-boop-bop noises on the new album), his songwriting has veered away from the gospel vibe that threatened to depress half of North America for a while back into the pure rock camp.

In fact, watching Gore parade across the stage stage armed with his Gretschs during some of the guitar-heavy tunes, you’d think he was Angus Young wearing eyeliner!

(If anyone knows what star-shaped guitar Martin is playing on this tour, do tell. Looks like everything else was straight out of his Gretsch arsenal. And for the true trainspotters in the crowd see this site and the previously-linked one…they list all the equipment DM’s used on recent tours, and in some cases, read like the Ageing Synthesizer Museum’s gallery guide).

Speaking of equipment, let’s discuss ex-heroin-overdoser Dave Gahan‘s fine physique, shall we?

(My vocabulary has progressed beyond “omigod! like, totally!”, but in many ways I remain a 14-year-old-girl when it comes to seeing a show like this).

He’s 43, he’s still pumping those mike stands in the air like Henry Rollins on a weightstack bender, and whatever else he’s doing to train is clearly working. Perhaps it’s his dance moves, unchanged since 1980-something? I can see the workout tape now: fight fat with Dave’s Whirling Dervish Workout!

It should be noted that this is the first DM album where Gahan actually shares some of the songwriting credit with Gore. I guess his Paper Monsters experience is paying off. Although I’m probably one of the most OCD-laden DM fans you’ll ever meet (as evidenced by my infamous Depeche Mode file, which I keep threatening to scan and post online…perhaps now’s the time?), I was actually getting annoyed by their recent albums.

Ultra, as well as Exciter (umm, hardly), didn’t do half as much for me as, say, Construction Time Again or my all-time favorite, Black Celebration. There were single-song exceptions, of course, such as “Home” (performed last night by Gore in a stark, unadorned yet intensely beautiful manner) and “I Feel Love,” but…

I never liked Songs of Faith and Devotion, with the exception of “I Feel You.” I know, I know. Kick me out of the fanclub, revoke my orange megaphone…but fixin’-to-die music doesn’t do much for me unless it’s sung by Nick Cave, Tom Waits or Johnny Cash. The Fixin’-To-Die Triad, if you will. I’m heartened by the new album (Playing the Angel), because it mixes classic DM synthpop fun with guitar-laden rawk (“John the Revelator” and “A Pain That I’m Used To” are “shake your booty like an iPod commercial” songs if I ever heard ’em).

In short, 4 years away from the band (save solo releases by Gore & Gahan) has brought Depeche Mode back from the edge. They’re putting on high-energy shows again, and clearly enjoying what they do…even if it’s just leading the classic crowd singalongs of “Everything Counts” and “Just Can’t Get Enough.” My favorite band — they’re back, they’re really back!

Photos by fellow DM fan Nick Mariano, from the St. Petersburg, FL show on 3 November, as seen in the DM archives.

Leaving for 1300 shortly… the Bazaar Bizarre is going splendidly!

If you didn’t make it down yesterday, we’ll be there again today noon to 6:00 p.m. Here’s the article from Scene about BazBiz…photos to come soon. (Well, as soon as I get back from Depeche Mode in Chicago, anyway). Sleep? What is this “sleep” you speak of?