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Guest Kit: Life After Newspapers

[My friend, former editor, and former housemate Tom Shroder -- yeah, you should have seen us back in the day, we were awesomely huge, we ROCKED the Grove (or were we total losers? don't answer that!) -- has graduated from the Post to a new life as an entrepreneurial editor. He's one of legions of newspaper people who are figuring out their lives in a downsized industry. I suggested to Tom that he write a guest kit about what's it's been like so far. I'm hoping he's not playing too much golf, since we're supposed to tee 'em up in a week or so and my own game (you recall I swing a special club known as the Treefinder) has probably not improved in the many months in which I've failed to darken a links anywhere. And I'm hoping to take his money. Tuition issues and whatnot.]

By Tom Shroder

I have had a vision of the future: We all work for ourselves, answerable to no one but Google.

I came by this view after I took the buyout at The Post, where I had been editor of The Washington Post Magazine (before it became the WP magazine). But as much as I would have liked to, I couldn't afford to retire in the sense of pursuing shuffleboard and living in pajamas. (Turned out, I could only afford the pajamas part.)

I wasn't going to starve, but I did need some supplemental income. Originally, I had imagined that I'd pick up some new work in journalism. But despite 30 years as a newspaper writer and editor, I soon was forced to conclude that finding another newspaper job would be as likely as finding work as a stagecoach driver. Sure, there were still a few Wild West tourist traps operating, but they were downsizing to pony rides, and, in any case, none ever responded to e-mails bearing my resume.

So after a lifetime of resisting it -- God, how I hate to gamble -- I went all entrepreneurial on myself. I hired a guy named Steve to build a website for me, hung up an electronic, web-searchable shingle as an editor for hire and began publishing my own blog. My idea was that the thousands of people who had inundated me with manuscripts over the years may want something more from an editor than a terse rejection notice. What if they could stop that guy whose signature spelled doom in mid stroke, get him to spend some time with their writing, to tell them what they'd done wrong and how to improve?

Maybe I had the kernel of a business plan. But making it into an actual business would require an education. First I had to figure out how to buy and register a domain name for my website. I still haven't figured out how someplace called has managed to acquire ownership of every site name in the universe, even those that nobody has thought of yet. But so be it. At least coming up with possible names for my editing/blogging site proved easy. I spewed dozens:;, -- every pun and cliché in the book. And discovered: all of them were taken.

My friend Gene Weingarten suggested, which was both catchy and apparently available, but possibly didn't deliver the exact message I was looking for. Whenever Gene had branded me with that name in his Post columns and chats, I told people, "I prefer Tom the Surgeon." Which is probably why I woke up in the middle of the night and fired up my computer to type "storysurgeons" into godaddy's search engine. Bingo. With a little application of plastic I had a website name Five minutes later, I got an email from Google (privy to every random thought that goes through my keyboard) offering me a $100 coupon for advertising my site online. I filled out a form, and now I had an ad campaign too.

So for the cost of a week-long vacation, I had an online business and my own publishing concern. In the days that followed, I very easily slipped into writing and working the same hours I had in my Post job, except for two minor differences. One, nobody was paying me; and two, if I wanted to get up in the middle of the afternoon and take my dog for a walk in the woods, I could, and would. I found that to be a fair trade-off.

On a recent afternoon of the sort that has given fall a good name despite the fact that it is a harbinger of three months of black ice, I was stepping through a light-dappled forest, the emerging reds and golds exploding in the angled sun. A cool breeze rustled a million leaves, and I could barely hear the hum of work-day traffic beginning to build behind me. Something came over me, and I felt the urge to shout. So I did, tentatively at first, and then louder until I was screaming at the top of my lungs, "FREEDOM!" over and over like Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

Then I remembered: in the very next frames of film, Gibson has his guts slowly spooled out of his body by the executioner.

But, damn, this sense of liberation feels good. While it lasts.

