The Alex Pareene interview

August 12, 2011

Today’s youthful interviewee joined Salon as a senior writer last spring after serving as the politics editor for Gawker and before that editor of Wonkette. So he knows a lot of about writing all snappy-like when it comes to fast-moving online stories, with recent pieces that have titles like: "Is Mitt Romney actually weird?" and "If Rick Perry is seriously a presidential front-runner there's something wrong with all of us."

What were the biggest adjustments you had to make moving from Gawker to Salon?
Ok, this is probably an answer that is of no interest to anyone not involved in internet publishing, but by far the biggest adjustment was the Content Management System (the blog-publishing software, for normals). Gawker has this spare, super-fast proprietary one that allows you to throw a post up in like ten seconds. Salon's CMS was crafted by ancient Internet druids in the days before Movable Type and until recently there were like ten separate steps involved in adding YOUR BYLINE to a post. (We will be switching, soon, to WordPress.)

An unintended consequence of this awful ancient architecture is that I sort of immediately began writing longer.

What do you miss most about working at Gawker or Wonkette?
I was going to say "using swears in headlines" but I wasn't really supposed to be doing that at Gawker, either. (And I honestly don't miss it that much.) What I miss about Wonkette is working with Ken Layne, the world's best political blogger who hates politics and doesn't want to be a political blogger. What I miss most about Gawker is working out of Soho, where a person can get a civilized lunch and where there are tolerable places to get beers after work. (Soho was otherwise pretty much awful in every respect.)

What are some of your favorite journalism scandals, either recently or from days of yore?
I love everything involving the Washington Times. Like when their HR director got caught in an underaged sex sting and it also turned out that he'd fired someone who accused the managing editor of sexual harassment/assault -- and weirdly the Washington Times was also the only newspaper that covered the teen sex sting bit? There was also the editorial page editor who sued them in part for forcing him to attend a mass wedding.

But of course the fun media scandals are about a newspaper owned by a weird cult leader who thinks he's Jesus. Most media scandals are actually kind of boring, even when I get really into them. No regular people care about plagiarism unless someone they don't like is accused of plagiarism. Then it's fun.

Oh, also, the time Joan Rivers sued Ben Stein for libel! Because what? Why wasn't this covered in my high school AP American History course, I ask you.

Do you read or participate in the comments very often? How often do you allow yourself to delve into them?
I would NOT describe the Salon comment section. Seriously, it's a nightmare. It will be different and better soon! (There is this like 15-year-old in-house debate about anonymity versus pseudonymity versus a real name policy and I have opinions about but my number one opinion is that comment sections for any website reaching more than a self-selecting niche audience are awful unless there is a person or persons dedicating their time to policing them.) But right now it's your basic local newspaper-style comment section of antisemites and trolls and old cranks and a couple precious, wonderful smart people, and I don't really know what they're doing there, actually.

I don't participate right now (I know I should) and I only go back read comments on my posts like once a day. There is something anxiety-provoking about comments! I am completely inured to hate mail and attacks from right-wing blogs but those damn comments just make me want to do anything other than read them.

You’re a transplant from Minneapolis. What do you miss most about your hometown, or the Midwest in general?
Cheapness in general. Availability of second-hand clothes not sold by people who know how much stupid young people would be willing to pay for them. The possibly imagined ease with which people can devote all their energies to doing unprofitable arty sh*t like being in a band or putting on art/music/theater shows only for your friends and while not worrying about being able to afford your lifestyle. (Though this can lead, I guess, to utter aimlessness.) Don Shelby.

Are you still smoking? What’s your brand? What’s the most satisfying smoke you’ve had of late?
I am still smoking! I smoke American Spirits (yes, I know, but they burn twice as long as other cigarettes) -- regulars (blue pack). I had a really great (ILLEGAL) smoke on the beach the other weekend. With a Modelo Especial that had gotten slightly warm, drunk out of a thermos. VERY satisfying.

Do you ever experience the last-minute-second-guess scramble after posting something online, where you worry what you posted was entirely wrong or badly worded? If so, how often does this happen and if not, how do you stave that off?
ALL THE TIME. I tend to sort of throw a post up and then purposefully step away from my computer for a minute or two -- to have a smoke or just get a glass of water -- and often I imagine that I will come back, in two minutes, to like six emails saying I spelled every single word of the headline wrong, and also that great joke I made about something dumb someone said was based on my completely misreading what they said. I have no idea how to stave this off. Switch to magazine writing, maybe, and then just blame everything on editors.

