Some Assembly Required
Starship Crew Assembly, Training and Evolution
Having poured over the “who,” “what” and “why” of this endeavor, we shift focus inward a bit towards the training, recruitment, revision of process which comprise “how.”
“I put the bastards of this world on notice that I do not have their best interests at heart. I will try and speak for my reader. That is my promise. And it will be a voice made of ink and rage.” — Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary. [ 1 ]
So for those of you following along, or if you’re just walking into these mad scribbles on digital parchment, here’s a brief recap. These rambles are my attempts to encapsulate ten years of sweat, toil and tears on behalf of me and my senior editors, into something vaguely coherent for the above-average reader. As for the average reader, I think plenty of society is catering to that pedestrian demographic. To paraphrase Jordan Peele, we’ve all seen that movie [ 2 ]. Hell, we’ve been choking on it. That market is being over-served by slapdash rags, “journalists” and culture vultures that Teen Vogue dunks on weekly as if they were wearing Jordan’s Bulls jersey [ 3 ]. The objects of our contempt are the outfits that slap the most contemptuous labels on their very chests and wear them as Superhero insignia… And they say that truth in advertising is dead [ 4 ][ 5 ][ 6 ]. We happen to believe that intersectionality and progressive views can forwarded quite well with facts, rather than poorly researched blather, and bias peddling rage-bait. My prior editorials walked through the “What” (800+ long form series comprising masters’ thesis on pop culture), “Who” (a collective of experts spanning the continental U.S.) and “Why” (combatting surges in anti-intellectual drivel and infantilizing propaganda) of this endeavor. However, we’ve not exactly described “How” it’s been assembled, the care and precision spent on each discrete piece. While some may deem such musing as self-serving, even indulgent, I maintain in the interests of transparency, readers such as yourselves deserve to know the meticulous craft that has gone into this menagerie of “Maximum Effort” worthy of Deadpool [ 7 ]. To this effect, we’ll review “casting our nets wide,” investing one’s staff in “The Mission,” project-management philosophy and proper maturation of the content, with some notes on evolution. So, here’s a manual on “Metaphorical Starship Assembly” and accompanying staffing. Those of you concerned with vanity, be advised: we’ve gained so many more gray hairs and crows’ feet for the journey.
A Kaleidoscope of Ninja, or Networking Nationwide
“‘A Handful of People on a leaky boat are going to save the world…’
‘Exactly.’” — Sonya Blade & Raiden, Mortal Kombat [ 8 ]
The origin of these endeavors is intrinsically bound up in our firm’s initial growth and expansion; specifically sourcing and vetting various performance troupes and public speakers spanning the nation. Without further musing on the scope and nuances of The Living Multiverse (our in-house multimedia fiction), suffice to say we’ve always been deeply invested in recruiting and finding like-minded miscreants from a kaleidoscope of life experiences. The only way to truly claim any objectivity is to account for it with multiple “lenses,” and to that effect, we’ve been traveling the country and globe for the past decade pre-COVID.
Not to contradict the esteemed William Cowper, but variety is far more than the spice of life—it is its purpose [ 9 ]. We struggle all our days to gather an array of experiences and memories by which to evaluate and compare every thought we have, and dub that “wisdom.” Thus, we attempted to compile a mosaic of viewpoints, by which we can paint a comprehensive picture of fandom, society, and their influence upon one another. We didn’t set out to craft “The Rainbow Coalition,” or any sort of contrivance that crassly checks boxes that present echo chambers consider “woke.” We simply approached a range of opinionated, thoughtful professionals who either have yet to make their mark, or storied voices interested in uplifting others and slicing through the ambient blather. To this end, I traveled from my native Connecticut to Florida, Utah, New Hampshire… you name it. With apologies to Mr. Frost, there indeed have been “miles to go before I sleep” [ 10 ]. We began conversations with existing friends and colleagues in Denmark, Japan, Ireland and Canada. Some of these discussions bore fruit and some of them took far longer to crystalize into an actual recruitment. But eventually, as we gained momentum, with a robust staff and infrastructure, it became exponentially easier to pitch this endeavor. “How many other outfits are approaching you offering not one or two, but seven editorial passes?” For those who’d yet to publish, our social media presence to the tune of now 71,000 was an attractive selling point, even if only our initial following is a minuscule percentile of that.