By Joel Achenbach  |  October 23, 2009; 12:25 PM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Waiting For Augustine
Next: Remind Me Why I'm Not Here More


first? first time beat evrybody

Posted by: bh72 | October 23, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

first scc, everybody

Posted by: bh72 | October 23, 2009 1:41 PM | Report abuse

So, Tom, call me!

Posted by: Jumper1 | October 23, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

We have a big english walnut tree that four grey squirrels and a bunch of scrub and steller jays are harvesting.
Anyone know how the jays get the walnuts cracked?

Posted by: bh72 | October 23, 2009 1:48 PM | Report abuse

I like this idea.

I know that there are many freelance writers out there whose short stories and other word-type articles of a narrative nature might be interested in procuring the services of a professional type editorial person to assist them in making their otherwise unreadable prose somewhat less unreadable and perhaps actually able to be comprehensible-like.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | October 23, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

I would think a combination editor / agent would be most useful to me.

Posted by: Jumper1 | October 23, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

bh72 -- they hire someone?

Posted by: -ftb- | October 23, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

I think it is splendid to hear from Tom himself, instead of reports-of-Tom as we are used to.

Posted by: Yoki | October 23, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

I love Tom Shroder and am glad to see he has a blog of his own. Wonder where Dreamer aka TomFan is? This is one of Tom's blogposts deconstructing a recent Kit:
(hope the link works)

Tom tweets too. Wonder if he's on Facebook?

Happy Birthday to DotofG!

Posted by: seasea1 | October 23, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

As much as I admired Tom's entrepreneurial spirit, it reminds of an apocryphal joke about the last pro football strike. One of the players was asked what he would do for money if the strike went on too long. The player thought about it and said, "I guess I could become a color commentator."

It just seems like being on the Titanic and deciding you are going to become a swimming instructor.

Posted by: yellojkt | October 23, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Tom... I know the feeling. I just hope it's not like this (near 1:10 or so)...

Posted by: -TBG- | October 23, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of tuition costs, here's a list of the ten most expensive undergraduate schools in the country. This is the total cost for tuition and room and board for one year-

1. Sarah Lawrence College $54,410
2. New York University $51,991
3. The George Washington University $51,730
4. Bates College $51,300
5. Skidmore College $51,196
6. Johns Hopkins University $51,190
7. Georgetown University $51,122
8. Connecticut College $51,115
9. Harvey Mudd College $51,037
10. Vassar College $50,875

Note that three of these are in the D.C.- Baltimore area. Yikes!

Posted by: kguy1 | October 23, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Numbers 4 through 10 are so similar that I begin to suspect conspiracy...

Posted by: ScienceTim | October 23, 2009 2:50 PM | Report abuse

kguy - Here's a little secret about expensive private colleges. Unless you are independently wealthy, nobody actually pays that amount. These institutions typically have extremely generous financial aid packets.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | October 23, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

First piece of advice to Tom: Fire your website designer or try to get your money back.

The red backdrop just screams non-work related. It seems more suitable for an escort service. And the box with the scroll bars is just painfully reader unfriendly. The only scroll bars should be on the reader's browser, not within the page. While the fixed window size gives a TV screen-like appearance, it's not how people are used to interacting with a blog.

Also, the Read More link should come right at the end of the text instead of at the bottom of the post. It should also only show when there actually is more to read. It's very unclear which posts are complete and which have more content. It's frustrating to click through just to find out you have already read the whole post.

Finally, where is the comment section? I can think of a few bloggers WHO (I fixed that one myself, don't charge me) could confirm that an active healthy commenting community builds commitment.

Posted by: yellojkt | October 23, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Collusion? Ya think? Don't get me started.

Several universities got spanked recently for sharing financial aid offers amongst each other to avoid bidding wars with prospective students.

Posted by: yellojkt | October 23, 2009 2:58 PM | Report abuse

A few bouts of long term unemployment have taught me that eating at home saves a tremendous amount of money and that rice and beans doesn't have to be monotonous.

