The Job PDX
The Job PDX
15. Marjorie Skinner

Marjorie Skinner is the managing editor of the Portland Mercury, author of several columns, blogger, fashion show producer, and film critic. Find out what she’s excited about in the Portland fashion scene on this week’s episode.

Show Notes

Recorded Tuesday, May 28th, 2013, and this is episode number 15. Follow Ray, Kandace, Dan, or Needmore on Twitter. Please rate our show on iTunes!

The Interview

Hi Marjorie.
How are you?
I’m pretty well. How are you?
I’m doing great. I actually prefer the rain, so I’m thrilled, this is great.
I think this is my first authentically stupid outfit of the year that I wore a miniskirt and wedge sandals for the rainiest day we had.
That’s okay, I saw a buddy recently and asked if my shoes are prescription, so…
Yeah, that was rough. Then I went along with it, but inside I was crying.So where are you originally from?
I grew up in Moss Beach, which is a small, as the name implies, beach that’s just south of San Francisco. Very, very small.
Okay. How did you end up in Portland?
I went to Reed College.
I studied English literature. I had never heard of Reed, and then when I was a freshman in high school, this guy that I had a crush on who was a senior was doing his college search, and he was kind of a cool, creative, stoner dude, and he was like,”Oh, you know, you’ll really like Reed, you should check it out.” I always just kind of kept it in mind, and then when it came the time for me to do my college search, I checked it out and… Actually, my first choice was NYU, but I was like,”Well, Reed’s pretty cool actually, I agree with that guy,” and my dad wouldn’t let me apply to NYU.
Too far away or… ?
He just hated New York. He actually told me, this is so terrible that he said this to me, but he actually said,”You will get raped everyday on your way to school and then raped again on your way home.”
Yeah (laughs). He lived that way.
It’s interesting though … Yeah, that’s … Okay. God, I don’t want to to go to New York now. So, how did you end up at the Mercury?
I honestly just kind of fell into it. I graduated, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I thought it would make sense to use my career, and kind of the obvious path would have been to go into teaching, but that didn’t really appeal to me, I didn’t really see myself as a teacher, which left a big question mark in… But I was really open-minded, and just kind of excited to see where my life is going to go, and I was kind of open to any suggestion, and my boyfriend at that time was a musician, so the [unknown 00:02:31] of the Mercury was always around our house, and he was like,”You know, Mercury’s cool, why don’t you go and see if you can do something there?” and I was like,”Okay, yeah sure.” I just walked in the front door, and I said,”Hey, I just graduated from Reed with an English degree, do you have anything I can do?” and they were like,”Well, you can apply for an internship.” So I did, and I got the internship, and that was only a year after the paper had started, so it was an even smaller company than it is now.So, partly because of that, it was only a couple of months before they hired me part-time, and the other half of my time I was jocking a register at Borders downtown, and then after about a year, or a little more than that of working part-time for them, they hired me fulltime, and then I just kind of kept jumping up the ladder from there.
Yeah, as on the side, were you sad to see Borders go?
Not really. I was deeply embarrassed at that time of working there. A lot of my friends were anti-corporate activists types, and so I was…
Like maybe if you worked at Powell’s, it would have been okay or…
I applied to Powell’s, but of course everybody applies to Powell’s, so I didn’t get a job at Powell’s.
That’s true, I applied to Powell’s at one point. Yeah.
I actually went to huge lengths to keep it secret from a lot of people that I was even working at Borders, which I don’t know it was incredibly manipulative, but it frankly wasn’t that bad ’cause when I started there, it was really chill, and I worked at the register, that’s all I did, and I worked the slowest shifts, I worked Sundays and Mondays… I don’t even remember what my other one was, but it was evenings, Sunday was really slow and Monday was kind of busy but not really. So, I just read at the counter most of the time, it was actually pretty sweet.But by the time I left, corporate had started sending all these douchebags down the line, and they always wanted you to be doing this obnoxious busy work, and it was one of those situations where I was really hating it, and I don’t know, I decided I was quitting on my walk to work one day and then I quit on my lunch break and I was over it. I didn’t have any sympathy (laughs).
Yeah, my fondest memories of Borders were that there was one in where I grew up [unknown 00:05:10] and we used to have shoplifting competitions, so we’re just stealing books from the man. So, Borders was good for that, they had very lax security and it was fun.
