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Volume 4, Issue 1: Tom Pagnozzi
"This guy is a team leader, a real manager out there on the field."
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There is nothing quite like being a part of a team. I still subscribe to a lot of magazines. Let’s see: New York, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, SLAM, Mother Jones, The New Republic, GQ. That’s a lot fewer than I used to subscribe to, but there are a lot fewer magazines than there used to be. I understand why the economics of the industry have contracted, and why magazines are so much thinner than they once were, but of all the journalism-delivery devices that have faded in the Internet age, magazines more than any other still provide the same pure reading pleasure as they always have. Sure, I have the same pile of unread New Yorkers that a lot of people have, but when I actually sit down and dig into them, it relaxes and focuses me in ways few other activities do—it’s one of the few times I really feel like I’m stretching my legs and unplugging. I understand why it’s easier, even more enjoyable, to get news from phone rather than a newspaper. I don’t understand why anyone would want to read a longform magazine piece in anything other than a magazine.
I’ve been fortunate to work for one of the best magazines on the planet for, wow, almost 14 years now, and while that magazine and my job within it has changed a lot over those 14 years—to the point that while I write for the Website every week, as for the magazine, I’m barely in it—every time I pick it up I feel honored to be a part of it. I know how difficult it is to put a magazine of that quality together, how many moving parts there are, how many people all moving in unison it requires. Every issue of a great magazine is a miracle.
I miss being a part of it. For the five years that I still lived in New York while working for New York, being in the office when we closed an issue of the magazine that had one of my pieces in it felt a little like being the backup catcher on the 1927 Yankees: You were sort of sainted just by being any small part of what magic was happening at all. I remember closing my big cover story on the Yankees in 2009, in which the team went out and spent $423 million on three players (and $1.6 billion on a new stadium) right at the very moment that the financial crisis looked like it might just liquidate the planet. I pored over every word, image and caption with the copy editor, the section editor, the photo editor, the fact checker, my personal editor and, ultimately, editor-in-chief Adam Moss himself deep into the night, a half dozen people of different backgrounds and life histories and priorities all coming together and working their hearts out to make something exact and perfect like it’s the most important thing in the world … and then getting up the next morning, usually just a few hours later, to go do it again the next week. I wrote a piece about Columbine later that year that I remain as proud of as anything I’ve ever done, and I was gifted to have a support staff surrounding me that was just as motivated to make every word hit as hard as possible as I was. It was a team of smart, ambitious, dedicated people, at the absolute peak of their abilities and their industry’s power and influence, combining to make something great. It was beautiful.
It couldn’t last, because nothing ever lasts. New York is still a great magazine, but it’s different, just like every magazine that has somehow survived the last decade’s onslaught. I still write constantly, just like I did, and hopefully better; it’d be a bummer to learn I’ve regressed over the last 13 years. But the game has changed entirely. The number of writers who have all those people in the boat with them, rowing all in the same direction, is so small as to be statistically insignificant. Most writers are lucky to have one person editing their work, let alone a whole team. But while I miss having that sort of safety net, I miss working together with a brilliant crew even more. I know that working at home is a relatively new pandemic phenomenon for most of America, but I’ve been doing this since March 2005. I love making my own schedule, and I’d be absolutely doomed if I ever had to go back into a daily 9-5 office job at this point—it’d be a little like unfreezing a caveman in modern times—but I also cannot deny that writing is a lonely endeavor sometimes.
I take a lot of pride, probably too much pride, in solo ownership and authorship; Roger Ebert once famously said that his favorite three words in the English language were, “By Roger Ebert,” and boy, do I get it. But I feel like I’m missing out a little too. For all the endless meetings and infinite bureaucracy of corporate America, there’s also real satisfaction in a team of people coming together and solving a common problem, or bringing something new into the world, or just making their little part of the world a little bit better. When I write a good piece, when I know I got it exactly right, it feels terrific. But the only person who knows it is me. There is no one to celebrate with—no one who was a part of the journey alongside me—but myself. It might be nice, every once in a while, to go have some we-did-it drinks with the team.
