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Fresh Air:  Terry Gross Interviews

Salon Editor David Talbot

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Permission to put this on the web page comes from station WHYY in Philadelphia, who own the rights to the program.

National Public Radio
June 14, 2000
Fresh Air
Interview: David Talbot, founder and editor in chief of Salon magazine, discusses the trials and tribulations of running an
online magazine

TERRY GROSS, host: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.  My guest, David Talbot, is the founder, chairman and editor in chief of Salon magazine, one of the first and most successful magazines to originate on the Internet. Time magazine picked it as the Web site of the year in 1996.  American Journalism Review called it an online journalism pacesetter.  Entertainment Weekly describes Salon as one of the Net's few genuine must-reads.  Salon started publishing in 1995. It covers books, entertainment and the arts, as well as news. It's broken several major stories, including the story of Henry Hyde's extramarital affair. David Talbot is a former arts and features editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, and former senior editor of Mother Jones magazine.  Last week, Salon was one of several online news sites that made news for its financial troubles. Salon laid off 13 employees because of a financial shortfall. The criminal justice site, APBnews.com, laid off its whole staff and announced it would fold unless a funder stepped in. CBS' Internet site announced layoffs, and NBC's Internet company has announced financial losses. On Monday, I spoke with David Talbot at the Annual Conference of the Special Libraries Association, which is still under way in Philadelphia.

GROSS: Salon really started as--well, what the word `salon' implies. `Salon' implies that it's a place where Gertrude Stein and Hemingway are going to be coming over for dinner and talking with Picasso.

Mr. DAVID TALBOT (Editor in Chief, Salon): Yeah.

GROSS: So--and Salon started off with an emphasis on books and arts, you know, film reviews, TV reviews, book reviews, writing about the arts. Then it moved more and more into news, as well, made a lot of big splashes with certain news stories. And I was interested to read that most of the content-related layoffs were in the arts area.

Mr. TALBOT: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: A book editor, a book reporter, travel, well, the Mothers Who Think...

Mr. TALBOT: Right.

GROSS: ...which is profiles...

Mr. TALBOT: We won't go there.

GROSS: Yeah. David's wife edited that, and one of the layoffs--but I was interested that, you know, it was mostly the arts areas that were hit and not the news area. And I was wondering if that is related to the number of hits that each page got. You know, one of the interesting things about doing a magazine online as opposed to in a newspaper is that you can literally track how many hits each page gets. So in a newspaper, if you have a huge circulation, you can just assume, `Well, my article's being read by a gazillion people.' But if it's online, you can actually count the number of hits that each page that you wrote has. But did you use that information to decide who to lay off?

Mr. TALBOT: Well, we do and we don't. It's not quite that black and white.   We--for instance, the travel section, which we did close down. That was heartbreaking because I think it was the best literary travel writing online.

GROSS: I'll just interrupt to say the travel section has gotten great reviews, too.

Mr. TALBOT: Yes.

GROSS: I mean, there's just, like, a lot of citations for it in print about how good the section was. So I was very surprised to see that the editor of that was laid off.

Mr. TALBOT: Exactly.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. TALBOT: And Don George, who was the editor, is a terrific travel journalist, and was very well-connected in the world of literary travel writers. So Paul Theroux and Peter Matheson and Isabel Allende and a number of writers who wouldn't normally write for Salon's modest rates would write for Don. The problem was that, again, I think we bear--what people expect from a travel site is much more utilitarian. They want to book a ticket. And I think with Salon it's a more leisurely read, travel journalism, and the circulation was low there. Now we stuck with that for three years--more than three years. But in the end, it is survival. It's survival of the fittest, and Salon had to focus on those areas that were bringing in the most circulation. You say we cut back on books, which is unfortunate. We did lose one book editor. That still remains, though, a central interest of mine, a central passion of Salon's. We have two employees that are still working full-time on books. We will have a very vibrant book section. So you have to weigh these things.  My whole challenge with Salon is to create what I think--what I've been calling a `smart tabloid.' That's tough, hard-hitting journalism, investigative journalism, a kind of political coverage you can't get anywhere else, serious work, serious cultural criticism, which we still are very strong at. But also, you have to like a--you know, a New York or British tabloid, get those readers, get them to buy the paper, so to speak, every day. And so Salon does have to focus on some of the areas--like our sexual coverage, for instance--that also brings in a lot of readers.