And finally, there was the real incentive, beyond marketing and branding and curating content … “Where else are you going to see a coalition of people like this again?” Aligned almost accidentally with the advice of Harvard Business Review’s Peter Cappelli, we limit our pool heavily by our constraints and basics of what it is we’re building. Then, long before an interview is even scheduled, we evaluate for cultural “fit” with our endeavors, work ethic, qualifications, and likelihood to complete the process successfully [ 11 ]. Given dross, legal risk, and other considerations of a bad applicant, it’s served us very well to evaluate prospective staff and candidates well before they grace our firm. Finally, despite the stated inefficiencies in doing so, we also vet aggressively, paring down from hundreds and thousands of applicants to a handful, with each hiring cycle. Each of our staff has been vetted and deeply refined by the fires of far more endeavors than our own, being a storied professional. Even our most nascent interns have had specific subject-matter specialties, an expertise we often nurtured by pairing with published authors and editors, with both ends of the spectrum teaching and learning from one another. As with any ambitious pursuit, this has evolved drastically. Neophytes over the past five to seven years are now hardened veterans of our editorial bullpen, having climbed the ranks and matured into team leaders, guiding more recent recruits. Balancing this survey of pop culture in all its spinning media and various genres with crafting our own has engaged a maturation of perspective for both, with far more textural reads of the material than even the average analyst and commentator. Thus, per Thor Odinson’s revelation about Asgard… The Unconventional’s offices are not a place, or even an idea. “It is a people,” and a phenomenally complex, diverse group of them, at that. [ 12 ]
Educated Gambles: Long term Investments in People
“Risk is Our Business… That’s what this starship is all about. That’s why we’re aboard her.” — James T. Kirk
“We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons… That is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars [but] charting the unknown possibilities of existence.” — Q [ 13 ][ 14 ]
It would be all too easy to get lost into the vagaries and nuances of each procedure and process and the “how” of each individual style or piece of content. That, I would advocate, would be a rather droll, boring examination that would obsess on the ingredients of the sausage, but not how the sausage is made, nor the methodology behind it. So, in the interests of clarity we should embrace some truisms and some known tendencies in anthropology. First, per the “Observer Effect,” the very nature of observing something changes it. This has been observed not merely in quantum physics, but psychology, sociology and almost every “soft science” [ 15 ]. Now, geek culture has been indulging in borderline self-flagellation and meta commentary since its “coming out party” at the turn of the millennium. The backlashes, and exceptionally fragile counter-backlashes of both regressive elements and mindlessly programmed corporate shills have skewed the discourse immensely, as most moderates have noted [ 16 ]. It’s our fervent hope, in a sensible fashion, to give insightful, and textural commentary ON that process, without crawling up our own anuses, nor navel-gazing. In short, to give our readers as clear a series of snapshots and through lines by which one can trace not only “Where the hell are we?” but “How the hell did we GET here?”
To do so, a balance of perspective and complexity is required. And to do that, we had to curate a very particular kind of ethos. It’s all well and good to say, “We sourced the best possible editorial and operational staff we could find.” But that’s wildly insufficient. We sought and curated our own cadre and filled our ranks with people who are already working professionals with whom our mission statement, our raison d’être, resonated with. And what’s more, we invested them in that mission. Despite a range of generations, our team is heavily steeped in Gen X’s attitudes, with a noted and documented inverse ratio of “Fucks Given.” Without getting into the fallacies equating that to apathy, let’s simply say that underneath candied shell layers of disaffection, there was in each a resilient vibrating core of intellectual fury at current standards and practices, and what slop qualifies as “journalism” and “commentary” currently [ 17 ][ 18 ]. And we gave them the keys and let them drive, for different legs of this trip. Copy editing, fact checking, our internal style guide, all of it. We gave those who’ve previously been shouted down or told to conform to their respective industries and mastheads’ standards agency in this, like the protagonists they are. Because their expertise, and their commitment is something that should and is valuable, no matter that this is a grass roots initiative.
