Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sommer on DCist

"I was born in Phoenix, but raised mostly in Tucson, Arizona. I did my freshman year of college at Arizona State and then dropped out to go to a film program in Vancouver and write a screen play. Looking back, the script was really bad. It was all about rich kids in Arizona who pretend to be homeless and panhandle. At the time, I was just proud of myself for writing a whole script before I turned 20. I then moved to Los Angeles, thinking I would write for TV. I starting as a lowly production assistant, then an assistant, and then the coordinator of the props department. I worked on a bunch of shows, like Six Feet Under, The Shield, Crossing Jordan, and First Years, which you probably never heard of because it got canceled after three episodes. 

"After a few years, I decided that I should probably finish college. I started taking night classes at UCLA Extension and then eventually quit my job and graduated from UCLA with a major in international economics. I was a bit older than everyone else at school and already knew the city, so I found myself taking the role of forcing people to see other parts of the city. I have always wanted to be an expert on where I live and to introduce people to things they didn't know about. I also got back into writing and became the arts editor of the newspaper at school. 

"By the time I was done with college, I was ready to leave LA. Like every college graduate, I was panicking about what I was going to do. I had this TV experience and a degree in international economics, and I was interested in being a journalist. I eventually found a small documentary company based in D.C. that makes videos about non-violent conflict and revolutions. I ended up writing the company a long letter and asking how to get involved in that line of work. After several months, I got a job with them and worked on a film about the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. 

"I was not writing a lot for work and wanted to get back into it. I randomly met a couple of people who were writing for DCist and eventually became the arts editor. DCist was started in September 2004 at the bequest of Gothamist, the publisher. I came in about a year after it started. There were about eight people working and we would post four or five things a day. What really drew me to contributing to DCist from the beginning was that I wanted to force myself to figure the city out. For me, I have always found that the best way to do that is to write about it. We were all doing this as a hobby in addition to our full-time jobs. Over time, a lot of people running the site left. At some point, I was the only person left. At the time, we had built DCist up into something, but it needed someone working on it full-time. I started lobbying Gothamist to hire me full-time as Editor-in-Chief to turn DCist into something more substantial. They eventually agreed. Since then, it has really grown. We have 40 contributors and post 15-20 things a day. When I started full-time in May 2007, we were doing about 300,000 page views a month. Last month, we did 3 million. 

"The more that I have learned about the city, I see that it has gone through some real highs and lows and still has a long way to go. I get that my readers and friends are frustrated by the pace of progress, but I have seen a lot of changes since I moved here five years ago. In D.C., almost always, the changes are for the better. I don't always see that in other cities. Very rarely am I finding myself wanting to keep the status quo here. Not that everything in the city is positive, but I think that things are getting better. 

"Since moving here, I have really grown to love D.C. I don't know where else I would live. I have always said that the nice thing about D.C. is that no one cares if you are cool, they care if you are smart. It is nicer for me to live in a place where you are judged by whether you know things rather than if you are wearing the right kind of pants. My impression is also that there are a lot of people who really care very deeply about their city and neighborhoods. They want D.C. to be a nice place to live for everyone. I don't see D.C. residents as being complacent about the future of our city." 


Jack said...

Not sure I would classify all, or most, of the changes in this town as for the better. I agree that many are needed, but my sense is that racial relations remain extremely difficult due in part to these changes and their resulting gentrification. I posit that much of this difficulty stems from the lack of proper education and publicity surrounding how and why these changes take place.

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