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On May 8th, 1995, a wide-eyed 22-year-old boy walked into 8615 Westwood Center Drive, received an ID card, a t-shirt, and a username and password, and my career as one of the first News Editors at America Online was born.
My first “real” job, and it was amazing. We made up the rules as we went along, drank way too much beer, ate way too much Pizza, played way too much Doom and Quake, and lived and died on the fiber lines running under the building. We did obscene things on top of servers (Where do you think the term “Mounting the Stratus” came from?) and I personally crashed into Ted Leonsis as I was sliding down a bannister one night after a long day of work.
We were the first online news source to break the OJ verdict CORRECTLY. (Headline on Time Warner’s Pathfinder: “OJ FOUND GUILTY.” To this day, they can kiss our ass on that one. We won.) We mockingly wished death on MSNBC when they launched in the summer of 96. It was an amazing, amazing time, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. We covered the Democratic and Republican Conventions, and I still have the media badges and pins to prove it.
I went back to a photojournalism professor I had at Boston University who said I’d never make it. When he asked what I was doing with myself, I told him that I was the photo editor of the largest digital newsroom in the world. And he? Oh, he was still teaching 2 classes a semester. Hmm.
Which is why, it’s with just a little bit of sadness, that I note that AOL has totally abandoned the monthly fee model, and will now focus primarily on ads and content.
It’s a major shift for them. Back then, we were all about (at that point) the hours. All about the hours. $2.95 per hour multiplied by a million hours per month? We were making some serious coin for those guys.I remember sitting in all-hands meetings, with Steve and Ted telling us that the enemy wasn’t Microsoft, but Seinfeld. Not another service, but Prime Time TV. They were visionaries.
I learned how to dress, how to slick back my hair, and even how to smoke, by watching Myer Berlow do it outside the back exit. (damn, did that guy have style.) I fell head over heels in love with another AOL Employee, PromoChick, and she with me. (PromoChick is now married, and, in a subtle twist of irony, expecting her first child, ON MY BIRTHDAY.)
I got into my first car accident outside the building, with a genius who jumped a stop sign. But I discovered the beauty of Personalized License Plates – (NEWSDAWG Lives to this day in our hearts…) I convinced my best friend to draw a four-foot-high image of Michigan J. Frog on my living room wall, because I knew it would piss off my roommate. Which it did.
It was a good time. Most people my age don’t get that lucky that early in their careers. I’ve done it more than once. I’ve very, very blessed.
Vaya Con Dios, AOL…