GROSS: Well, I'm wondering, you know, since this is the first time in history, I think, that we really know, literally, how many people read each page because we can have this tracking mechanism on the Internet that's more accurate than, say, the Nielsens are in measuring TV. What, as an editor, do you do with that information?

Mr. TALBOT: Well, you--for one thing--it's interesting. When I used to work at newspapers, we had studies that showed how many people actually jumped to the `jump' page and how many people did you lose. And as you say, the daunting thing about this new technology is you know exactly how many people make the jump. And so what we try to do is end that first page just like a TV show that breaks for a commercial, with something very enticing, you know. And we have a little blurb, actually, at the end of each page to make you want to make the next click.  Inevitably, you do lose a certain percentage of your readers. But what you do is you try and train your writers to--you know, just like the old days of journalism, how do you hold on to them? With a great lead, and then you have to end that first page with a great tease. I think, actually, newspaper--because they've become more and more monopolistic in their various cities--have lost the art of holding on to readers. The Web, you have to do that. It's Darwinian. And, actually, I think it imposes a useful discipline on our writers and editors.

GROSS: Now Salon also made news recently because in May it redesigned its home page and redesigned the site. And readers didn't like some of the changes. They let Salon know that. And after about two days, I think, Salon redesigned the redesign. So, David, I'm interested in hearing what some of the things that you learned from the responses that you got recently to the redesign about what readers online seem to like and what really irritates them.

Mr. TALBOT: Yes. We did learn very emphatically. A lot of our readers--well, it wasn't just a mad experiment, as I later wrote in a letter to the--a letter from the editor to our readers. We didn't put them through this just for the fun of it. Salon has more and more material, and I'm sure a lot of you with your home pages have this same challenge. How do you put all the great stuff, the great content you have, on your home page without making your readers scroll endlessly down that page? So it really is a design and editing challenge. We also have this network of different sites. We have a mother site. We have a technology site, politics and news, and so on. So what we were trying to do was to disperse people to those various sites rather than making them come for everything through the central home page of Salon. Well, it turns out they don't want to be dispersed. They don't want to be forced anywhere. They want to be able to click immediately from one story, whatever story it is, to that story rather than being made to go through these alternate channels. So that was one thing we had done which they were furious about, and they let us know.  The great thing about the Web is it is more plastic. It's more forgiving.  And so when you do make a design error as we did--not everything was wrong, but some of the things needed to be fixed--you can, without spending millions of dollars like a print magazine or a newspaper, go back into it. You know, you have to make your designers put in more late nights. They're not happy about it, but they can do it within a week. And within a week, we had changed the design. So after--it went from being an avalanche of hate mail. And people take things so personally. That's the great thing about the Web, too.  They let you know immediately what they like and don't like. They feel that they are part of the Web site in a way that, I think, very few print publications have that kind of engagement with their readers. They'll let you know. They'll find my phone number. They'll e-mail me personally. They'll threaten my dog. No, they...(Soundbite of audience laughter)

Mr. TALBOT: They're very emphatic about their desires. And so we were able to accommodate that, and it had a happy ending.

GROSS: Now when I read something on Salon--what I often do if I were to go on to read the whole article as opposed to just skimming the first paragraph, I'll print it out and I'll read it on paper at my convenience. And I'm wondering, is that typical of your readers? Do you have any idea if most people who are reading your online magazine read it on the computer screen or do they want to print it out and read it on paper?

