Deleted Scenes: Hand Biting

I got an email last week from a relatively new Aquarian writer, who informed me that he (because it seems to be mostly dudes these days; “now seeking ladies” seems like a scummy Craigslist posting, but I may have to try it) is currently in the process of leaving his job. He worked, as many do, at a corporately-owned big-box retail/music store, and was glad to be moving onto something else. He was wondering if I wanted to run a scathing editorial he’d write on their business practices and how they treated their employees.

No doubt it would be an entertaining bit of bridge burning to read—those kinds of things almost always are—but I turned him down. I was honest: This place is a longtime advertiser and with the state of print media, I didn’t want to alienate someone who’s been there to support the paper when far too many have fallen by the wayside. In short, I didn’t want to bite the hand that feeds me.

From an editorial standpoint, this is 100 percent the wrong decision. Not only that, it goes against my personal morality, because if there’s a company even remotely treating its people like shit, well, I think the very least that company deserves is a bit of libel. Every bone in my body felt like it wanted to jump out and punch me in my face for telling him no—especially that little part of me that just constantly wants to get itself into trouble—but I did anyway.

I’ve done a lot of traveling lately, here and there. I go up to Connecticut on the regular in the summertime, and I was out in Wisconsin this past weekend for a festival, and I go out to Long Island about once a month for band practice, and of course I’m in NYC and I get to Philadelphia every chance I get. Major market pubs like the Village Voice or Philly’s City Paper aren’t what they used to be size-wise, but relatively, they’re doing alright. Nothing in print is what it used to be, but they’re in a big market, and they’re surviving. Much respect.

But I go around to these other places and I’m always interested to see if I can get my hands on a copy of their Aquarian-equivalent alternative weekly, whichever one it might happen to be. Some of them are alright (I saw a copy of Providence, Rhode Island’s alt-weekly last year and it was downright inspiring), but then there are others that are just sad to behold, like bombed out buildings pressed on the cheap. They run syndicated columns and human interest pieces or have a few local types with overblown opinions, very little advertising, and that’s it. Worst of all, they’re short.

The issue you’re holding is 32 pages long. We’ve gone up in page count twice so far in 2012, for Bamboozle and for the Summer Concert Guide, but other than that, they’ve all been 32 pages. When I first took over as editor in 2004, it was 48 each week, and it was less editorial per issue than it is now, so let that be an indicator for you as it is for me of the state of print media. I make less money in this job now than I did when I did it while still finishing my last semester at Seton Hall, going to school full-time, and I’ve been back here nearly two years and haven’t even thought of asking for a raise.

I’m not complaining. I tell you these things to let you know that, in general, (I’m a sucker and) we’re doing the best we can. The product we put out each week isn’t perfect, but with the resources we do and don’t have, I’m proud of the Aquarian and have a deep esteem for the history of this paper in the cultural fabric of New Jersey. In my most self-important moments, I feel like I’m a custodian of that history, and in this case, that means more to me than this writer wanting to burn his former employer in print.

Because not that one advertiser being pissed off would kill the paper, but it would give me a whole new world of shit to deal with, and even at the most basic level, I just don’t have time. The spirit of every anti-corporate hippie who ever worked here, alive or dead, is shaking its head at me right now and I know it, but I’m sorry. The revolution’s over and the good guys lost. Now get back to work.

JJ Koczan