Posted by: wiredog | October 23, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, Tom, don't need a editur. I ar one.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | October 23, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Tom... I was just going to suggest you make the banner a "home" link, but I'll ditto what yello said about the scrolling.

The content is GREAT.

Posted by: -TBG- | October 23, 2009 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I dunno yello. I realize that this is all very subjective, but I like the way the site looks. It seems friendly, professional, and uncluttered. (And yes, I like the serial comma. Sosueme.)

I cannot speak to the alleged resemblance to an Escort Service.

As for the blog section, which isn't really the point of the site anyway, I really don't find anything confusing about it. But, again, just my opinion.

True, there isn't a comments section, but can you really blame the guy?

Posted by: RD_Padouk | October 23, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

And I ditto on allowing comments.

Posted by: Yoki | October 23, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

The top-ranked schools don't offer much non-need based financial aid. I learned the hard way that FAFSA's definition of need and mine were vastly different.

You have to go to the mid-level liberal arts schools to start getting decent price negotiation but they will still end up more expensive than state schools (which also tend to be pretty stingy with the scholarships).

College is expensive and only getting more so. My alma mater offers a single merit-based scholarship program which offers a couple of dozen full and partial scholarships each year. Applications for it have more than doubled over last year and my bet is that the money pool is smaller.

Posted by: yellojkt | October 23, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Shroder's Blog has a piece he wrote about Joel:

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | October 23, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

kguy -

Here in SC we make the top of some lists:

Just not the right ones.


Posted by: DLDx | October 23, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

RD, my daughter is at Princeton, my brother teaches at Cornell, and Dr. K went to Brown. I know more than I ever wanted to about those "generous" financial aid packages. Even with a grant and a student job, Kurosawachick still is borrowing more per year in grad school than her entire yearly costs as an undergrad at UVA.

Posted by: kguy1 | October 23, 2009 3:23 PM | Report abuse

True, the definition of "need" is clearly subjective. The point is, I would hate to see anyone rule out a school on financial grounds without at least checking into the financial aid packages.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | October 23, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

I don't like the internal scrolling, either. I suppose some web designers do. Also, the link to Shroder's book is incorrect - I'll email him about that. The red color doesn't scream porn to me, but then, I don't go there, so no idea, reely.

Posted by: seasea1 | October 23, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

I said 'escort service', not 'pr0n'. And some of those pages are very classy looking and well designed. Don't ask me how I know, but I do.

Posted by: yellojkt | October 23, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Feel like someone's reading over your shoulder? It's pretty easy to keep Boodle-current with my BlackBerry, but still can't post from it.

Happy birthday, Athena!

Thanks to the miracle of kept, outdated calendars I can write that on the day of your birth I had a stochastics midterm, code due for my AI class and taught 2 labs in basic programming. Where has the time gone? Now to write to my still-friends from grad school to say "16 years!!!"

Tomorrow morning I'm heading upstate for the weekend. I've got turkey roasting for the family of a new baby and plans to pressure-cook chicken for the dogz. Give me a day off, I know how to have fun!

Posted by: -dbG- | October 23, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

dbG! Hey everybody, dbG was here!

Posted by: Yoki | October 23, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse


We have this discussion at least twice a year. Once your 'need' is established most schools will offer packages to bring the price down to the need level, further exacerbating the cost fixing aspect of it.

If your expected contributions are more than the established 'list price' (50k as noted above) for a private school, you aren't getting true financial aid from anybody. If your contribution level is below that of a state school, everybody charges the same price and makes up the difference with aid. In between your mileage will vary. The competition is in the mix of grants/work study/loans.

Scholarships are where the real price negotiating plays in. State schools are the Saturn dealerships. Don't expect a lot of room for haggling, but the product is respectable and relatively inexpensive. The Ivy Leagues are the Lamborghini dealerships. They don't dicker because they don't have to. Everybody else falls in the middle. Expect something to come off the sticker, but you aren't going to get a Lexus for a Hyundai price no matter what.