Mr. TALBOT: Well, I think that is true for our generation, Terry. For baby boomers, definitely. I think they--for any piece that's longer than just one page, I do that myself. I print Salon out--I read most of Salon in bed at night on paper. Don't tell anyone, but...(Soundbite of audience laughter)

Mr. TALBOT: But the surprising thing--and this is, I think, a whole new generation that's coming up right now, is that almost 30 percent of our readers, we're finding out are now accessing Salon through their PalmPilots and cell phones, through their PDAs, which I am completely astounded by.  There's a software called Avantgo, and you can download Salon, specific stories, right on your PalmPilot and read it wherever you are. And we get our traffic figures every day. And the whole top half of our traffic logs are dominated by Avantgo. That's because people are accessing us through Avantgo, this PDA software.

GROSS: Well, getting back to the sex and celebrity thing, can you tell us from the number of hits that you calculate how, say, the sex site compares to a movie review?

Mr. TALBOT: Movie reviews, actually, are very popular.

GROSS: I'm sorry. I chose the wrong thing. That would be popular.

Mr. TALBOT: Yes.

GROSS: About, say, book reviews...

Mr. TALBOT: An investigative piece about...

GROSS: ...or investigative pieces about...

Mr. TALBOT: ...the world economy, you know.

GROSS: An investigative piece that isn't about somebody's sex life.

Mr. TALBOT: Yes. Gee, have we done those? I don't know. (Soundbite of audience laughter)

Mr. TALBOT: Well, yeah. Certainly--for instance, we did, I think, a very explosive story earlier this year about how the White House Drug Office was basically paying off the TV networks to insert anti-drug propaganda into shows like "E.R." and other prime-time shows. I thought this was astonishing, you know, an astonishing compromising of the creative integrity, such as it is, of Hollywood...(Soundbite of audience laughter)

Mr. TALBOT: ...and something that the public should know about. There was a lot of media. We led--Peter Jennings led that night with his ABC News program with our story, to his credit, by the way--to ABC News' credit--because they were one of the networks that had cooperated with the government. We got lots of play, front page, New York Times. It was, you know, an editor's dream because that's the kind of viral marketing, so to speak, that--the way that Salon has grown, through word of mouth and through breaking stories.   But the hits were actually modest compared a story, say, about Britney Spears, which we just recently did about, you know, `What is she marketing there?  What kind of sexuality--what kind of Lolita sexuality is she marketing?' And that got, of course, off the charts traffic, more than this great investigative piece. But again, my role as an editor has to be to find some way to blend that into an interesting kind of mix every day.

GROSS: We'll hear more with David Talbot, founder and editor in chief of the online magazine Salon after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to my interview with David Talbot, editor of the online magazine Salon, recorded Monday at the annual conference of the Special Libraries Association.   Now, David, you have said that Salon has moved away from being a magazine format to that of a continuously published newspaper. And you told The New York Times, `This is not a medium for a New Yorker type content. It's a medium for newspaper type content.' You have edited Mother Jones magazine.  You were an arts and features editor at the San Francisco Examiner. So you've had newspaper and magazine publishing experience. Now that you're publishing on the Web, what are the differences, do you think, what works at writing on the Web as opposed to print formats?

Mr. TALBOT: Well, number one, it's just very hard to establish a leisurely voice the way you can in print, the kind of leisurely bond that a writer telling you a story and taking his or her time to unravel that story can do in print. Readers are often accessing us from work. They're looking over their shoulder to see whether their boss is, like, you know, hovering over their cubicle. They don't have a lot of time to relax over a story. That said, they can print it out and hope that the boss doesn't find that they're printing out Salon and taking it home with them.  But I think what they want is something that does--is more compulsory reading.  My inspiration here is the glory days of newspapering, the great writers, writing-driven journalism, newspaper-driven. Jimmy Breslin, Mike Royko, Herb Caen, that whole generation of columnists that kind of animated daily newspapering for years that's died off and hasn't been replaced by new columnists today.  So Salon was built early on, actually, around critics who had strong voices, book critics, movie critics, TV critics and columnists, like Camille Paglia, Philadelphia's own, who has a very, I would say, unique and emphatic voice.  Those of you who know her work would agree with me. Garrison Keillor, Annie Lamott, these are readers--writers, rather, whose voices literally jump over the screen. It's a cold medium, the computer, and unless you have a vivid, colorful voice, a controversial voice, often, the reader's not going to, like, stick with you.  You know, we--again, I come out of a tradition of liberal journalism, left-wing journalism, Mother Jones, but I knew right away that that wasn't going to be sufficiently interesting because you have to mix it up. I did want to create a virtual drawing room, a salon, where people--you know, the best dinner parties, of course, are those where people disagreed with each other. If everyone's just nodding their heads in harmony all night long, it's pretty dull. So right away, despite my own liberal background, I wanted to bring in right-wing, conservative voices, libertarian voices, people who, I thought, were intelligent and interesting and could take issue with each other.

