About half my life ago, I lived in Pittsburgh, the city where I became most of myself. In the years after college, I hung out with a lot of my fellow alums who also stuck around, and as it happened a lot of us were writers who’d gotten reviews or event writeups printed in one of the city’s alt-weeklies, which was the early 2000s equivalent of getting your Substack mentioned on another writer’s Insta. Jenn was one such friend, and if memory serves, it was at a White Stripes show in a dive bar where I mentioned wanting to maybe start a magazine in town and she was like, “I’m in.”
That monthly glossy print magazine that would sell ads to survive became, instead, a fortnightly web magazine we called The New Yinzer. The first issue went live on 30 January 2002:
Impossibly, the whole archive of its 13-year-run is still online.
All of this makes me feel sad and happy, mostly the latter. I’m happy that Pittsburgh was the kind of city where kids in their 20s could get a wild idea, and in a few months win private foundation grants to pay for every little thing we needed (which, at the time, was mostly beer for parties, money to xerox fliers, and domain hosting fees). I’m happy that the words of our contributors live on in some hard-to-find nook in the basement of the internet (even if they might not be).
If I’m sad it’s because this happened so long ago. And it’s because, in making a profession out of writing and publishing, I look at The New Yinzer—where nearly any idea was a good idea, no matter how useless, written by someone we likely knew in town, and published in a couple weeks—and the first thing I feel is how far away that old mania is. I feel the loss of an audience tied to where I call home, as we’re all always hustling for the attentions of writers and editors we’ve never even seen in person.
These are the lamentations of an old man, but allow me to indulge them on the 20th anniversary of this thing I helped bring into the world.
What are the wild ideas I remember? We wanted to have an essay issue, so we had an essay issue. Jenn had the idea of an issue on … would it be sports? sporting? The Sport Issue, we decided, and pinned a jockstrap underneath a sports bra on Jenn and Corey’s red velvet curtain to make our cover image. I wondered whether Reader’s Digest was still a thing, so we asked a friend to interview the editor of the magazine and write about it. We thought it would be useful to have an intern, so we asked around at Pitt and got one, Bill, who got college credit to attend our staff meetings, haul beer in his car, and get his sympatico three-piece soul act, The New Alcindors, to play our events. I wondered whether those Can You Draw This Turtle art tests were still a thing, so we had Bill draw the turtle, send it in, and write about it.
“Art all is quite useless,” except when you live in a Pittsburgh. In a Pittsburgh—you may live in one—the most you can expect from the outside is genial condescension. A Pittsburgh is (or was in the 90s/00s) the hard-to-find nook in the basement of the map; what I loved the most about The New Yinzer was how it created a space, if virtual, for art to happen there, at home. For the place itself to matter as itself. More importantly, it was art that had no intention (or hope) in reaching a wider audience. Nothing in The New Yinzer was going to launch a career.
We did whatever we wanted, and people responded. Seth was a stranger who showed up at our happy hour, Sociable Behavior, and became an editor and a lifelong friend. Jim was a friend of a friend who let us print his one-panel comics, before leaving for New York to write a movie Steve Buscemi directed. One of the biggest alt-weekly writers in the city wrote an op-ed column about how much he hated our name.
We made something of it. Now it’s a ghost town. The archive is wonky—some links don’t work, whole issues seem to be missing—but today it feels like the most New-Yinzery iteration of The New Yinzer that ever was. How lucky we are to have this repository of writing very few people read but everyone had a terrific time making. On its 20th birthday, I wish it outlasts us all.