But RD's point is correct. Don't let the printed price scare you away until the salesman takes to his manager.

Posted by: yellojkt | October 23, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Waving dbG!

Cannot recall what I was doing 16 years ago, so I am guessing it was not something memorable.

Posted by: dmd3 | October 23, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Oddly enough, I know exactly what I was doing that day. I was flying back from 3 weeks spent working with a law firm in Santiago.

Posted by: Yoki | October 23, 2009 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Yoki! dmd!

dmd! Yoki!

Posted by: -dbG- | October 23, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Which reminds me, badsneaks hope you are still available next Friday - lunch?

Posted by: dmd3 | October 23, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Tom is neglecting one important revenue stream, advertising. In my two years of blogging, I have 'earned' nearly $50 by just placing context-related text ads (just like the ones between the post and the comments) on my blog. I put 'earned' in quotes because the company store won't cut me a check until one hundred bucks, but I get closer to finally seeing some postive cash flow every day.

Yes, you lose a little cleanliness of design and the context ads may actually steer readers to competitors, but I can attest that it is a small price to pay for such huge potential rewards.

Posted by: Mo_MoDo | October 23, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

And Scotty,

I have no idea what pharmeceuticals our dear Maureen was taking when she wrote Wednesday's column, but they were definitely the good stuff.

Posted by: Mo_MoDo | October 23, 2009 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Sixteen years and nine months ago I was working in West Palm Beach and still nearly two years away from moving to Baltimore. So until Maury says I'm the baby daddy, I'm not paying a dime.

Posted by: yellojkt | October 23, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

dmd, I'll be sure to be free next Friday for lunch. Email me and we'll work out the details. Looking forward!

Posted by: badsneakers | October 23, 2009 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Of course, tuition concerns always assume you actually get in. Which raises an interesting question. When my son applied for college he spent a lot of time working on his application essay and ended up with something pretty good.

But what if he had paid to have someone like Tom edit it? Would that have been ethical?

Posted by: RD_Padouk | October 23, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse

I don't know if it's ethical, but it is an entire industry. College admission consultants routinely review, edit, and even ghostwrite, all the essays their clients submit to colleges.

Posted by: yellojkt | October 23, 2009 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Wow. Thanks Yello. Scary.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | October 23, 2009 5:34 PM | Report abuse

You may want to advertise on some writing sites like and such. However, I don't see you emphasizing your chops in editing fiction, which is which most crappy would-be writers do; that or their memoirs.

I also suggest teaching writing should you not turn a profit quickly enough.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | October 23, 2009 5:47 PM | Report abuse

TBG, saw the DotG shout-out.

In 1993 I was in high school but had not yet taken chemistry so I hadn't learned that October 23 was Mole day.

Was your daughter born at 6:02 a.m. on October 23?

FYI, It will soon be mandatory for all chemists to call their sons or daughters born on that exact date Avogardo or Avogarda.

At last I know why October 23 felt important when I woke up this morning.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | October 23, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and if I had been doing what you were doing THAT day in 1993, I'd have been in so much trouble, I can't image.

Congratulations to DoTG for her birthday.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | October 23, 2009 6:17 PM | Report abuse

SCC: imagINe.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | October 23, 2009 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Congratulations to TBG's daughter on her 16th birthday, what a nice age that was... Gee, 1993, that was during my former life, I don't know what I was doing, but I know I'm much happier now than I was then!

Posted by: badsneakers | October 23, 2009 6:38 PM | Report abuse

Daughter says "thanks!" for all the birthday greetings (me too!). We just returned from her choice of birthday dinner: crab-crackin' at Capt. Pell's in Fairfax. A fun family dinner. Oh... delicious, too!