GROSS: One of the things that keeps Salon and a lot of other Web sites afloat are the on-site ads that are ads. As the Web gets more and more advanced and gets more and more users, are the advertisers demanding things that they didn't ask for early on?

Mr. TALBOT: You know, I'm a journalist and been, you know, a journalist for, you know, my entire life. And I'm very well aware of that split, the church and state split between, you know, the editorial side and the business side.  And it even--you know, it's often you're on different floors within the company, you know, and never are you supposed to even talk to people on the other side. The LA Times, you know, made this terrible mistake early this year by having a--putting out a supplement for the Staples Center, the big convention center there. And it turned out that even though it looked like an editorial product, it was driven by the business side. And it caused great shame for that corporation, and it should have. And I think it led, in part, to the fact that the company was then sold by the family to the Chicago Tribune Company later on because they were so dismayed by the kind of management the company had fallen under.  So I'm very painfully aware of those--that tension between the business and the editing side, the tension which in the Web has become a lot more amorphous because the rules are being kind of made up as they go along. And I think a lot of sites have gone over the edge in a way they shouldn't have.  That said, I'm actually amazed--because I wear two hats; I'm the chairman of the company and the editor in chief--at how supportive most people in the advertising community are for strong, independent journalism. They know it's not even in their interest to have a site whose integrity feels wrong, smells wrong to a reader. If you think you're just being given an advertorial every day, you're not going to go to that site. You want to feel that that journalism is not bought and paid for, that it has a fundamental integrity to it.  You might want to ask me about this later, Terry, you know, but we're known for a certain story that we did last year that was very controversial involving Henry Hyde. And after that story, there was a concerted effort to boycott our advertisers on the part of some people, conservatives who were unhappy with our coverage. I think we lost only one advertiser as a result of that pressure. We were really in a steam cooker for months because of that--the controversial nature of reporting. Only one advertiser left us.  I remember another advertising agency where I walked in after the story had broken. I thought I was going to have to be putting out a lot of fires to hold on to this--it was a major client for us, a major automotive company.   And the entire staff of that ad agency as I walked into this boardroom to, like, you know, allay their concerns rose and gave me a standing ovation.  So I think what's weird is that the ad community--the ad industry in the last 10 or 20 years has actually become more bold in terms of the kind of creative kind of advertising they're doing and the kind of ways they're engaging with their readers than the media community, than the news community, than my colleagues, than journalists. I think journalism has become timid. I think journalism has become dumbed-down. It's become banal. And I think the advertising community is actually more cutting edge now in some ways than people in the media.

GROSS: Let's talk about Henry Hyde. The most attention-getting story that Salon broke was about Henry Hyde's secret affair 30 years prior to the Clinton impeachment hearings. And this is, of course, when Henry Hyde was chairing the Judiciary Committee that was investigating Clinton on impeachment charges. The story--tell us how you got the story, and why you decided to go with it, because it was very controversial within the journalism community.  Apparently, this story had--other newspapers and magazines, I believe, had decided not to go with this story because--well, you can tell us why other journalists didn't and why you did.

