NewsPub Notes

Richard Fausset Recalls His Time Editing Ort

Newspaper editors are generally among those unsung heroes who get the paper out every day or every week, who—like the publishers and the ad reps and ad designers and the production directors and the office managers and distribution folks—work behind the scenes to meet the unforgiving deadlines.

Richard Fausset, who grew up in New Orleans and graduated from the University of Texas, came to Athens, fell in love with the town, the music scene and a young woman; wrote a few columns for Flagpole, moved back to NOLA, wrote a “Letter from New Orleans” for us, married the young woman, got his masters in journalism from the University of Missouri, and then came back here while Kim earned her masters in Spanish at UGA. They live in Atlanta, and Richard writes for the New York Times. For the brief period he was here, Richard was the perfect editor for Flagpole and for Ort. Because he loved Athens, Richard immediately understood and bonded with Ort, as you can tell from what follows.

A good editor knows when to help a writer say what needs to be said and also knows when to just step out of the way of the writer who knows exactly what needs to be said and how to say it in an original voice that needs only the space to tell the story. Here’s Richard’s story of editing Ort:

“Last Saturday, Athens, GA, said its goodbyes to William Orten Carlton, a.k.a., Ort, the great weirdo Southern college town’s legendary ambassador, barstool philosopher, columnist, polymath, record collector and friend to all. There was some Falstaff in him, and some Ignatius P. Reilly, all mixed up with heavy dashes of Calvin Trillin and Dr. Demento and Lewis Carroll. I edited Ort in the late ‘90s. As a writer, his interests were esoteric in the extreme, and his style was playful, punning, unpretentious and gloriously (sometimes frustratingly) digressive. But he was also a writer of tremendous precision when it came to grammar, style and fact. Other editors of Ort can fact-check me on this, but it was a waste of time to fact-check him. Ever. He knew of what he wrote, and he knew that as a master of observation, it was crucial to observe every last detail, no matter how small. In fact, you could argue that his entire body of work was a sort of maximalist and willfully absurd application of the old journalism advice, ‘Get the name of the dog and the brand of beer.’ Don’t know about dogs, but Ort, who was a beer nerd before beer nerdery was cool, certainly took the beer part to heart (and, I suspect he would gleefully and self-deprecatingly add here, to belly).

“The topics that Ort was most passionate about—low-power radio stations, hyper-obscure R&B, rock and novelty records, ZIP codes, micro-regional Southern foodways—didn’t add up to some easily classifiable body of knowledge. He was that body, and now that it is gone, it can’t be reconstructed. But that is not the only reason he was so widely beloved and is now so widely mourned. Ort did not follow his interests or cultivate his career with an eye to becoming a somebody, or monetizing his talent, or maximizing his clicks. And in this way, I’d argue, he was a pretty pure example of what has made Athens such a fertile and fascinating place for so long. Yes, big stars were launched from there, but the lifeblood of creative Athens has always been people being creative just for the hell of it, for amusing or impressing or moving the other creative (and often obsessive) fellow travelers who happened to be floating in or through town. Call it Ort for Ort’s sake. (Here, gentle reader, you are obliged to groan and raise your pint of 6.00% ABV Shelton Brothers Freigeist Abraxxxas, and offer an Ort-ish ‘Prost.’)

“Ort left us at a time when this country’s leadership is increasingly skeptical of the value of the liberal arts, and of any of the branches of knowledge and experience that do not feed into the unrelenting vortex of American careerism, money-making and rigidly linear thinking. It’s a time when a certain presidential hopeful has been honing a punchline about how kids these days are wasting their time getting degrees in ‘Zombie Studies.’ I wish Ort were here to remind the kids that Zombie Studies are more than alright. He would have probably written numerous columns riffing on his knowledge of ‘50s B-sides with zombies in the title.

But now he’s gone, and the world is a more boring and predictable place. Goodbye, old friend. (30).”