HOW DOES ONE judge a newspaper's "success": Is it by the number of good deeds performed? Is it by the number of pages or advertisements? Or is success simply judged by a willingness to get out of bed every morning, even when your head is fucking pounding like a jackhammer? Here, at the Portland Mercury, we like to think it's the latter.
You know, it seems like only five months ago that a small band of rag-tag fortune seekers set out to introduce Portlanders to a "new" way of looking at its city. And now, 25 issues later, the Portland Mercury has gone from a wiry 36-page paper to a whopping 44 pages. Of course, then it went back down to a scrappy 40-page paper for a few weeks. But after that, it jumped up to a humongous 48 pages where it then fell back down to a scrappy 40 for two more weeks, until it sprang up to the super-duper really humongous size of 56 pages, and then finally down to a regular humongous 48 pages, where we stand now. And it's all thanks to you, our precious readers.
However! On this, our silver anniversary, we thought we'd take an opportunity to glance back at our roots; to try and figure out how it only took 25 issues to go from a radical, hep, underground newspaper, to a bunch of fat, cocaine-snorting corporate sell-outs. Join us on our trip down the Mercury's memory lane won't you?
IN THE BEGINNING
It was the year 2000. A handful of dreamers got it into their craw that Portland needed a new voice in the publishing community. But, as we quickly discovered, putting out a weekly newspaper costs dough-re-mi. It took awhile, but after collecting on a few outstanding gambling debts, our organization soon had enough money to realize our dream. And the name of the dream? The Portland Mercury; an homage to a gossip/ scandal sheet printed in the rough 'n' tumble Portland of the 1860s. After we announced our intentions, the Willamette Week welcomed us with open arms, telling Portland's Business Journal, "We're aware they're coming. It will be good for us."
However, within a matter of days, the WW instructed their legal team to register the name Portland Mercury with the State of Oregon's Corporation Division--an attempt to keep us from ever using the name. Publisher Meeker called the strategy "a whimsical move." (For those who are not members of the Multnomah Athletic Club, this translates roughly as "a practical joke".) Since the Mercury could hardly afford to hire an entire law firm to play a practical joke on the WW, we settled on the next best thing: putting a flaming bag of poop on Meeker's front doorstep, and running away as quickly as possible.
ISSUES 1-10: THE LEAN YEARS
But don't be fooled! The birth of the Mercury was not all guns 'n' roses. In our first issue, we thought it would be nice if mayors from around the area (including Gresham, Beaverton, and Troutdale) would proclaim June 1 (our debut) as "Portland Mercury Day" in their respective towns. We thought they would be happy to welcome a new jourinalistic voice. However, not only were we refused by every one of them, Mayor Vera Katz didn't even write us back until well after the event should've taken place! And then she was all snippy and shit, saying that just because we were a "business" they don't issue "proclamations" for "commercial ventures." See, if you ask me, she just doesn't understand our generation! After all, we were just keepin' it real! Why'd Vera wanna be frontin' like that and climbin' up in our grill?
Or what about issue three, when we had our Gay Pride issue? Everybody was telling us, "Don't be having a gay issue!! Are you crazy?? You only three issues old! People will think you're all gay and shit!!" And we were like, "HELLO??? We are all gay and shit." Well, at least some of us are. And I know for a fact, that those who aren't gay and shit? They are seriously considering having gay sex with at least one other person in the office--or at least that's what Katie our receptionist said. (By the way, we lost three distribution sites because we were being all gay and shit.)
In issues four through 10, we decided that "keepin' it real" wasn't working for us. We felt we weren't being taken "seriously," and thought it might help if we started wearing turtlenecks and smoking pipes. When that didn't work, we decided to become "investigative jourinalists" and focus on "breaking stories." One of our proudest moments included discovering the mechanical bull at the Neon Spur Country & Western Lounge. However, within days of writing that story, the bull was gone and the Neon Spur went out of business. (Which we admit is a little disturbing, since that wasn't the intent of the article. Really, we loved that bull!)
However, perhaps our proudest moment came when not one, but two of our editorial staff were thrown in jail--during the same week. It was issue seven, and our own crack reporter Katia Dunn was tossed in the hoosegow on charges of criminal trespassing while working on a story about train-hopping. All told, including bail and legal fees, it cost over $700 to spring her--which translates to roughly half of our yearly budget. Then, only one day later, our editorial intern was arrested for shoplifting. Since Katia had used up all our bail money, we decided to leave him in jail. We didn't feel too bad, though. He wasn't working on a story, he just likes to shoplift.
ISSUES 11-20: LEARNING FROM OUR MISTAKES
After our 10th issue, we noticed that people were actually reading the paper, so we called an emergency meeting. In this meeting, it was decided that we needed some "hot" new columns to augment the stupid, old, boring ones. Only this could satisfy our new and easily distracted readership. And sex! We needed to add a lot more S-E-X! We started off in issue 11 with a "Midget Porn" column that reviewed the pornographic videotapes of the X-rated starlet, Bridget the Midget. This was wildly successful. Unfortunately, since Bridget the Midget has a severely limited body of work, the column was cancelled after only one appearance.