So, you’ve been at the Mercury for probably 12 years? Is that right?
I think it will be… Good God, yeah, it will be 12 years in July. June or July.
What is your title now?
I’m the managing editor.
What does that mean?
I mean typically in most newspaper environments, it just means that you’re literally managing the day-to-day operations of the editorial department, and I do lot of that. It’s dealing with personnel issues, I’m often involved in hiring decisions, unfortunately sometimes I’m involved in lay-off decisions, although that has happened only once in the history of our department. I deal with our freelance budget and kind of arguing for and defend our spending in that regard to the publisher. But because it’s a small company, I wear a ton of different hats. I often write a fashion and retail column, I’ve always been one of the main film critics that the paper, I mean, I still do some low-level data entry. I still help like enter the film times at the back of the paper, and copy-edit and all kinds of stuff.
So, I always imagined and I like to glamorize other people’s jobs, which is probably why this podcast is so fast I mean… But I have imagined that the newsroom at the Mercury is like starting it live and there’s the rush to get to the press and everything, is it really exciting, is there like a [unknown 00:07:11] figure there?
Well, William Steven Humphrey, the editor-in-chief, is quite a character and it’s important to remember that his first love is theater. His undergraduate degree is in theatre, and he, especially if there’s a new intern… We have these weekly editorial meetings where we talk about, everybody kind of goes around and discusses what they’re putting into their various sections for the next issue. I mean, he’s hilarious and super inappropriate all the time, and he kind of likes to showboat a little bit, so… There is a certain level of ridiculousness that goes on in our office and it’s very creatively free and a lot of eccentric people work there but it’s left of “Stop the presses!”. You know what I mean? Our literal newsroom is an office that two people and an intern share, half the interns [inaudible 00:08:08] people, but you know what I mean?They’re actually weirdly, I despise the mutual agreement, always have the lights off, and they got glass walls on the outside, so you have to peer in to see if anybody’s even in there. So they’re actually kind of chill.
[Unknown 00:08:33] they get the breaking news better if it’s dark.
It’s got to be some psychological thing that they decided to their benefit. Maybe they can just see their monitors better. I don’t know.
It really is sounding a lot like Saturday Night Live in the 70s (laughing).It’s hard to tell from the outside how the Mercury has changed. It seems like the publication hasn’t changed as much as the extracurricular activities. It seems like now a lot of the stuff that you and the Mercury do are really interesting like the fashion week that you just did and stuff like that. How has that changed over the years with the Mercury?
We’ve always done and have wanted to do as much as we can events out in the community. Just from a purely business standpoint, it’s good marketing for us. It would be great if it was a money-maker for us, but we’re not really there. I mean HUMP! is really profitable, the immature Portland festival in the fall. But otherwise, there have been fashion shows that I’ve done that have made money, but I’ve also lost money on them. It’s mostly a marketing thing to just stay involved in the community, and these events come out of things that the people who work there are passionate about, and people who work at our editorial department are really living a lifestyle where they’re entrenched in everything that they’re covering. We go to the events, we know all these people, we socialize with them…It’s really a lifestyle kind of job and it’s a passionate interest that you never entirely clock out of. So, a lot of the times, it’s just a natural extension anyway. I was going to get involved in fashion shows anyway. I’m already involved in fashion shows outside of the Mercury. I work on Content at the Ace Hotel that happens in October, last year it happened in November. I was going to get into that kind of stuff anyway, just as a by-product of being interested in what I’m interested in. So we just kind of try to make it all dovetail and breakeven, really.
It sounds like a podcast too.
We used to do a podcast.
Yeah. I wasn’t aware that you didn’t anymore.
No, when we had to do our belt tightening everybody else, after the economic hoo-ha whatever, that’s one of the things that was kind of the time and resource stuff that we decided we couldn’t afford to do anymore. We might bring it back though.
Did you guys already make mugs for your podcast?
Maybe that was the problem (laughing).
‘Cause that’s when it takes off. So is it safe to say one of your early passions is fashion?
