Explaining how TPM works can be daunting, especially if you’re describing it to someone from a traditional journalism background or, say, older relatives for whom something as simple as email is still intimidating.
As most of you know, we have a bricks-and-mortar office in Manhattan. But that’s just the anchor for our operation. We have a reporter in DC, another reporter who works most of the week from Connecticut, and I’m in Missouri. So a third of our staff of nine is not based in the NYC office.
For that model to work, we rely some on phones, a lot on email, but primarily on Skype. That means a whole series of Skype chats going on at any one time between and among editors, reporters, and interns. Even most of the internal office interactions are via Skype, so that those of us not in the office proper can be kept in the loop. Picture a staff of mostly 20-somethings squeezed into a 700-some-odd-square-foot newsroom, hunched over their computers, fingers flying across their keyboards as they IM with colleagues who may be sitting right next to them.
As I say, it’s a hard arrangement to explain to the uninitiated. Spencer Ackerman, who used to work for us at TPMmuckraker, captured it pretty well in this blog post:
If you want to understand what it’s like to work at TPM, spend a couple days with your ten smartest friends and constantly IM with them. Set up IM windows for multi-person conversation, and break out those discussions with individual participants. And make the substance of those conversations deep-in-the-weeds investigative journalism. Make sure you don’t often go more than, say, two minutes without contributing to the discussion. And see if you can avoid being overwhelmed.
As odd as all that may sound, one of the most out-of-the-box things about TPM was that until Wednesday, I had never met any of our staff in person, including Josh, even though I’ve worked at TPM in one capacity or another for approaching two years now, the last 10 months as managing editor.
It had just worked out that way. Josh and I both have young kids. Travel is expensive. Whatever. A hundred reasons why it hadn’t happened yet. But since I was flying from St. Louis to Serbia this week, it made perfect sense to stop off at the office for a couple of days on my way back through New York.
There were suspicions among staff that I might not really exist. Maybe I was just Josh’s imaginary friend and that I would walk into the office, take off my sunglasses, and be revealed to be Josh himself. (When my kids were younger, their toddler-level understanding of my online work was that I had cleverly managed to squeeze the people I work with into my computer. It suggested that they thought I had superhero powers so I was content to let that misapprehension linger.)
I’m about to catch a flight out of JFK. After a week of Belgrade and NYC blogging, Missouri blogging doesn’t have quite the same allure, especially after such a beautiful day in NYC.
I walked from Chelsea all the way down to Wall Street — passing Philip Seymour Hoffman, or someone who bore a stunning resemblance to him, at a sidewalk cafe in Greenwich Village — before making my way back up to West 23rd. Not only had I never met my TPM colleagues, but I had never been to NYC before, a point of personal embarrassment I cringe to admit. So I wanted to soak up as much of the city as I could in the short time I had and by foot seemed like the best way to go.
I hope it’s not so long until my next visit.