What’s the first media that infiltrates your day?
New York 1. I mean I check my email, in bed usually, to make sure there's not something I desperately need to cover right away (not that I do much "breaking news" but like sometimes there is a Richard Cohen column or something I need to be on top of, because if I don't police him WHO WILL?), but then I watch NY1 for one cycle (weather, in the papers, road and rails, Roger Clark reporting from somewhere weird or awkwardly interacting with children). New Yorkers can be annoyingly precious about NY1 (Do I need to explain it? It's a 24-hour local news channel owned by Time Warner Cable.) but it is superior to most local TV news and any national morning show, and it's nice to have a slightly wry Canadian show you the front page of the Post every morning.

Which news outlet do you think is closest to getting it right?
It's more about individual people than "outlets," these days, I think. (Look at me, I'm Jay Rosen over here.) But! I like to think Salon is very good! Reuters does financial news without a lot of the awful institutional habits of most outlets that do financial news. Al-Jazeera English really is very good. Also Russia Today. (Lol j/k.)

What are some of your favorite (or most entertaining) things you’ve read about yourself online?
Oh man I don't even know. Someone called me "typical Jew blogger," at some point. (For the record I'm not actually Jewish.) Obviously Andrew Breitbart's single greatest contribution to our culture is labeling me an "Appletini Partyboy." I actually don't have a Google Alert set up for my name -- which I think might be slightly unusual for a blogger -- though I do vanity search myself regularly, which I tell myself is just to see how much "pickup" my stuff is getting. I am always most pleased when random guys think I am a lady and say that they have a "crush" on Miss Pareene.

Of the various online publishing platforms you’ve used, which is your favorite and which is most irritating?
Haha wait I answered this question first, accidentally. Again, Gawker's proprietary publishing platform is great. But can I say, about Tumblr, it is a very limited and often infuriating platform, but once I started getting paid to blog I never updated my "personal" site anymore, until Tumblr came along, and now I actually put things on the Internet that I am not paid to put on the Internet, which says something about the attractiveness of that platform. (It's probably just the stupid stimulus-response aspect of instantly receiving hearts and seeing your "reblogs" and sh*t, unlike the old days when you had to go to Technorati to see who'd linked to you.)

You’re an opinionated writer. What’s a topic you think you’re most likely to change your mind about as you get older?
Maybe I'll get rich and I'll need a tax cut? This is a hard one, because I am RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING. I dunno. I believe strongly that third parties are a dead-end idea in a nation without coalition governments -- and the only hope for social democracy is to improve the party that actually has a liberal wing -- but I can see giving up on any hope of changing the direction of the Democratic Party. There may be some day in the future when I feel horrible for not ever really feeling horrible about eating meat, too. I can't imagine ever changing my mind about full legal equality for LGBT people, or ending drug prohibition. Also I will always believe that New Day Rising is better than Zen Arcade and Batman Returns is the best Batman movie.

What do you do when you feel burnt out and suicidal from stress?
Drink. And stay up all night feeling anxious. When it gets bad I disconnect from the Internet and watch soothing childhood nostalgia TV, which generally means Star Trek: The Next Generation or MST3K. But I dunno, the burnout just tends to come and go in cycles, so I try not to, like, quit my job, because I can usually get over it in a week or so.

What’s your method for managing your inbox?
I am horrible at managing my inboxes. So, so horrible. Priority Inbox is lovely, because now I can just ignore a bunch of it, and watch unwanted automatic notifications pile up for months. I put stars on the stuff I need to reply to and then I forget about it all until I get panicky at the end of the day and go through and respond to everything. This is also sort of how I pay bills. (Which I get emails about, too.)

How does it feel to be the 288th [Ed: actually, 290th] person interviewed for Zulkey.com (and now WBEZ?)
I have surely taken long enough completing this interview that I am now at least the 290th person interviewed for Zulkey.com, right? [Ed: right!]  But it is an honor! I hope I come off better than Mystery. [Ed: You did!]