The Austin Chronicle

Page Two: Delusions and Grandeur

An anniversary, a redesign, and a nod to the conspiracy community

By Louis Black, September 2, 2011, Columns

This issue is the debut of The Austin Chronicle's new redesign. As the world itself is ever and profoundly changing, so too is this paper's community and readership. In order to keep it relevant and vital, periodically the Chronicle is given an overhaul. This begins with a serious questioning of what the paper is and how it interacts with and relates to its audience. With those thoughts in mind, it then is reimagined, reinvented, and redesigned. For the past 18 months or so, we've been engaged in this process, probably the most comprehensive rethinking and redoing of the paper since we began publishing. The reason that the change is so much more pronounced this time has to do with the impact of rapidly changing and expanding technology.

This publication's first three decades have now ended, while the fourth decade has just begun. In the early days, every anniversary was an explosive celebration – if nothing else, our outrageous gasping for air as we finally broke the water's surface was so excessively noisy as to wake the neighborhood.

Over time, the unique becomes mundane; what was once exciting begins to seem all too predictable. This is not to lament that all passion eventually dissipates, with highs and lows lost to an endless flatness. Endurance can inspire sanity as well as illuminate a much clearer path forward.

After our first two decades of publishing, we tended to celebrate publicly only those major anniversaries that mark another half-decade. We've come to understand that though the staff puts the paper together, it really doesn't own or control it. Instead, the Chronicle, a living entity that is essentially born anew each and every week, belongs to the community from which it comes and that it serves.

The Chronicle's 20th anniversary was in 2001. At the time, it seemed quite extraordinary. Extraordinary that we had survived and were still publishing, as well as extraordinary that we were still so proud of the quality and integrity of the paper. It was decided that to celebrate, we would present the story of the Chronicle's first two decades as something of an oral history, inviting current and past staff to offer reminiscence and anecdotes.

This column that week began by asking the most obvious question: Why exactly is there a photo of a golf cart in a swimming pool on the cover of our special 20th anniversary issue? "Is this somehow," it continues, "after all, what the Chronicle is about? Twenty years summed up in one image?"

Following came the beginnings of an answer: "I could give a lot of reasons: that it's metaphoric, that it's meaningless, that it's historic. The truth is some of the staff demanded it, and from the moment anyone heard the suggestion, it made sense. The 'Golf Cart' story was the great oral history from the first decade of the Chronicle: the time we got a house out in Lakeway on barter, went out there to party, and some folks stole a golf cart and drove it into the swimming pool. I went nuts. A shaggy-dog story rendered as site-specific mythology.

"Telling the story was a way of both cementing the community and indoctrinating newer members. Whenever staff gathered socially in large groups, the story was told. It was ritual."

Especially during our first decade, the lack of money on the part of both the paper and the staff proved to be a catalyst for our bonding: "Our social group was the Chronicle staff." We couldn't afford anything else.

Over the years, however, the Chronicle evolved out of that insular, fanatical, near-cultlike social entity. Certainly, staff members have remained devoted to the paper, giving it their all, but now they also have full lives outside and away from it. Consequently, the telling of the golf cart story faded away to the point that, when producing the issue, "[w]e had to tell it to much of the staff so they would understand the cover."

Production was a summerlong labor of love that involved all the people working on the paper. It was telling our story and part of Austin's story, so it was important to get it right. A mosaic of personal memories and moments portrayed the paper very much as I most regularly thought of it: an often-inspired, sometimes mundane creation of a small group of people reflecting, commenting on, and engaging with the much larger community in which they lived.

Finally, the anniversary issue was published. Its date was Friday, Sept. 7, 2001. We were eagerly looking forward to people's reactions and responses to it. The next Tuesday, the issue disappeared not only from our readers but from us.

In this brave new Chronicle, there is a new text style that should make it easier to read. Issues are now being stapled, so those exploding flowers of pages that all too often encase papers on the racks should be gone.

Some columns have changed, with "Day Trips" returning to its beginnings, the Food section's restaurant listings becoming "Second Helpings," and the great and wondrous Arts Editor Robert Faires introducing "All Over Creation," his new column.

The listings section has undergone a strenuous and thorough streamlining, which is kicked off by a new Calendar page that features all our primary recommendations. Consequently, the listings online have been beefed up and are more substantial.

What happens next will be decided by how well all these changes work. There might just be some fine-tuning, or there might still be more substantial work that needs to be done.

Next Year, Same Time, Same Place

If this is our anniversary issue, it means it is once again time to tip our hat to all our brother and sister conspiracy hobbyists. Given the tens of thousands of believers, if not more, and the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of hours invested investigating, there is almost something pure about the complete lack of real-world consequences. There are now miles and miles of metaphoric towers built of circumstantial evidence unendingly stretching up to the sky, yet despite the enormity of what has been collected, not a twig has yet fallen to Earth.

There is something especially sweet about these structures, as they represent the triumph of predetermined beliefs justified by the elaborate arrangement of endless facts, bits of information, observations, accusations, assumptions, and evidence into stand-alone structures that bother few except their builders.

The roll call:

Ten years since the events of 9/11;

47 years and a few weeks less than 10 months since John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963;

16 years and almost five months since the Oklahoma City federal building bombing on April 19, 1995;

without a single valid conspiracy indictment.

Obviously, the truthers have the truth, as I just sadly clutch my shredded illusions, which keep me naively happy and cheerfully delusional in this corrupt and dying world.

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