All in all, I’d have to call the relationship a draw. The pros and cons neatly cancelled one another out, and at the end of the day, I was still garnering a stronger reputation just about anywhere else in the country than I was in Mpls – which actually says less about City Pages than it serves to define the relationship I’ve had for years with the city itself. Why that is, I really don’t know, but it does seem to be a tough market to break into, despite the arts communities’ proclamations about the “cultural mecca” that exists in Minneapolis.
As for City Pages, it’s a business, plain and simple, and the interests it serves are that of a business as well. The changing economy, advertising, the dot-com crash, all dictate the politics and policies of this type of publication to some extent. My own experiences showed me that editors can be amicable, as long as you don’t raise any questions that might be perceived as challenging to their authority. Don’t ask about the edits made to your writing, for example, or why a piece was suddenly dropped – most likely you won’t get a response at all; that takes time, and as we all know, time is money. This isn’t really that uncommon among corporations of any size, and in retrospect, it was probably silly of me to hope that things would be any different within the restrictions of a corporate-run weekly.
As with any work environment, there’s bound to be a certain contingent clique, and I really do not do well with cliques. I can’t keep up with all the hip in-references, for one thing. And, I’m inevitably going to be the one whose voice reflects a sentiment outside the constraints of popular opinion. I was a free-lancer, after all – how was I supposed to keep up with the water-cooler chat, or the office memos informing everyone what was cool this week?
Working with one editor, I had an article dropped to make room for an opinion piece by the Arts Editor, which redefined my perception of professional ethics. Another time, I was denied the opportunity to write about a couple of bands – one, because I had recorded an album by the group in question; another, because I had let them stay at my house while they were on tour. According to the editor, these liaisons could be viewed as conflicts of interest within the paper. Perhaps, but I’ve recorded a lot of bands, and let a lot of touring musicians stay at my house, and it doesn’t mean I’m giving them free advertising. They’re all different jobs, and I’ve worn a lot of hats in my day.
Meanwhile, the boundaries of politics within the paper continued to amaze me in other ways: one Music Editor wrote a puff piece about an up-and-coming band I had pitched for myself, which in turn negated the article I had written. While working on another feature about an avant-garde record label, I felt we had gone beyond a reasonable number of revisions, and made the decision to abandon the article. Working from my original resource information, the Music Editor drafted their own version of the story – and made it a cover feature that likely would never have appeared, had it not been for the groundwork I had provided. An interesting footnote: months later, I had discussed this incident on a punk message board, and it was brought to the attention of the City Pages Arts Editor, who in turn, actually posted my original version of the article in question – which was an unpublished piece I had written in lieu of a check, and for which no compensation was ever received.
I suppose all of this doesn’t really offer a very uplifting view of the working relationship I had with City Pages, but it’s true, if not well-documented. You don’t just pretend something never happened, because it happens to leave an unpleasant taste in your mouth. In the end, it was simply a matter of chalking up experience. It had never been my intention to write for syndicated publications in the first place, and I had already achieved a comfortable level of success working as an independent. Thus, an experiment of sorts, that failed to yield any real satisfactory results, with one exception: it opened my eyes as to what the industry really looked like in this particular market, and reaffirmed that I wanted nothing to do with any of it.
[City Pages ceased publication on October 29, 2020.]