To this effect, I’m told we’re hands and feet above our contemporaries and “betters,” built as they are with more authoritarian structures and folks at the top that “know better.” One of our key management concepts here is learning from our younger resources, as well as valuing and respecting experience, in a true collaboration [ 19 ]. Thus, these dichotomies, rather than being emphasized in a lopsided manner, have been nurtured, with newer editorial staff and interns, fresh blood of younger generations continuously polled and invited to give as robust feedback as they feel warranted, to better construct our processes, and to update them. This is the essence of mutual exchange. It’s one thing to hand someone a uniform and say, “Put it on.” It’s another thing entirely for them to design it and collaborate in doing so, in group synthesis that displays a shared culture to all and sundry. This is their ship as much as it is “mine.” That is the value of respect, which can move mountains. Finally, there’s the challenge of the time this has taken. Any publication not only helps shape the times but is in turn shaped by them [ 20 ]. Certainly, there has been burnout and a kaleidoscope of shifting zeal, even before the pandemic. The way we weathered that storm, however, was seeing the scope of the endeavor, and sharing just enough with our various stakeholders for them to realize, “No, this is not only real; it’s needed.” By teasing not only individual work queues but the overall assets and scope of the project, we’re able to share more than an ethos, but the vision in full holographic detail, as said collective could see it assembled in real time. In that respect, and given our long journey towards this point, we are unlike any other entity that has existed. It’s been a helluva tour of duty, taking us all to places we never expected and introducing us to folk we’d never imagined; worlds both strange and familiar.
The Winding Road, Shifts in Procedure, Perspective and the Unexpected
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
— Bilbo Baggins, The Fellowship of the Ring [ 21 ]
We couldn’t have possibly known all this would entail when we began. As we approach nine years since our initial pitch meeting, the very process by which we evaluate and recruit candidates, from external contributors to our tightest of internal staff has drastically evolved more times than the Pokémon franchise. Initially, we would take anyone that seemed to fit our corporate ethos and some basics of a rudimentary background check. Over time, our vetting process would mature and grow as much as the evolving shapes of the various star ships Enterprise, until finally we proceed to court established experts and doctorates in their fields as affiliates, or storied professionals for our newest crops of recruits. Every outfit goes through some evolution in vetting and strategy, from “go/no-go,” to checklists, and finally some sort of scoring matrix [ 22 ]. The critical part is to not lose sight of the human element. While we do not recruit on “potential,” we do hold the door open for less experienced candidates, lest we grow stagnant in our processes. Similarly, our very editorial processes have evolved and changed drastically. Some have been collapsed into larger documented “revision” procedures, whereas certain standards have shifted entirely.
The advent of our entire “blacklist” of banned sources caused cognitive dissonance with more than one of our internal staff when first instigated (without digressing into the performative posturing about that term) [ 23 ]. The prior industry standard of shunning bad faith entities “because [they’ve] engaged in behavior or activities that are deemed unacceptable or unethical” has long since been abandoned by mainstream sites [ 24 ]. Gizmodo, Vox Media and various other sites are periodically caught quoting ScreenRant, barely better than “We Got This Covered” (or “Geek Breitbart” as my friend Angela Costello calls it) sans any corroborative fact checking. We won’t get into the nuances of true disinformation vs. misreporting, and what the social responsibilities are of mastheads caught in the latter at this time [ 25 ]. Thus, double- and triple-verification, and excising of complicit outlets has become a core tenet of our research and dedication to excellence. Similarly, the very nature and number of our editorial passes, the evolution of a “voice check” to preserve authorial intent with the original writer, and the final passes that see a piece both curated with proper graphics, sources vetted and “alternative nav” keywords assigned for subject-matter browsing have become their own, rather involved processes. It’s not enough to produce a quality document. Per the adage, “The Medium is the message,” and this is the modern internet. Thus, crowning each piece with 10-12 editorial passes, to make certain each item of legacy content passes our rigorous standards, has become a cause for some delay and significant attention from our senior editors.