Yes and no. I was always interested in clothing, particularly shoes. I always read fashion magazines growing up, I read Betty and Veronica, the comics, I read that for the clothes pretty much. But I had never thought about it having anything to do with my career. It was just that when I was in that part-time position at the Mercury, I was really gaming for a full-time thing and just trying to figure out a way to make myself indispensable and everybody pretty much had the usual category covered, we already had a music editor, we already had a film person in theater, ladada, and all these other things, and this was also at the same time that Seaplane was doing all these great shows and they were staring to pick up national attention, and a little bit of buzz, and I just made the argument that it didn’t make sense for us to be covering all of the other local arts so thoroughly and be completely ignoring these really exciting things that were happening and indeed denying that other magazines were talking. Venus was doing it. It didn’t make any sense.So, Steve just let me run with it, and I do still really love clothes, but I kind of cannot take a more intellectual approach to it than that and what I’m really interested in is localized manufacture and what kind of products are indicative of certain places, and it’s almost like a social anthropology fascination for me.
How has that aspect of fashion in Portland changed over the years? It seems like there’s people, like the Portland Garment Factory in the south…
Yeah, it’s been great. Portland’s actually, I mean for its size … We’re doing awesome in terms of the actual quality of designs, originality that’s happening here. In terms of our boutiques, Portland has completely exploded. We have world-class boutiques here and far more of them than you would think we could handle. We lose a few of them every year, but not as many as we gain, which is crazy, and definitely we’re towards the head of the pack when it comes to starting to build infrastructure for people to be able to have their designs locally manufactured. It’s really cool.
Interesting. Do you see that continuing? I noticed when you started your response you started with”for its size”, which is something that a lot of people say about Portland, you know, like you gotta excuse, this is Portland but… Do you think that could continue? Do you think that’ll all continue to grow, or that it’s hit some kind of limit here?
I really hope though… I feel like people, for as long as they’ve been saying, oh, for its size, Portland still has that little hesitancy and a little bit of self consciousness, but look how long we’ve been going. It hasn’t hit its wall yet. I don’t know if you’ve heard about this Union Way Project, the so-called Alley Proect that’s going there, I don’t think it will probably be completely done until August, but it’s this huge retail and food… It’s kind of like one of those indoor flea market type of spaces that you see in Europe. It’s a little bit smaller than that. It’s where Aura used to be, as well as the Redcap, it’s on that block where the Living Room Theater is. It’s still under construction right now, but it’s this other huge retail place that’s going down and it’s right in the heart of the so-called West-end part of downtown. It’s just spitting distance from the Black Box, which has another huge say in that and that just went in a couple of years ago.So, it seems like it’s still going. I can’t really predict if it’s going to keep on going, but I feel like there are a lot of people that are concerned about keeping it going. There’s a lot of energy and a lot of ambition here to maintain it. I mean, a lot of people are just really motivated to support it. Stores like Mag-Big; Kathy Ridgeway is the owner of that, and she is incredibly ambitious, incredibly active. There’s Crispin Argento who does a line of neckwear called PINO, but he’s also a master networker. You give him five minutes, he’s shaking hands with the [unknown 00:16:44], and he’s really motivated to try to figure out what the design community needs to keep going and to maintain itself as one of the leading cities, as far as sustainable local manufacturing does. There’s a lot of interest right now, so I have a lot of hope for it.
Where do you think the attention and the exposure of Portland comes from? Is it getting written up in the New York Times or is it when people from here are on Project Runway or something like that, or what do you think is the sort of…?
I think it’s all of above. I have always been kind of, specifically with Project Runway, I’ve always been kind of like urgh.. Like kind of grumpy about it’cause it’s reality TV, it’s kind of gross.
It’s more about the drama than the actual design.
I don’t watch a lot of TV, but for reality TV, as far as I have seen it as a [unknown 00:17:51], it at least showcases people who have a technical skill and there aren’t very many reality TV shows that do that, so that’s nice. But I don’t know, I kind of stopped complaining about it for this past season when Michelle was on it, our most recent local winner. I don’t know, I’m just going stop squawking about it, if designers want to do this, it is a ton of exposure, if they win, they get a bunch of money, it’s not my place to tell people what to do with their careers, and maybe it’s not the way that I would envision happening in the most hippest way, but it is broadcasting year after year the fact that a city that was so not associated with fashion for so much of its history. People, especially young people, that are watching this show, and in their minds, they’re like,”Oh no, designers come from Portland all the time.” Portland has tons of design talent’cause they’ve won the show four times out of 11.So, it’s all of the above. Those kids are maybe reading the New York Times but it felt [inaudible 00:19:10] when I was their age, but you know, it just hits different demographics. Maybe their parents are reading the articles in New York Times. Although most of that I think, thus far, is concentrated more on our food culture.
