Where USF faculty, students and graduates are invited to talk about journalism and its problems and opportunities. This blog is not affiliated with the University of San Francisco, nor is the university responsible for any of the opinions expressed herein -- though it is certainly responsible for the people who entertain those opinions, having educated them. They make us proud.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Bill Goggins

To many of you the name Bill Goggins probably means nothing. But to me and many people, he was one of the most influential people in the magazine industry, although he never made a big fuss about it. He quietly edited Wired magazine behind the scenes, very much like the Wizard of Oz. I was a very small blip on his radar, but he made a huge impact on me. He died last Sunday at age 43.

I was an intern at Wired, my first job after graduating. To get an internship at one of the most cutting-edge and progressive publications in the world was more than I could ever dream of, but to have worked with some of the smartest and nicest people in the industry was absolute icing on the cake. Bill was the deputy editor, which means he basically did everything. Bill top-edited the entire magazine, making sure that all the copy was consistent and had a singular voice. Bill was the voice of Wired. Chances are Bill would rewrite your work, but he didn't do it because he was mean or your work sucked (well, sometimes it probably did suck). He made your work sound 100X better and smarter than what you turned in. And I'm proud to say that my clips from Wired has a bit of Bill in them. I was also scared of Bill. If he ever had to come to your desk to ask you a question, especially if it was a research/fact-checking related one, you better have the right answer for him or get it to him asap. No matter how thoroughly researched or fact checked an article was when it reaches his desk, he'd find new things. But what seemed like a nuisance at the time has helped shaped me into the researcher that I am today (I hope). People at Wired, Bill being one of them (along with Bob, Sonia, Jeremiah, Stuart, Jason, Evan, Rebecca, Eric, Jennifer, Jessie, and probably 20 more people I'm drawing a blank on), was the reason why I decide to venture out to NYC and continue working with magazines. To this day I have not met anyone with the skill, wit, knowledge, humor, and caliber that Bill had. All I've met are douchebags who wishes they could be what Bill was.

But Bill was a wonderful man outside of the office. I remember him having the energy to party, and he was a fun person to be around. One night, after celebrating an issue close, Bill continued the party at a park near the Castro Safeway on Market Street. It was just the men of Wired, rushing into Safeway to buy as many beers as possible before the 2 a.m. deadline kicked in. We drank beers at the park like high school boys, messing around, doing absurd stuff, and being loud until the sprinklers turned on. Bill was one of the few people who ever gave me a nickname, "Two-Fisted Shu." How forward-looking of him, as anyone who knows me today knows that that is a very appropriate nickname. It seemed like Bill knew more about me at the time than I knew myself.

Bill died of a heart failure while running in the marathon in San Francisco. He is the first fatality in the marathon's history. This is an absolute shock because Bill was so fit and healthy when I knew him. He would come into the office early just to go running before he started work (but not before downing three bottles of Odwalla), and he was a hard worker (perhaps too much). He had already left Wired before his death, but he was very much the soul of Wired.

I lost touch with Bill after moving to NYC. After a few e-mail exchanges during my first year after Wired we didn't talk much, but I had him as a reference and I always thought of him, especially when anybody talks about Wired. It's sad that I only think of him now when he's no longer with us.

I'm sure my comments are nothing compared to those from people he's worked closer with, but he did make a difference in my career and my life. I hope I become as good of a journalist as Bill was, and I hope I get to work with someone like him again.

Boing Boing
Wired News


....J.Michael Robertson said...

Having a mentor makes a diffence in how you do the job at hand and (just as important) if you want to continue doing the job, to make a career of it. I wonder how often journalists *blame* an early mentor for being so far superior to everyone who comes after. Les seems to suggest that falling among fools and rogues later on hasn't discouraged him and that he still wants to be the kind of journalist Bill Goggins was. That's a real tribute

L. Shu said...

It's so easy to give it all up if you don't work with the right people. I worked with a terrible editor for two years who completely destroyed everything I learned about journalism and ethics. That, plus the demise of several magazines and the changing landscape of journalism, made me lose hope in the "art" and I left. I seriously contemplated jumping over to the dark side, lured by the higher pay. But after talking to a certain wise mentor (ehem, JMR, the person above), I got back to my senses and realized how much I've achieved in just five years, and how I've only just started and how much there is left to learn. If the Doc wasn't there for me, I don't know what I would have done, so thanks!

Patrick Lagreid said...

I can only share in the previous comments about the importance of a mentor and someone who understands that fine line between being condescending and leaving you with a sour taste, and someone who helps you grow, like the stake in the ground that the young tree is attached to so it will grow up strong and straight.

This of course begs for someone to get philosophical -- feel free to get up and grab yourself an adult beverage at this point, maybe even a cigar -- how much of finding a quality mentor is left up to chance? How many great talents are there that got turned off to a certain field because a "mentor" left them with a bad experience? Or how many undeveloped talents are out there because they never met their own Bill Goggins?

It's present in every field -- and I would be tempted to mute all repsonses by simply saying, "Well, that's the way it is...welcome to the unfairness that is the human experience." But I would be interested to hear some others' stories of good mentors, bad mentors, and more importantly, the repercussions those people have had on your life.

Bottoms up -

Patrick Lagreid

Eric Siry said...

I seem to recall that that night in the park by the Safeway, it was not just the men of Wired... there was also a pre-Wired Lia Steakley. And I also recall her running through the grass in her heels, followed by a spectacular face-plant. She should have known what you were getting her into...