Posted by: -TBG- | October 23, 2009 6:41 PM | Report abuse

I got around to reading former Senator Simpson's opinion piece about giving kids second chances. When I lived in Cody, Wyoming, his misbehavior as a kid were well known and everyone was happy that he'd become such a responsible adult. At the time, he was working on immigration reform.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | October 23, 2009 7:34 PM | Report abuse

I'm just off to see "Bright Star" with Himself (the only man I know [or at least the only one who lives in the same city as I do, there are brothers and friends elsewhere who qualify] who will go to sensitive/literary-type dramas with me, bless his heart); and just in time, too. It moved from the local multi-screen to the second-run cinema last night, and we know that is the kiss of death. I think at least one Boodler reported seeing and liking it, so I feel safe.

Oh! And Himself is about to start a full gut-job renovation of his kitchen in his new house. Can't wait to see the result; the designer's samples and drawings look *fabulous* (especially the backsplash -- which the English call the "splash-back" hee hee).

Posted by: Yoki | October 23, 2009 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Have fun Yoki.

Posted by: dmd3 | October 23, 2009 8:09 PM | Report abuse

I just came across this quote from Charles Pierce in Eric Alterman’s blog. He’s referring to the column by Bill Donohue we talked about the other day. No one puts words together quite like Charlie, but then you all know I have a crush on him.

“There no longer can be any question. The Washington Post is trying to outflank The Onion as a news source. Of whom does this loon have cheap-motel-and-a-goat pictures, anyway? If it's Parson Meacham, I don't want to see them, and if it's Sister Sally Of The Blessed Sacraments Exposed, I probably already have.”

Speaking of which, I just read that 'Wait, Wait' will be at Carnegie Hall this Saturday (well, they already taped but you know what I mean) and that they sold out tickets in 90 minutes.

Posted by: badsneakers | October 23, 2009 8:20 PM | Report abuse

Dear Tom,

A part of me notices you are MIA at WaPo and says this,

and the other part of me is right beside you shouting 'Freedom'.

May this venture be successful. A toast to your good fortune (with an incredibly cheap wine - even with all the taxes such beverages carry here in Canada). The wine may not be vintage but it is plentiful and the toast is heartfelt.

Posted by: --dr-- | October 23, 2009 10:47 PM | Report abuse

O dr, you are the beautiful wise woman. I am lost in admiration and aspiration to be you'm, one day.

Posted by: Yoki | October 23, 2009 11:16 PM | Report abuse

Like! Of course I would like the words of a friend of Joel's. is a brave new world. Stay brave! And give the Almighty some credit. You'd be amazed.

Posted by: Windy3 | October 23, 2009 11:29 PM | Report abuse

That's for Wilbrod, the links / info requested earlier.

Posted by: Jumper1 | October 24, 2009 12:59 AM | Report abuse


The puppy-producing mills (note the use of "mill" as an industrial noun) make me crazy. There is just no way these people are breeders (who take account of genetics, genomes, and contribute to the knowledge of the breed); there is just no excuse. They are mass-factory-producers of puppies.

No excuse.

Posted by: Yoki | October 24, 2009 2:19 AM | Report abuse

i'm engaged in a u2 marathon, aided by a new ipod. i used to own all the albums through achtung baby, but then i stopped listening to them for awhile - wasn't into the techno pop sound they took on. so, i'm basically catching up on all the songs post 1992. i'm more or less familiar with the songs that were popular enough to be on the radio. at any rate, thanks, seasea, for the set list pointer. and i agree that the songs from the latest album are more like the classic u2 sound.

Posted by: LALurker | October 24, 2009 3:27 AM | Report abuse

Good morning Al. Coffee is on, stronger than usual. I'm putting some muffins, Saskatoon berry, in the oven. Sip that coffee slow and sit a spell. The muffins will be out in 10 minutes.