That’s true. I think so, too.
But there are a lot of parallels.
Yeah. That’s also a good point. If someone was coming into town or someone called you up from wherever and said,”What’s the must-see fashion thing in Portland, like destination?”, what would you tell them right now?
Like a store?…
Well, I may actually say Mag-Big because they are probably the most vocal and the most dedicated to just local designs, and they do the Alley 33 fashion show, I mean they’re really, really active. Kathy, who I just mentioned, Kathy Ridgeway, I think she’s like president of the Hawthorne Business Association or something already, and she’s been in that store for a year. She’s just a real go-getter and a real advocate. So, that might be one. But just in terms of retail experience, God, there are so many good ones, for instance Frances May is amazing, Una’s amazing, [unknown 00:20:48] is amazing, Canoe… I mean really, the list goes on. OKO gallery is this tiny little place in northwest… here are so many really personal, like Sword + Fern., honestly they’ll just keep popping in my head indefinitely, just really interesting people who’ve carefully curated these often tiny spaces. It just really makes shopping this magical, exploratory, like woah, what’s this kind of experience which is super neat. Stand Up Comedy. I mean, there’s so many, so many.
You had mentioned Seaplane, that seemed so long ago now, I don’t know if you met even when it was on Belmont, when it was in northwest. It was when on Belmont, and they would do fashion shows on the corner, for me that was the first time that I ever thought, oh my gosh, there’s a fashion thing here. Was that your experience or did you feel like other things predated that because that was just sort of really hit me?
Yeah, yeah. In college, when Seaplane first opened, me and my friends would go to the Seaplane on Belmont, but it was just sort of like, astronomically expensive to [crosstalk 00:22:32] forget about it, but we would drop in there to just to gawk at stuff a little bit. So, there are early incarnations with a little bit ahead of my time. I was going downtown a lot. I was like super into the vintage scene downtown, I was doing a lot of that stuff, but I was just not prepared to get into boutique shopping at all. So definitely my memories of enjoying it and spending more time there and covering it more heavily there when it was on 23rd.But yeah, definitely, I mean I was kind of a snob, like really a snob when I first moved here, I was a normal teenager, would wear jeans and stuff and whatever, I went to school in San Francisco, and I was just appalled at how people dress, and I was like, this is unacceptable. I just went to the thrift store and I just bought all skirts and dresses. I wore skirts, dresses, heels, red lipstick everyday for well past college, I don’t even remember. It was in my late 20s before I ever wore jeans again. I was just like somebody has to raise the bar, this is gross, so I was really excited to discover Seaplane, I was just like, oh my God,’cause most of the country kind of looked down on Portland as fashionless.
Fashion-free. You’ve got pages to fill, things to write for the Mercury, how do you stay on top of all the stuff that’s happening right now? Do you rely on press releases or tips or just email or just getting out there and pounding pavement?
All of the above. We’re lucky, especially a lot more than when I first… I mean the Mercury used to get forgotten a lot in its early days, and we almost weren’t even allowed in city hall, I don’t think. We had to definitely earn a lot of respect or even just repetition to get people to even remember that we existed, does that make sense?Now, it’s a lot easier. Now, pretty much everybody is sending us a press release or an email. I use Facebook extensively. Facebook has been, more than any other social media, has been hugely helpful to me on a professional level, and it’s also just getting out there. I’m like resting a little bit on my [unknown 00:25:30] now because I feel like I don’t have to as much, but for years and years and years and years, I literally went to everything I possibly could, every trunkshow, every store opening, every first Thursday that a store hosted and just met people and then I went and socialized with those people, and just ingratiating yourself in a community, and I don’t want to sound like those friendships are inauthentic or anything, because they’re absolutely not, but part of where I was going was directed by my area of coverage. So yeah, it’s all of the above, and then you become friends with them on Facebook, and then they send you invites for your event, and that’s just like getting a press release.
And it goes right in your account (laughing). This may be a little geeky, but how do you keep track of all this stuff, do you have just a big folder, do you have Google docs in your computer?
