I’ve been very fortunate in my career to work with some talented and incredible editors. (I’ve also had the unpleasant experience to work with some real jerks, but I digress.) Dick Babcock is one of the good ones—no, he’s one of the great ones.
Some background: When I was 26 years old, I found myself unemployed for the first time—after a two-year run as the editor in chief of Chicago Citysearch (I launched the site in 2000), a round of lay-offs terminated my position. That’s when I picked up the phone and called Dick. We met briefly during a business meeting at Citysearch, and I saved his business card for a rainy day, and it’s probably the smartest thing I’ve ever done. When that rainy day came out of the blue a few months later after a round of lay-offs terminated my position at Citysearch, I found myself winded. As anyone who knows me can attest: I am fiercely loyal to my places of employment. I thought I’d never find another job, much less another job I liked. I figured my career was dead at 26.
Chicago magazine’s Editor in Chief Dick Babcock advised me to have lunch with Managing Editor Shane Tritsch, during which I relentlessly tried to convince Shane how well I knew the nightlife, and that it was a good niche for them to get into (“younger readers!”). At the time, they didn’t have a regular nightlife column, and they were looking to reach scenesters of my ilk. I must’ve pitched them a hundred story ideas. So following that lunch, and after one very eager and long-winded email, Dick asked me to come in for a meeting, in April of 2002. I will never forget that day.
I remember how nervous I was riding up the elevator for my meeting with them. Was I wearing the right outfit? Did it convey a smart, sophisticated journalist whose beat was nightlife? I wanted to impress them with my knowledge of the bar scene, but I needed them to know I could be taken seriously as a writer. After one meeting, I was offered the position of “nightlife columnist”—a gig formerly held by no one. I convinced them that in order to grab that younger reader, they needed me—an in-the-know nightlifer—someone who could report on the habits and haunts of the after-dark set from behind the velvet ropes, rather than peeking in from the outside.
“Nightspotting” launched in the July 2002 issue. Dick wrote a lovely Contributor’s Note with a big photo of me, shot exclusively for the magazine, to promote the first column. My mom had it framed, along with my first column.
This opened the doors to many other freelance writing gigs, and more articles for Chicago—but most importantly, it helped me land my current job at Playboy. Three months after Chicago took a chance on me, I learned about a full-time job opening at Playboy.com (a nightlife column, while fun and glamorous, alone doesn’t pay the bills). For seven years I held two jobs: During the day I was an editor at Playboy.com; at night I was Chicago‘s nightlife reporter. I don’t think I slept a wink during those seven years.
I wrote each “Nightspotting” column like it was my own one-page magazine, working closely with the photographer for the column, Chris Guillen, to orchestrate the shoots. That column was my life, and my life was that column.
In 2005, I pitched a feature story about the crazy life I was leading as a 30-something party girl—a lifestyle the column helped support. In the July 2005 “Singles” issue, “Fling Theory” ran—my personal memoir chronicling my life as a “31-year-old text-messaging, party-hopping connoisseur of the casual affair,” the dek read. To date it’s one of my proudest articles—they hired an illustrator to do a rendering of me—and I worked directly with Dick on the text. I’ll never forget the advice and editorial direction he gave me.
The following year they assigned me a cover story on nightlife: 30 pages of nightlife coverage! I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. It was a mother to produce (I didn’t sleep for two months), but I’m very proud of the package. And because I’m a masochist, it was after that issue ran that I had the idea for a blog. There was clearly so much going on in Chicago nightlife, it warranted more than just a monthly column in the magazine. So I asked for a meeting with Dick, at which I tried to convince him to run a blog on their website that didn’t have much content on it at the time. “It’s, um, er, an article in real-time, online—we can be timely!” Somehow I convinced him it was the future of journalism, and I could be more timely with nightlife coverage, and get people to start clicking on their website, and we could post photos, and get even younger readers, and make money off it!
“Last Girl Standing” was born in December 2006, a bi-weekly blog that ran for two years, as an addendum to “Nightspotting.” It was the first blog chicagomag.com ever published. Once a week I wrote about my dates (note to future dating columnists: this will not help your cause); and once a week I wrote about nightlife news and events. I posted the requisite photos of me with celebrities at exclusive, invite-only parties, wrote about bar openings before they happened, drink specials, you know the drill. I lived it, and I loved writing about it.
All of this helped me get other writing gigs, and more feature stories for the magazine (my last one, “Bedroom Confessions,” was part of an award-winning cover story in 2009). I became somewhat of a local expert on nightlife. It even helped me land my current blogging gig at Parenting.com. Chicago magazine is very well respected in the industry, and not that this should surprise anyone but so is Dick Babcock.
I credit Chicago with launching my career as a writer. When I see the magazine on newsstands, I still show people that my name is on the masthead. I’m very proud to still call myself a contributing editor at one of the finest city magazines in the country.
Thank you, Dick Babcock, for giving me my big break. You always had faith in me; even when you rejected my pitches, you did so with a certain level of respect that isn’t always shown in this industry. Thank you for that, too. And congratulations on your retirement, it’s very well deserved.
Learn more about Dick here.