The editor’s opinion from Marketplace, Northeast Wisconsin’s business magazine. (Obligatory disclaimer: Most hyperlinks go to outside sites, and we’re not responsible for their content. And like fresh watermelon, peaches, pineapple, grapefruit, tomatoes and sweet corn, hyperlinks can go bad after a while.)

March 18, 2008

He’s baaaaaaack

Originally printed in Marketplace Magazine March 18, 2008

Before Jay Leno and Johnny Carson, NBC-TV’s “The Tonight Show” was hosted by humorist Jack Paar.

More conversationalist than comedian, Paar secured a space in TV history forever by the way he quit on the air in 1960.

NBC’s Standards and Practices department (that is, “censors”) had cut a four-minute-long joke, without bothering to tell Paar, in which an English tourist inquired about “W.C.” (“water closet”) facilities with a Swiss schoolmaster who spoke little English. The schoolmaster based his response on his belief that “W.C.” stood for “wayside chapel.” (The whole joke, which today’s middle schoolers might find amusing, is at

The next night, Paar announced, live on tape, that he was quitting, saying, “There must be a better way to make a living than this.” And off he went, leaving announcer/cohost Hugh Downs, looking as if he’d eaten some bad hors d’oeuvres, to fill the rest of the show.

One month, a trip to the Orient and a formal apology from NBC officials later, Paar returned to The Tonight Show. He began his opening monologue with this classic opening: “As I was saying, before I was interrupted. …” One round of applause later, he added, “When I walked off, I said there must be a better way of making a living than this. Well, I’ve looked. … There isn’t.”

The preceding is how I decided to announce my return to Marketplace, after a stint of nearly seven years in institutional public relations. That story won out over lyrics from The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”) or John Sebastian’s “Welcome Back,” which, I kid you not, I heard on the radio the morning I accepted this job. The headline is, of course, from the horror movie “Poltergeist” … or perhaps from WBAY-TV’s digital channel, the Retro Television Network, which appears to have been programmed with most of what I watched on TV in the 1970s and 1980s.

I’m not going to insult your or my intelligence by claiming that there is no better way of making a living than being the editor of Marketplace Magazine. It is, however, the best job, I believe, in print journalism in northeast Wisconsin. (As for the best broadcast job, tune in to Green Bay Packers announcer Wayne Larrivee this summer.) The editor of Marketplace directs the work of writers in interviewing interesting and successful people successfully doing interesting things. Marketplace readers are better educated, wealthier, more accomplished and more successful than your typical newspaper reader. What could be better for an ink-stained wretch than that?

I didn’t leave Marketplace in a Paar-style huff in 2001. The world of institutional public relations is occupied by many former journalists, as I discovered in a story I wrote on that very subject in 2000. It was a good experience, working in one of the most pleasant work environments in this area. (For one thing, being on the other side of the media-vs.-public-relations divide impressed on me the quality — or, more appropriately, lack thereof — of so many journalists in northeast Wisconsin and elsewhere.)

I’ve concluded, though, that for me journalism is either a chronic disease or an addiction. You can be in remission from disease or in recovery from an addiction, but it never really goes away. Even after I left Marketplace I would still scour the magazine section of bookstores looking at interesting magazine design. I’ve read, I believe, every issue of Marketplace since leaving Marketplace.

I look at publications like no one else I know, critiquing arguments in columns, photos, choices in layout and headline wording, the quality of lead paragraphs. One of the funniest books I’ve recently read was written by National Review founder William S. Buckley Jr., consisting solely of letters to the editor and Buckley’s responses; it’s called Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription (a sentiment shared at one point by everyone who has ever worked in the print media). And I’ve missed not being more “in the know” — to be in possession of more information than ever gets publicized. There is something bracing about having your name on a story for everyone to like, hate or otherwise critique. (The worst thing you can ever say to a columnist is not “I hated your column”; it’s “You write a column? Never heard of it.”)

This is not to suggest I’m the same person who left Marketplace in June 2001. The son I had when I left now has a younger brother and sister, the latter of whom believes the world revolves around her. I’ve become more skeptical and cynical about many things. (As someone once pointed out, make it idiot-proof, and someone will make a better idiot.) I’ve come to detest pretense and self-entitlement in people. Reading the following in a business magazine may shock you, but I’ve concluded that you should not love your job, because your job does not love you. I constantly struggle to match what I do and how I feel about things with what should be my priorities.

So why am I back at Marketplace? It’s because … it’s important. The readers of Marketplace deserve the most accurate, most timely, most insightful, most useful information about business in northeast Wisconsin — or should I say “The New North”? — that you can get. You deserve a magazine that will tell your story and understands the central importance of, among other things, profits. The productive people of northeast Wisconsin deserve an island in a sea of media mediocrity in which currents of hostility flow through a basin of apathy.

Readers of Marketplace during my first term might ask if “Marketplace of Ideas” — which, depending on your political perspective, was either a brilliantly insightful, penetrating must-read look into issues affecting northeast Wisconsin business, or overlong fascist/right-wing/libertarian/selfish trash obviously written by a relative of Joseph Goebbels — is going to return.

You’ll have to find out in the next Marketplace. But if you really can’t wait, go to