Similarly, as the pieces have evolved over time (and in some cases needed updates for more recent developments), so too have our writers. Given the safe environment of our collective, several our staff, to our immense pride, have felt comfortable to embrace their true gender identity or sexual orientation (or both). Where possible, we’ve acknowledged these changes while preserving the essence of their pieces. Where necessary, we’ve gone back in with them for revisions, especially with identity-based subject matter that warrants further scrutiny. If comedy and sensibilities can be expected to evolve with the times, the very least we can do as part of responsible representation of our staff is to embrace how they see themselves. Likewise, as media adaptations have grown and multiplied, we’ve peppered several pieces with editorial notes to document and acknowledge some of these changes. Nine years is a very, very long time.
Finally, there is the overall shape of this endeavor itself, from the elements of its style and design to the curvature of the “datapad” surrounding this text. Many cooks have contributed, but in some cases diluted the vision. It’s been my great satisfaction to recruit the right designer, who revived the critical elements that got muted or buried along the way. Where forced compromises would have marred the delivery of this content, those have been walked back, in a true resurrection of the epinoia, the essence of this endeavor… We even had to revise our copy-editing to account for rendering on our actual design and use of fonts, as opposed to sterile Word documents. Thus, our many, many “refits” and evolution of outer design, inward-facing composition, and crew, of this endeavor. We’ll get into the metadata, internal progress tracking and specific UX revisions in another installment.
That’s it, really. It sounds childishly simple when I put it this succinctly. Find the right people, from all walks of life, credentialed and otherwise. Get them to collaborate, to teach one another and invest in them, so they will invest in the good work. Refine our methods and examine our processes, to make sure we’re working better in tandem and that the product generated is what was intended. And then, make sure we revisit the essential purpose of our endeavor, in the final rendering. If you do it right, it will only take a significant chunk of your lifetime. “What, you want to live forever?” *snort* It’s like you expected us to be practical, or something. Save that for the corporate ghouls, having bots assemble their listicles. This is the real work, for your edification.
- “Cue up the theme song. We’re looking for a few good Intellectual Gladiators.”
Source: Anderson, Paul W. S. Mortal Kombat. New Line Cinema, 1995.
- “Barring any soporifics and clichés, the real journey truly has always been that of our connection and collaboration with our stakeholders.” Source: See Senensky and Kolbe, Sources 13 & 14.
(“Old, rusty, dangerous boat left on the shore, occupied by Somali pirates. Dirty coast, metal ship stranded on beach attacked, hijacked by pirates of Somalia. Boat for illegal smuggling of immigrants”). Shutterstock. Sweethour.
- “Our journey has been as winding and transformative as the Hobbits of Bag End’s.” Source: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Produced by Peter Jackson et al., directed by Jackson, New Line Cinema, 2013.
With decades in consulting and project management, and work at over two hundred events, Savan’s settled into his role as “war chief” to many tricksters. A former Wizards of the Coast employee, he lends his acumen to several endeavors. Between his role here as Editor in Chief, ongoing duties as founder and CEO of Steam-Funk Studios, work as the driving creative force for The Living Multiverse, and pursuing his next degree through Harvard, he does not lack for crusades or grail-quests.
- The Rum Diary. Directed by Bruce Robinson, FilmDistrict, 2011.
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- Anderson, Paul W. S. Mortal Kombat. New Line Cinema, 1995.
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