ODDS & ENDS
The Third Annual State of The Partial Observer Address
Transcript from the Third Anniversary Gala.
by Mark D. Johnson
November 8, 2003
[ The Partial Observer's advice columnist, Dear Jon, stands at the podium at the Hotel de Grandeur's Virtual Ballroom in Chicago to introduce the keynote speaker. ]Introduction by Dear Jon
Readers and writers of the Partial Observer, it is our unique privilege to download what is perhaps the finest webzine in cyberspace. There is no better way to balance and objectify an opinion than to admit that it is based on observations that are partial. No one person has the complete picture.
Among our regular columnists and our occasional contributors, we boast authors from across the spectrums of politics, theism, and sports. All the very things you were told were impolite to discuss at family reunions, are discussed here. Libertarians, neo-cons, Great Society democrats and Canadian-style socialists, mix it up with evangelical preachers, Jewish agnostics, Yankees and Southerners, Packers and Bills and Bears fans.
[ laughter ]What makes the Partial Observer special, however, is that its writers, whether regular or occasional, care about the craft of writing.
This, which has set the Partial Observer apart, proceeds from the vision of one man, whom it is my honor to introduce. Working from the darkness of his lair, he lures aspiring writers with a promise of readership. Before we know it we find ourselves caught in his cyber-web, our ISBN addresses held fast forever, while he fastens onto us and feasts on our creative energy.
[ uncomfortable silence ]Ha ha ha. Of course I'm kidding. And even if I weren't kidding, I would have to say I was, or he would move the Encyclopedia deadline to Wednesdays.
So, without further ado, I introduce to you the man without whom the Partial Observer would be impossible, forcing its writers to turn elsewhere where they might actually get paid, the 8-Legged Webmaster Freak, Mark "Where's the article?" Johnson!
[ The editor of The Partial Observer, Mark D. Johnson, exchanges the secret PO handshake with Dear Jon, then takes the podium to deliver... ]The State of the Partial Observer Address
I guess now I know why he wanted me to wear a Spider-Man costume.
[ laughter ]Anyway, thank you, Dear Jon, for that partially kind introduction.
Dear Jon was there a little over three years ago when I pitched the idea of a web-based magazine to a small group of guys over lunch at the Hilltop Restaurant on Chicago's North Side. I expect many out-of-towners are thinking the Hilltop is a fictional place because, as everyone knows, there is no such thing as a hill in Chicago. But I assure you, that's where we were, and as far as I know they're still serving up under-cooked burgers there today. Jim Wilson was also among those present, and he immediately offered up his idea for a name: The Partial Observer. It was perfect. I went home, created a logo and started writing code. By the time the site went live three weeks later, Dear Jon had submitted his first six columns, and James Leroy Wilson was writing the first of his many political columns in the wake of the tumultuous 2000 presidential election. At Dear Jon's Christmas party the following month, I cornered S.E. Shepherd, and when he expressed interest, I knew we'd be able to keep this thing going for at least three or four months.
[ laughter ]And here we are today, embarking on our fourth year. With readership at it's highest mark yet, and more and more contributing writers, I am pleased to declare that the state of the Partial Observer is stronger than ever!
[ standing ovation ]Of course, we could never have achieved this success without the dedication of our staff of regular writers. With my deepest gratitude, I wish to thank them by name, and I ask them to stand as they are called: Dear Jon, Barnabas, James Leroy Wilson, Greg Asimakoupoulos, Dr. Spin, Casey White, Sal Rosken, Michael H. Thomson, and S.E. Shepherd.
[ standing ovation ]And now you all know how Asimakoupoulos is pronounced.
[ laughter ]We have all enjoyed the fruits of your labor, and I commend you for your continued excellence. As you may recall, I attempted to keep pace with you guys this past year with a weekly commentary on television called "Program Notes."