No. I don’t know what you mean by stuff, but I don’t really have a database.
Every time a friend comes in like an event or something like that, you just decide, are we going to write about this or not and then just move forward with it?
Well, I mean a lot of the stuff that I get is, oh, we’re having a sale, which is just something I’ll just do a quick blog post. Sometimes I don’t have time or I don’t actually get a press release, just something I’ll feed on Twitter, and I’ll just retweet it from the Mercury fashion account, and like sorry, that’s all I can do for you.Every week, I have to as best everything that I know about that’s going on, we all do on our sections, and we have to make a decision okay, what am I writing my column on this week.
As far as social stuff, is it kind of just Facebook and Twitter? Do you use Pinterest a lot?
I like Pinterest, but I don’t really use it on a professional basis. I haven’t had time to recently, but historically one of my favorite things to do to just completely chill out, like brainless relaxing, is to go online window shopping at all the fancy online stores, and Pinterest is similar to that, it’s just kind of like Magpie, making note of things that your eye is attracted to. So I really enjoy it, but I don’t have a ton of time for it, and I know that everybody’s really crazy about social media and everything, and I know that’s a lot of what you do, but for me personally, I really feel that I’m getting to the point that editing is like…Twitter professionally is a lot more useful to me than it is personally. I frankly kind of abandoned my personal account and I’m just using it for Mercury fashion stuff. I like Instagram, but I feel like that’s pretty intimate and it’s just like my personal account. Pinterest is nice if i have a free evening to drink wine and cruise the internet, which I wish I did more often. But, I don’t know, I feel like everybody thinks they need to be on everything and do everything, and I think that the pendulum is kind of swinging or you just need to figure out what’s actually working for you.
What’s important to like…
Yeah, and just for me personally, for whatever reason, Facebook happens to be the ideal. It’s what I use the most that works for me both personally and professionally in a way that mirrors the degree of comfort I have with those lines being blurred in my everyday life.
Right. What types of things do you like to read, as far as periodics?
Harper is my favorite. I consider it an accomplishment each month if I can make my way through Harper. I’ve definitely for a long, long time been more interested in nonfiction than fiction in general. I have a specific weak spot for biographies. But honestly, it’s pretty shameful, most of the reading I do is I read the internet.
What’s the last good biography that you’ve read?
It was the Keith Richards.
Okay, did you like that?
Yeah, but the guitar parts were a little too nerdy for me. Like if you don’t actually play guitar, it’s really technical kind of, made my eyes [crosstalk 00:30:37].
Yeah. When you talked about first discovering Seaplane or whatever, you talked about your fashion style then, how has your style changed personally since then?
Well, I definitely have way more pairs of jeans in the past couple of years. I don’t know why. I probably still have this influence, but I think I used to be more influenced by rocker styles, a lot of like black pants and boots. I had this, I still have them, this pair of motorcycle boots that I’ve had literally for 13 years that I used to wear everyday, and now I wear them once every three months. I always say I’m dressing more like a lady now. I have boucle in my closet now. I don’t think I even knew what boucle was 10 years ago. So, a little bit more grownup but I’m still eclectic. I have always been kind of a little bit all over the place, so it’s hard to say.
So, as also the Mercury’s a film critic, what have you seen recently that was thrilling or that you were really excited to see or do you see your taste in movies [unknown 00:32:19] like biographical?
No. I’m all over the place. I tend to, I don’t know why, they stopped sending me to as many romantic comedies as they used to, but I think that there are kind of, I don’t know, there was like a rash of romantic comedies a couple of years back or something. But I tend to get steered towards a lot of foreign films and documentaries. Yeah, in a way, I do have a lot of love for documentaries and I actually right before I came here, I was watching the new Sarah Polley documentary, the stories that we tell, it is autobiographical, it’s about her finding out that her father is not who she thought he was, blah, blah, blah, which was really good. I literally was watching that an hour ago for work and that was good. But then, I also adore any movie that I don’t have to review. It’s kind of sad, you could take to any piece of crap film and I would be like, that was awesome.
You just like the movie experience.
Yeah, [inaudible 00:33:33] so much fun I just got it like [unknown 00:33:35] and watch a movie.
So seeing so many of these, do you have like a favorite theater or venue for a movie in Portland? ‘Cause I love the Living Room Theater.
