When I first hung out my shingle as a freelance writer, I tacked a postcard over my desk. It showed a picture of the earth from space against a black background. The words were a quotation from the pioneering naturalist John Muir: “When we try to pick out something by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”
It looked a little cheesy, yet felt pretentious, too, which was a neat trick. Inspirational messages generally make me gag, and I wasn’t looking to bolster my sense of cosmic significance. But I liked the substance. The quote reminded me that with every topic I tackled, every assignment I took, every sentence I wrote, my job was to connect things to a bigger picture.
So I hitched that postcard to my workspace wherever I went, from an alternative weekly dive in Boston to a big-city daily newsroom in San Francisco to a dotcom web magazine startup and back to my home-office desk. It’s here with me now as I join Grist — and it looks very much at home.
The other artifact I’ve transported from my Berkeley home to my new Seattle office is a Tube of Gloom. This novelty item (It made Wired’s top 10 list in 1994!) is a simple gray plastic tube, about a foot long. When you turn it on end, it emits a hollow, queasy moan — mmmWAOWWwww — that’s both mournful and silly. Mine was a gift from an officemate in the early days of Salon, who distributed them to our whole staff. Our cubicles had unreasonably high partitions, and it wasn’t easy to make eye contact, but every now and then we’d punctuate our labors with the Tube of Gloom’s call-and-response music, wordlessly sharing a group absurdity break.
Salon graduated to better-designed cubicles and my tube went home. In the years since, my kids have repeatedly taken it apart — hunting, I think, for the gloom’s source. When we try to take something apart, I should have told them, we don’t always find that we can put it back together again. But my tube still sings. Sadly, the thing is no longer available from its vendor, the Seattle-based Archie McPhee, or I’d have bought a whole carton of them for my new colleagues. Anyone who covers news of the environment ought to have a Tube of Gloom close to hand. Despair is tempting, and we can always use an excuse to stick out our tongues at it.
So now you know a couple of the things I bring with me as I join Grist as its editor: a sense of connection and a dollop of levity. Grist, of course, has been providing both these for over a decade now. I’m jazzed to have the opportunity to work with the great team here and serve the unique crowd of smart, self-motivated, passionate people that Grist has attracted.
I plan on working round the clock on three things: Great journalism — because it’s the foundation of everything else we do. New experiments in using technology to inform and connect — because the media world is moving through a massive cycle of change, and journalism can’t stand still. And new approaches to building community — because we’re all in this together, and we might as well get good at it. I’ll be challenging myself to live up to these goals and asking you to keep me on track with your feedback, questions, and ideas. I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org and, on Twitter, @scottros. I’m thrilled to be here, and I’m glad you’re here with me!