[ approximately three people clap awkwardly and briefly ]Yes, well... now where was I... Right. The experience gave me first-hand knowledge of the difficulty in writing a weekly column when one has plenty of other things to do, and, as Dear Jon points out at every opportunity, all for no pay whatsoever. And, incidentally, I'm quite sure that I made it clear up front at that meeting at the Hilltop that this venture was not about making money. That is not to say we wouldn't welcome some cash flow, but having no revenue has its advantages. For the reader, it means no pesky pop-up or banner ads to clutter your screen. You get 100% pure content at the PO, and given the quality of our content, that is no small point. For writers, it means that if you can string a few sentences together, you stand a good chance of getting published here. We are fortunate to have a distinguished group of regular writers, but if we were restricted to publishing within a given budget, some aspiring writers might have to look elsewhere for publication, and The Partial Observer is nothing if not a welcoming place for aspiring writers. So you see, we're all winners here without even a dime to show for our efforts.
[ Mr. Johnson pauses to look encouragingly at Dear Jon, who folds his arms and pouts. ]Seriously though, this begs the question "Why do we do it for free?" And while some may make allegations of coercion, I think the real reason lies in the satisfaction of sharing our thoughts with the world without conforming to the political views of an editorial board. For our writing community, it is not "Look what I wrote!" but rather, it is an exchange of ideas and an opportunity to be a part of something worthy. It is the appreciation of varied points of view, and hopefully that goes for our audience as well.
Of course, it helps to know that people are reading the PO and appreciate what we are doing. While we do not accept financial support at this time, there are three important ways for our readers to support us:
First of all, spread the word - take a moment to e-mail friends and family about our site. The number of visitors has increased dramatically this year, but we're still relatively small and seek a wider regular audience. Many readers find us through search engines, and I'm pleased that we have several articles that rank highly in Google searches. If you've installed the Google toolbar for your browser, you'll notice an indicator called a page rank. The PO currently has a page rank of 3 (and sometimes 4) out of 10. By contrast, the Drudge Report scores an 8. I hope by next year's Address we will have a page rank of 5 or 6, but we will need your help. If you have a website or blog, I hope you'll consider linking to our site or to one or more articles you've read here, for that is a key way to help us increase our readership.
Secondly, provide feedback - write letters to the editor to respond to articles or to encourage our writers. Let us know what you think about our work here. Let our writers know you appreciate them - tell them what you agree or disagree with or that you simply enjoyed their article.
Lastly, come back often. We average about five new articles every week, so there's almost always something new to check out. On behalf of our writers, I wish to extend a sincere thanks to the continued patronage of our readers.
[ hearty applause ]As always, we are eager to welcome new writers into the mix. We have a particular need for more sports, arts, and fiction content, and as always, I would very much like to see greater participation in our forums and movie reviews. In fact, a new forum has just been created: the 2004 Presidential Election forum, where I hope much discussion will take place in the coming year.
I'm almost out of time here, so I'll get to the goodies. If I could have the lights dimmed, I have a brief Powerpoint presentation.
[ the lights are dimmed as a large white screen illuminates with The Partial Observer logo. ]It was just last January that we went live with our second site design, but in celebration of our third anniversary, I present our version three design.
[ the home page screen shot is met with enthusiastic applause ]Our anniversary may well become the time for an annual site redesign. While much of the content remains in familiar places, I think you'll notice an improvement in the navigation as well as some new pleasing aesthetic touches. As usual, the site will see more improvements as the year progresses, and once again, your input is very welcome. I'm always interested in what you would like to see on the site, and how can we improve your PO experience.
I want to close by plugging one of our newer features, the soon-to-be-world-famous Dear Jon's Encyclopedia of Stuff People Need to Know and Nothing Else. Dear Jon happens to be one of the most intelligent and humorous people I know, and I think this work in progress is destined to become the Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of our time. New entries are added every Friday, so check it out. You're bound to learn something. Now this next slide is a photo of Dear Jon from last year's anniversary gala. Note the crumbs in his beard and pasta sauce on his shirt.
[ laughter and applause ]Thank you so much for coming. Don't forget your complimentary box of steaks on the way out. Keep reading and writing, drive safely, and we'll see you next year!
[ standing ovation ]
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