Chicago Reader’s PD: ‘It’s Time to Move On’ After 29 Years

Editor’s note: David Jones sent the following letter to AAN News in response to our questions about his departure from the Reader. No, I’m not retiring. At least not according to the story that I tell my wife at home. I’ve just been doing this particular job in this particular (very special) place for 29+ years, and I finally noticed that the time for doing “something else” was getting smaller on the other side of all these Reader years ballooning up so large.

Once upon a time, before I signed on here for a part-time Production Artist job in November of 1976, my time was mostly spent scrambling around town patching together bits & pieces of free-lance writing and design gigs (and delivering Illinois State Lottery tickets to various, far-flung suburban banks on Tuesday and Thursday evenings), and sending out reams of unpublished short fiction to the New Yorker, Esquire, and Playboy. Before that, I’d had the luxury of writing poetry and a few failed “novels of ideas” on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship while living in a 300-year-old mansion in the beautiful Welsh fishing village of Abergwaun. Not a bad start, fresh out of college. But, then, after those first few years of scuffling along with writerly loneliness and nickle-dime copywriting jobs, back in Chicago, I was truly overjoyed to get a chance to catch on with the staff of this relatively new and exciting “alternative” newsweekly, the Chicago Reader — getting paid a regular paycheck and hanging out (literally till ALL hours) with such a bright and energetic cast of characters; honestly, I felt like I’d just gotten the keys to the kingdom, won the lottery. (I was given the full-time administrative “keys” to being the Reader’s first Production Director late in the fall of 1977.) Oddly enough, with only a week left in my tenure here, I can still get an occasional glimpse of that great, accomplished feeling even now, though maybe now I’m old and wise enough to diagnose it more often as being a matter of too-much-coffee and not-enough-sleep. We still do some amazing things here, every week, of course, and I’ll feel strange not having my hands on any of it anymore…

But, it’s time to move on. The nature of this part of the business has changed so dramatically in recent years, I get more the feeling of “hanging on” rather than really “having my hands on” the things that we do, things I used to love to do. I’ve designed folksy wax-and-tape ads and pasted in world-changing feature stories, laid-out hundreds of thousands of pages of newspaper, written funny stories and clever headlines and published photos and cartoons, and managed parts of the careers of some of the most talented young artists who’ve ever spent a day in a publications office — but now I spend more and more of my time every day staring into this computer monitor, squidging things around a screen, fine-tuning, roundly (if too silently) opining. It’s time to move on.

I’ll most likely want to wander back over into my writing, over time, get back into that — when it isn’t midnight and finally the last section of the paper has been shipped out to the printers. Or I don’t have to drive the boards and back-ups out 80 miles to our suburban printer and back. And then wonder in the morning why I’m too tired to write more than an office memo on proper coffee-making etiquette. When eventually the same wolf comes to visit my door that was hounding me 30 years ago, maybe I’ll dust off my ancient teaching certificates, update them with the proper authorities, and go see if I can teach somebody something about making an interesting way in this world.

Maybe I’ll even be able to rouse some interest in someone in taking up newspaper work. That would be something. I’d feel good about that, too.

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