Posted by: --dr-- | October 24, 2009 7:25 AM | Report abuse

Good morning you all! Jumper's Ham Pie is what's for breakfast/brunch. It's got ham and sweet green peppers & onions and spices and gravy. When cooked, top with homemade cheese biscuits, bake and now it's on the bunker counter..... piping hot. For the real recipe, go to his web site, listed above in his 12:59 am. I cut up a big bowl of naval oranges for you all, I eat one every morning for a right start for the day. Coffee too.

Enjoyed your guest kit, Tom, will now look at your website. Hope you make piles of money (you all stop laughing!).

Posted by: VintageLady | October 24, 2009 7:27 AM | Report abuse

Oh! --dr--! Muffins are always a treat. Must admit I had to look up the berries.

Posted by: VintageLady | October 24, 2009 7:38 AM | Report abuse

How are you, Vintage Lady? It seems it is just us chickens this morning. I can't stay for brunch. I must go off into the world to sell yarn. May I take some Ham pie along for a later? Sounds good.

I was cruising blogs this morning and found this at Dooley's.

Posted by: --dr-- | October 24, 2009 7:47 AM | Report abuse

Exactly, Yoki.

Posted by: -dbG- | October 24, 2009 7:55 AM | Report abuse

New microkit fyi...

Posted by: joelache | October 24, 2009 8:27 AM | Report abuse


What happened to George Will?

I guess he can't write about David Brooks, but what the heck is this?

In his "opinion piece," Georgie writes about Michele Bachmann ...

"After six years in the state Legislature, she ran for Congress and now, in her second term, has become such a burr under Democrats' saddles that recently the New York Times profiled her beneath a Page One headline: "GOP Has a Lightning Rod, and Her Name Is Not Palin." She is, however, a petite pistol that occasionally goes off half-cocked."


***Which planet are you on ... or, at best, orbiting?

If Bachmann is a burr under any a saddle, it is that of the political right. She opened her mouth too many times and almost lost to a guy who looked AND sounded like a bee keeper in a Republican district.

And it keeps getting worse!

There seems to be a cottage industry that has grown up where women like Liz Cheney, Michele Bachmann, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Sarah Palin, and Michelle Malkin get monetary support from wealthy industrial and real estate tycoons to spout nonsense.

Rachel Maddow does a very credible job in outting the source of funds and support for these folks. As Maddow says, there isn't a law against it, and they can go right ahead, but it is always good to know who might be profiting.

Posted by: russianthistle | October 24, 2009 8:27 AM | Report abuse

Those muffins sound delicious dr, my SIL has sent us Saskatoon Berry products, very good.

It was cold, rainy and windy yesterday, as are result my entire property is covered in leaves three Ash trees have dropped almost all their leaves, maple, beech, cherry and bass trees in the process of dropping their leaves. It will be a day of clean up. Good thing the property is not too large, younger child had a friend sleep over, last time this friend was over they raked the leaves for me. Last night when she arrived she looked at the lawn and her dad said "this time if they do the raking they will need to wear a hat" as it was pouring, kids decided they would not be raking again quite distressed their work was all for naught.

Posted by: dmd3 | October 24, 2009 8:28 AM | Report abuse

If things continue the way they have been and they never figure out how to monetize the Internet, not only the journalism industry but also the book industry, the music industry and most creative industries are going to suffer similar fates to ours. I think it's more likely that someone will think of a solution to this before it happens.

I bet that when the journalism industry consolidated in the 60s or 70s (I forgot which decade), nobody would have predicted 1999. And I'll bet that everyone in 1999 thought those rosy days would last forever, but then in 2000 the world suddenly turned. It always feels like the inertia is going to last when everything is really about to change. I think we've had it so bad for so long that if we can hang in there for just a few more years, we'll find ourselves in another universe again. Or at least we'll figure out some other way to survive while writing for free...

Hope you can keep your morale up.

Posted by: sonja127 | October 24, 2009 12:15 PM | Report abuse

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