How does change happen? Sometimes it's because of a figure who towers, taunts and rails in the name of principle, like NUVO founder Harrison Ullmann. Sometimes it's due to a persistent chipping, like the little hammer in The Shawshank Redemption, read: NUVO's environmental coverage. Other times it's by osmosis. Wouldn't it be great if a civil servant read a Hoppe column and all of the ideas seeped in?
As a freelance writer for NUVO Newsweekly off and on since 1998, I've been at arm's length from the source of the light, as impacted as everyone else by the prismatic perspective NUVO throws on the city in which we live. Week in, week out, I read NUVO and I look in my city's mirror. See its warts, behold its jewels, revealed with resolve, pep, and old-fashioned courage. Publisher Kevin McKinney fuels NUVO with vision, management, and tech savvy that make it more than a newspaper; it's a culture changer.
My own modest contribution to NUVO has consisted of the following:
Restaurant reviews. More and more, I experience culture directly through the tastebuds. Eating my way around this city, mining it for the best stew, pancakes, or grocery store, is an act NUVO should not have paid me for, it was just too pleasurable.
Film reviews. Early '90s NUVO editor Scott Riddle took a chance on an unsolicited manuscript. I had just seen Like Water for Chocolate
, and felt compelled to write about it. Next thing I know, I'm the Robin to Ed Johnson-Ott's Batman. From 1997 to 2001, I cranked out a review a week. Sure, Ed left me some pretty moldy leftovers, including How To Be a Player
(1997) and Message in a Bottle
(1999). But I did get to go to Hollywood on a press junket -- which meant I got to interview Seth Green, and hang out with The Onion's
then-film critic, on whom I developed a short-lived crush.
Theater reviews. I didn't last long on this beat. It's too easy to run into an actor at a dog park to whom you just gave a lukewarm-to-cold review.
Holiday Party Attendance: I won a gift certificate to Stout's Shoes at a NUVO holiday party once; wore those Eawesome sandals for years.
Environmental stories. Transportation, politics, food, water, air, architecture, sustainability is the bedrock of a city's health and citizen health. I love being part of NUVO's revolving team of freelancers covering the tragedies and fantasies of a city that needs to get greener. While local news stations avoid environmental coverage like politicians avoid cap-and-trade, NUVO is there, bearing witness to CAFOs, IDEM, Mitch Daniels' lust for hog production and other insidious plunders, while enshrining eco-heroes on its covers, from green architect Sam Miller to farmers market maven Laura Henderson. I still remember, with a freelancer's pride, my first NUVO cover story about green architecture, in 2003.
Taming wild hordes of freelancers is the job of editor Jim Poyser. A more patient man never lived. Coach, confidant, co-brainstormer: every freelancer needs these. After my first year as a freelancer, I felt compelled to buy Jim a gift. I left it on his porch in Rocky Ripple. He laughed at me: this was no you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours arrangement. NUVO is a commitment to a common cause.
I feel flattered when people think I work at NUVO. Over the years, my NUVO stories were written at 5:30 am, before heading into my day job. Maybe I only got paid $10 for every 100 words, do you believe it when I say that money has nothing to do with why I freelance? Once Indianapolis Monthly
came calling, in need of a food critic, promising three figure payments for each review. No thanks, I said. NUVO's where my independent heart is.
I like being a small part of a big effort that's free, literally and in the Jeffersonian sense. I like pitching in to make something thoughtful that's handmade, homegrown, but ambitious in its mission to reveal truths about Indianapolis, and unafraid to dish out tough love. I don't know what it's like to go into the NUVO office everyday, to plan the issues, sell the ads, and do the deliveries. But I'd draw my freelancer's lance in honor of NUVO in a heartbeat.