I thought about this a lot this week, in which I’ve been doing a ton of work with The Recount team on my podcast “The Long Game With LZ and Leitch.” The Recount is impressively invested in making our show succeed, and they have gifted LZ—whom I finally got to meet in person!—and me with a crew that is just otherworldly talented. Every week for two months now, they’ve been putting our show together, fixing our mistakes, making us look much smarter than we actually are, but on Tuesday, we all got together in person in the New York office (after all taking our rapid Covid-19 tests) to put on our show live, in person, for the first time. I’ve done live television before—we used to do MLB Plus broadcasts of four-plus-hour baseball games without ever getting to go to the bathroom—but it had been a while, and it had never been with a project I was as deeply invested in as this one. I was a hired gun on those old broadcasts; this was my show.
And wow, they were so great. It was incredible. To see a whole office of people coming together, all handling their own little piece of the larger puzzle with efficiency, expertise and genuine passion, to see all that coalesce in a terrific show, to have everybody rowing together … it was legitimately inspiring. When the show was over, we all came together and applauded, and we hugged each other, and it all just felt so great. It felt like I was a member of a team. It felt like we’d all done it together. Because we had.
The pandemic’s effect on work was still clear. It was amusing to watch a gaggle of people who had been essentially working remotely for more than a year awkwardly navigate being together in the same room; everyone acted a little bit like they were in a crowded elevator for a while. (And at the end of two full days, they all looked they were ready to nap for a week.) But they all pulled it off. It made me want to do it again. It made me wonder if going solo for so long had been depriving me of something that I needed a little bit more than I realized.
Whenever the pandemic winds down, however that happens, it is widely assumed that many offices will remain remote, or at least hybrid, for the foreseeable future. I understand this, and it will be undoubtedly better for workers seeking a better quality of life. But I’ll confess that I hope we still all get our fair share of moments like this, virtual or otherwise, where smart people are able to combine their powers and skills to create something that’s larger than themselves. Sometimes I forget, in the little silo of my own writing life, just how many uniquely talented people there are out there, and what they’re capable of. It makes me feel lucky to be able to work alongside them. And it makes me want to go find more.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
The Fall of Aaron Rodgers, GQ. It actually sort of shocked me how avidly I was cheering for him to lose?
How Not to Lose Your Shirt Gambling on Sports, New York. Gambling on sports is bad, but those new betting apps are worse.
Eugene Goodman Remains America at Its Best, Medium. Did you see he was on his friend’s podcast this week? Highly, highly recommended.
Is the WHO Predicting the End of the Pandemic? Medium. Almost, right?
The Friday Five, Medium. The period at the end of every week.
The Long Game With LZ and Leitch, Undernoted in the above story is the fact that I actually got to finally meet LZ. He is the absolute best and I can’t believe I get to work with him. We have fun. Anyway, listen, and also note that you can watch our Twitch show live at 12:30 ET on Tuesdays.
Grierson & Leitch, we did our annual mailbag show, which is always so fun. We also talked about the excellent documentary Hail Satan?
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
“Led Zeppelin Gets In Your Soul,” James Wood, The New Yorker. This review of the new Led Zeppelin biography by Bob Spitz nails what is so irresistible about Led Zeppelin, and just how much they rattle around a teenage brain. I love this line: “Like most middle-class adolescents, I wanted to witness danger rather than actually experience it. My bets were comfortably hedged.” Also: Wow, at their peak, these guys were really shithead monsters of human beings.
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CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Ramble On,” Led Zeppelin. I can’t believe I don’t have any Led Zeppelin songs on my playlist. Let’s fix that now. This is my favorite Led Zeppelin song, and if you dig deep enough in my attic, you will find a copy of The Edge, the Mattoon High School student newspaper Grierson and I created in 1993 (and lasted until … 1997?), which has a whole end-of-senior-year essay I wrote that’s crafted around this song.
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
This was a very cool thing that happened last week:
Have a great weekend, all.