Then, in issue 14, we wrote a feature on Dennis Nyback, the cinematic curator of the Clinton Street Theater. Two days after the article appeared in print, he packed his bags and left town. First the bull, then Dennis Nyback? An uncomfortable pattern seemed to be forming. So to break our emerging string of bad luck, we immediately started a new puzzle column called "Gee, You're Brainy! by the Ayatollah Khomeini." This was a bad idea. Not only did we receive numerous "fatwas" from extremely agitated Middle Eastern religions, but as it turned out Ha! Ha! The Ayatollah is dead! Ha! Ha! He's been dead for a long time! Boy was egg on our face! Ha! Ha, ha, ha! Hmmmm.
Around this time, our circulation received a much-needed shot in the arm when we put a picture of a monkey wearing a sailor's suit on the cover. Immediately, our pick-up rate increased 27 percent. Though this was accepted as great news, it also inspired a heated argument in the office when the suggestion was made to change our name from the Portland Mercury to the Portland Monkey. However, our bitter, tearful arguments were quickly forgotten, after receiving some disturbing news: We lost seven more distribution spots after parents began spotting their six-year-olds carrying around the Mercury and asking what "oral sex" means.*
This is when we realized we were in trouble. Deep trouble. Even our normally jovial art director, Sean Tejaratchi (whose column From Where I Sit can be found on page 47) didn't appear pleased with his working conditions. It was obvious our happy little paper was swirling toward an abyss from which we might never return.
ISSUES 21-25: SUCCESS HAS MADE US FAT AND LAZY
And then! Just when we had reached our darkest hour; just when we decided that we would hack at our jugular with a rusty can if we read one more letter telling us how much we "fucking SUCK" [see page 3]--a ray of light burst through the clouds. The Rocket went out of business. Now certainly, this is no cause for celebration, but well, let's put it this way. While no one likes it when a trusted friend you've known for years suddenly dies, if you can steal the watch off that friend while he's lying in the casket, that somehow takes a bit of the sadness away. Know what I mean?
Soon after, fortune smiled down upon us again! Someone came up with the brilliant idea (I believe it was me) to dump the whole idea of an "alternative weekly," and start putting out a teen heart-throb magazine. So we did! Issue 22 was retitled Teen Mercury, and it was a daring spit-in-the-eye to the conventional, boring tenants of jourinalism. Gone were the stories about mistreated minorities! Gone were the heady essays on the artistic deconstruction of Portland's dwindling neo-Bauhaus movement! Nope, all we were interested in was the latest gossip from the Christina Aguilera tour, and dreamy pix of the boys from 'N Sync.
Naturally, this bold move sent us right over the top. Our circulation soared skyward. As it turned out, Portland was sick of pompous, self-congratulatory weekly newspapers that love the smell of their own gas, and ready for a periodical that wasn't afraid to squeal like a little girl for Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys. The people had spoken, and we heeded the call! Teen Mercury forever!!
Then we changed our minds.
We got bored of the whole teen aspect of the paper, and in the next issue went back to our old format. However (and this is important!) this indiscriminate flip-flopping helped us discover how to make our paper a success--by exploiting BOREDOM.
See, my friends, we're just like you. Bored out of our freakin' gourds. But we're willing to do something about it. We're willing to make complete asses out of ourselves week after embarrassing week, and with one goal in mind: showing you a good time. The way we look at it, jourinalism can suck our dicks, because jourinalism doesn't improve your life. Fun improves your life. And if the Mercury has a mission other than dancing a lot and occasionally tooting cocaine, it's introducing you to the people and places in Portland that know how to have a good time.
ISSUE 25 AND BEYOND: A PEEK INTO THE FUTURE
What does the future hold for the Portland Mercury? Well, we don't want to tip our hand, but let's just say we've got BIG, BIG plans for "the little paper that could." What we can say is that, by studying the track record of other, older weekly papers, we can eventually look forward to our production department forming a union, newsprint prices going through the roof, and losing all the staff members that made our paper so great to emerging dot-com companies. We'll then be forced to hire people that have no loyalty to the company, we won't be able to print a joke without first running it past a focus group, and our publisher will become so disinterested in the day-to-day operations of the paper, he'll find more pleasure in hob-nobbing on the golf links with his political fat-cat friends.
AND SO! As the Portland Mercury embarks on its 26th issue, we'd like to say thanks and to all our readers, and even those letter writers who tell us we fucking suck each week. It's nice to know you care.
Yep, 25 issues. These are the salad days, my friends. Enjoy them while you can.
* Hey, kids! For a complete description of "oral sex," see Savage Love page 41!