Steve Hyden is a funny guy, and he certainly works for a funny newspaper, The Onion. But he isn't getting paid to write humor. Instead, the Appleton native is running the show at Decider Milwaukee, The Onion's new online publication with branches in several cities across the country.
Hyden is the man in Milwaukee, running the local section of the weekly print publication, as well as the continuously updated edition of the online version -- with a skeleton crew of two employees and a handful freelancers.
We caught up with Hyden recently to talk shop, Bay View and more in this latest Milwaukee Talks.
OnMilwaukee.com: I guess I should probably get this out of the way, since a few people might wonder why we're interviewing "the competition." I don't view The Onion as an OnMilwaukee.com competitor. Do you?
Steve Hyden: I'm not sure if the people selling ads would answer differently, but from the editorial side, I don't see you as competition in the sense that we're doing the same thing or that we copy what you're doing. I see both Web sites, as well as other Web sites in town, as maybe covering the same general areas, but having their own mission. It's not an either-or proposition. If people are going to read Decider.com, they're probably also reading OnMilwaukee.com, the Shepherd Express or any of the other publications that cover entertainment. If you're interested in what's going on in Milwaukee, why would you only look at one source? That's not the media landscape of today.
OMC: Is there a lot of mystique around working at The Onion? Do people think your job is a laugh riot every day? It's not really like that, is it?
SH: No, it's like any other office, really. It's always funny when I tell people that I work for The Onion, they get really excited for about a minute. Then I tell them that I don't write the humor content, and all of a sudden they lose interest and walk away.
OMC: You're not even in the same city where the humor stuff is written, right?
SH: All that comes out of New York City. I've been to the office before and I know some people who write humor content. People will send me submissions for the humor side, but it's extremely difficult to write for the humor section. That staff is basically in an underground bunker.
OMC: But even the Decider and the AV Club have their own unique editorial voices, wouldn't you say?
SH: Before I worked there, I was a huge fan of the AV Club. It was funny and irreverent, but really well-informed. It's not too hard these days to turn on TV and see people being snarky. But when people are making cheap jokes, you don't get the sense that there's a real love for what they're talking about. I can honestly say, with affection, that we're a bunch of nerds who spend way too much time consuming pop culture. Basically, this job is an excuse to utilize all this worthless information that we have in our heads.
OMC: You say you're a bunch of nerds, but you have a tiny staff, right?
SH: Locally, yeah. We have two editorial staff members plus a variety of freelancers.
OMC: Are you one of those two staffers?
SH: Yeah, I'm the only full-time employee.
SH: It's not terribly exciting. I get up in the morning and turn on my computer immediately. It's changed quite a bit since we've had the Web site. The print product is just once a week. We have our calendar with 20 to 25 event picks, a feature and a food story. Now, with Decider, it's four stories per day, as well as all the event picks and restaurant write-ups. A lot of the day-to-day stuff is written by me. When you see a byline that says "Decider Staff," a lot of times, that's me. As far as having a schedule, that doesn't really happen.
OMC: How different is your job from when you worked for a daily newspaper, the Appleton Post-Crescent?
SH: It's gotten a lot more similar, actually, since we implemented the Web site. I used to be on a daily schedule. When I came here and we were just a weekly, that wasn't true, and it was a lot easier in a way. Now, it's very much like that daily model again, which gives us a lot more flexibility and freedom and lets us be more timely. It also makes us much more visible in the city. We have our own identity, I think.
OMC: I read that The Onion is closing its Los Angeles and San Francisco print newspapers. How are things in Milwaukee for the business?
SH: (L.A. and San Francisco) are closing. I can say that the decisions that were made pertain to those markets, specifically, and don't have anything to do with us. There's no guillotine over my head or anything.
OMC: You're not a Milwaukee native, but you seem to be embracing it nicely.
SH: Well, my dad lived here since '86. I lived with my mom up in Appleton, but my dad was here since I was 8 years old. I was coming down here pretty regularly, but it's different when you're not hanging out with your family. I spent a lot of time at the Zoo as a kid.
OMC: So you moved to Milwaukee specifically for The Onion?
SH: Yes, that was in October of 2006.
OMC: And now, at least two Milwaukee online magazine editors live in Bay View. We're almost neighbors, so I'll ask you the questions everyone asks me: What's your favorite restaurant? What's your favorite bar? Music venue?
SH: I'm going to show my Bay View bias here. My wife and I have to make a concerted effort to leave the neighborhood, and a lot of times I do it because of my job. But if I'm just going out for fun, Palomino and Burnhearts are high up. I like Lulu a lot. I love EE Sane on Farwell. It's hard to argue against the Pabst Theater. I used to come down the Cactus Club all the time before I lived here, so it has sort of a sentimental place in my heart. I also like going to shows at Sugar Maple, because it's smoke-free.
Andy is the founder and co-owner of OnMilwaukee.com. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.