EPISODE 9 (2004 – 2007)
Spite-based stunt reporting at its finest
No doubt you’ve encountered a media outlet or 12 fishing for what have come to be known as “hate clicks.” But make no mistake. There’s a big difference between backhandedly stirring up an engagement-inflating public outcry, and telling you—directly, specifically, personally—that you are not good and the things you do and like are dumb and wrong.
Maybe I shouldn’t suggest stuff like ambush interviews and way-too-harsh reviews of zero-budget community theater made us any better than, let’s say, a Manhattan intern assigned to write “20 Reasons Why Kittens Are the Worst,” or whathaveyou. But I’m gonna! After revisiting my own horrible past to compose this episode, I need a reason to feel okay …
BARRY THOMPSON (Exit Pollster): I don’t actually know why the Dig originally started doing Exit Polls. If I had to guess, there might’ve still been value in man-on-the-street interviews before everyone did status updates and tweets, but I’d say it was more so to give the interns something to do aside from wander around the office looking for things to steal. One afternoon there was a Fetish Flea Market—basically an S&M convention—down the street. I think that was the first time I did Exit Polls and people seemed they like they cared afterwards.
The interviews almost seemed transactional at the time; y’know, not terribly shocking or provocative or confrontational. And then me and Derek went back to the office and the staffers read the transcripts and went, “Omigawd, you interviewed a dom with her slave on leash?! That’s insane! We’re gonna use these for the entire Exit Poll page!” I went, “Wow, really? Neat!” Then I wound up doing the Exit Polls for like two years.
DEREK KOUYOUMJIAN (photographer): The Exit Polls was very, very easy. It was just meeting up with Barry, and taking pictures of whoever he interviewed. Easy peasy.
THOMPSON: The outlandishness of the whole deal was mostly lost on me at the time. People said, “Oh, you’re being a dick to these random people on the street.” I was like, “Wait, I’m being a dick? I thought we were all having a jolly good time asking and answering non sequitur questions about smoking crack and worshiping Satan.” I was a monster.
KOUYOUMJIAN:. Usually people would realize it was just silly and go along, or get into it, or politely decline.
THOMPSON: The most eventful incident was outside this Billy Joel concert at, ah, I believe what is now called the TD Garden. I asked Billy Joel fans questions that a fundamentalist Christian would ask after a Marilyn Manson concert in 1997, swapping the names “Billy Joel” for “Marilyn Manson.” So it was, y’know, “Why did Billy Joel chainsaw that box full of puppies?” “Why did Billy Joel give ecstasy to the 7-year-old boy before he sodomized him?” Yadda yadda.
KOUYOUMJIAN: So this one girl was doing an interview and seemed to be going along with the bit and in a good mood, but all of a sudden, she grabs Barry’s tape recorder, smashes it against the sidewalk, and runs off into the night. Barry just looks and me and asks, “Did that just happen?” I’m like, “Yeah, it did.”
THOMPSON: I was very upset because those recorders cost $40, which was money I did not have on hand at the time. Anyway, first we unsuccessfully tried to chase down this girl. We couldn’t find her, which was lucky, ’cos I suspect escalating that confrontation might’ve turned out pretty badly for us, given the optics of two gnarly-looking guys yelling at a maybe-teenage girl and such. But later, we found what was left of the recorder on the ground. So I looked at the wreckage and said, “Well, I wonder if it still works?” Low and behold, it kinda-sorta-not really but almost did. And she had the amazing lack of foresight to give us her full name and spell it out for us before assaulting me. Derek had already taken her picture before all the mayhem, so we had enough material to run a chopped-up version of the interview, basically saying, “This is the humorless dunce who smashed my tape recorder.” It was spite-based stunt journalism at its best.
MICHAEL BRODEUR (music editor): The crossword during that period was one of the most under-heralded and fertile grounds for the Dig’s imagination. Every week we had a different editor who’d be responsible for the crossword. So once every four-to-six weeks or whatever, you’d get stuck on production day remembering that you had to make the fucking crossword, so you’d be like, fucking goddamnit. What making the crossword involved is opening up this shitty crossword software we had, putting in theme words, and the program would autofill the rest of the squares to make a puzzle for you. So for 60- to-70 percent of the words, you’d have to make up clues and turn those clues into something theme related. The way the themes worked was like The Onion advice column—like, This week, it’s A Bee!—a different fictional author every time. It was like a complicated poem you had to write every six weeks.
CHRISTINE LIU (lifestyle editor): I got my start by being one of the crazy people who entered the crossword contest. The first person who solved the puzzle correctly and sent it in would get a gift certificate for El Pelon. I found the mailbox closest to the South End, and sent it through there on Wednesday when the paper came out, thinking maybe it would arrive the same day. I also included some doodles and notes. And I ended up winning.
BRODEUR: I think we did a crossword by “A Swarm of Bees” once. One crossword was by “Your Drunk Nostalgic Uncle.” We had one by “Screech from Saved by the Bell,” segueing into his new life as a nascent porn star. We did the “Kerry Healey Campaign Ad Generator.” “The Undecomposed Heart of John the Baptist.” “A Girl in Line at Target Trying to Decide What Variety of Slut to be for Halloween.” “Madonna’s New Adopted Son After He Realizes She’s a 200-year-old Centipede who Needs Blood to Stay Young.” “A Caterer at Grace Ross’s Victory Party.” “Kevin Federline’s Divorce Lawyer.” “Vicki the Robot from Small Wonder as Hacked by White Supremacist Musical Duo Prussian Blue.”
JENNA SCHERER (theater critic): I had enemies. I kind of miss my enemies. There was this mime who, ironically, wouldn’t shut up. I can’t remember what his name was, but he wrote two or three of just the most angry tirades against me in the form of letters to the editor. There was this other guy who probably still has the same theater blog, and he ragged on me all the time. For a long time, the top search for my name was some article he’d written about this terrible Amanda Palmer play. Some anonymous commenter was giving him shit, and he commented back, “I know this is Jenna Scherer! You’re terrible!” And it wasn’t even me.
Coming Up: The once-in-a-generation office romance that doesn’t turn into an embarrassing catastrophe for everyone involved.