Yeah, but thinking of the Living Room Theater…
And Cinetopia is fun. I mean, Living Room Theater’s my favorite, it’s just that rarely do you see like a goofy comedy there, there are art films and stuff, you know.
Yeah. When I am going to see a movie just on my own or with a friend, we usually go to the Laurelhurst. I love the Laurelhurst. So that’s my go-to even though it’s not like as fancy as the place like the Living Room.
But you can get your beer and your pizza or whatever or your wine.
I just like it there.
I just think if you work for at the Mercury, you’re always very critically overthinking about what’s cool and what’s hot, so now I’m going to ask you what the cool restaurant is or what I should try.
Oh God, well okay, I’m going to go ahead and plug my new neighborhood spot, which is Old Salt that just opened up on northeast 42nd in Alberta, which is in the neighborhood I just bought a house in so everybody should go there and that neighborhood should blow up and my property value should go up.
Yeah (laughs).
But it’s actually a really cool place. It’s sort of not fully formed yet, from what I understand right now, it’s like a deli, but sure they do all their butchering and stuff in-house. It’s the same guys that do Grain and Gristle, but they have a restaurant and a bar, and frankly I haven’t actually gone there for a meal yet, but just gone there to have a couple of glasses of wine before leisurely walk the half-block to my house. It’s very nicely decorated. The people who work there are really enthusiastic about the concept. It’s one of these uber-local… It’s nice to have like that, and then the Spare Room, which was our like other neighborhood bar before the Old Salt opened up, so it’s a diverse little block there.
We’re in the Foster-Powell neighborhood, and there’s not a lot of that. They’re all sports bar. So I will speak with the folks who opened that place and give them a suggestion for the next place to make cool. It’s hard because Foster’s one of those angular streets, like Sandy. They’re doomed. There’s just nothing you can do for those streets.
Well, I mean Sandy has got some stuff. They just had Church open. Have you heard about Church?
No, where is that?
It’s right in that kind of deadzone, I want to say, may be 24th or so. It’s kind of between all the stuff that’s on 28th and …
Kind of by where Gleason kind of starts off of Sandy?
Yeah, near there. But then that like food complex thing ocean went in right there. I actually haven’t been to Church yet but I have friends and it’s like supposed to be like northeast Sandy’s answer to Dig A Pony. It’s supposed to be super hip and good food and blah, blah, blah. It’s where that Thai food place used to be.
I’m thinking of a dive bar there that I used to go to long ago. Is it by the Sandy Hut kind of?
It’s further up. It’s further towards 28th. But the Sandy Hut is still there.
See, full disclosure I have kids now, so to do that kind of stuff…
Oh, party’s over (laughing).
Yeah, the party’s been over for years. I can only read about the diving and fun things. But you know, it’s the brilliance in here, the satisfaction.
Yeah (laughing).
So, here’s my last big pitch to you, as a managing editor of the Mercury, what advice would you give to someone who wants an awesome job like that?
Geez, I was really not strategic at very much. Here’s the best I can answer is that when it occurred to me to even approach the Mercury, it was something that I had a really clear idea that I could do that. I was like I can do what these people are doing, and I can help them. I can do at least as well as they’re doing it, and I’m fresh out of school. Maybe I’ll even get better at it than whatever… I’m not going to say that ’cause my boss is still my boss, but it was just a question of paying attention to the people I was around and listening to what they complained about, and Julianne Shepard was totally complaining about having to do with music listings and blah, blah, blah… Well, hey guess what, I can do that for you, and [unknown 00:39:26] all the time. You just kind of have to get people who are doing something that you want to be doing and listen to the parts of their job that they complain about doing, and then if you can do those things for them and ideally even learn to appreciate the value of those tasks, you will be more likely to find yourself indispensable.
You just got to get a foothold kind of, and it helps when you’re in your 20s or something where you have that enthusiasm.
It’s curiousity more than anything else what I feel like really propelled me is that I was just super open-minded and just sort of like point me in a direction and I’m going to go.
Now you appreciate sitting back in your leather Eames chair kicking up your feet and then just ordering them around. Is that pretty accurate?
No, it’s like a really shitty old desk chair that the upholstery is ripped and the cushion is hanging out, but… (laughing).
Well Marjorie, thank you so much for coming down to chat with me today.
Yeah of course. Thanks for the invitation.