Mr. TALBOT: Well, you're right. We got the story because a gentleman who was a tennis partner--two retired gentlemen who lived in Florida, and one of them happened to be a tennis partner of a man whose wife had gotten involved years earlier in Chicago with Henry Hyde. And the affair had shattered his family. And this gentleman had never talked to the press before, but was obviously very aggrieved whenever the name of Henry Hyde would come up. He was particularly aggrieved when he started seeing Henry Hyde on television as this "Lion in Winter" figure who was going to, you know, in an august fashion, evenhanded Solomonic way preside over, basically, a sex trial of the president.  And so he finally decided to tell the story. He told it to his friend.  This friend came to, as you said, 54 different news organizations before he found his way to Salon. And not one news organization felt this was--that the American people had a right to know about this. And I think the reason why is there's a Beltway culture, and a very strong cultured--news culture there that decides what, in their august wisdom, the American people should know and shouldn't know. And for years, this filter has worked very effectively.  And they found that the real script that they wanted to go with was a script that The New York Times--The Washington Post was writing, which was Henry Hyde was going to be very judicious. He was going to above partisanship. He was another Sam Ervin type character. That was the script they were writing for him as the impeachment trial started to get under way in hearings.  And we felt that wasn't the case. We thought that like most people, the whole circus had gotten out of control, that it was time to bring it to an end and the fact that Ken Starr had not put one thing in his final report about Whitewater or any of the other non-sexual areas that he was supposedly investigating, it all had come down, finally, to Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton. We thought the country was on the brink of madness. And most of the country felt that same way, except the Beltway culture. There was this huge disconnect between the American people and between the political and media culture elite. So we felt that this story was important for people to know because if you're judging someone on their personal conduct, then I think the American people have a right to know about the personal conduct of those other officials who are sitting in judgment on them.

GROSS: We'll hear more with David Talbot of Salon magazine in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.   (Credits)

GROSS: This is NPR, National Public Radio.  (Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to the interview I recorded Monday with David Talbot, editor of the online magazine, Salon, which covers books, the arts, entertainment and news. We spoke at the annual convention of the Special Libraries Association, which is still under way in Philadelphia. When we left off, we were talking about how and why Salon broke the story of Henry Hyde's extramarital affair.  The story came out as Hyde chaired the House Judiciary Committee presidential impeachment hearings. It was disagreement within Salon magazine about whether this story should have been published. I should mention here that Salon's Washington correspondent disagreed with the decision to go with that story. I know there was a big argument within Salon over that, and he ended up leaving. He offered his resignation and I think he was surprised when you accepted it. I think that's not necessarily what he was looking for. But anyway, so you ended up writing the story yourself.

Mr. TALBOT: I did.

GROSS: What kind of--there was a firestorm after that. It became a big story within the press and even the press who declined to take the source's lead covered it after you initiated it. What happened at Salon? I mean, what kind of threats did you get? What kind of response did you get?

Mr. TALBOT: Well, there was enormous fury directed at us from our media brethren. People felt we were off the ranch, that we shouldn't have done this. And to me, this is one of the great things about the Internet because it is a much more democratic medium and you--it's not just that's the way it is, Walter Cronkite or Dan Rather telling us the way it is. There are ways for information to get out. And I think that's part of the fury that was directed at us from the media establishment, was a sense that they were losing control of the flow of information.  But there was obviously a number of conservatives in the country who were very upset as well. What we got, we were in the eye of a hurricane, we were a small organization and we were tossed and tur--I woke up one morning to see Tom DeLay on CNN on the floor of Congress calling for an FBI investigation of Salon. I wanted to get back into bed. (Soundbite of audience laughter)  I--the--we got bomb threats, our building had to be emptied, our landlord wasn't very happy about that, didn't want to renew our lease after that. I received death threats, my children received threats, we, you know, had to change our phone number. There was one time I remember, I was by tape on one of those shows and every day I felt like I was screaming on one of those shows "Hardball" or Chris Matthews or--defending what we'd done. I was on one of these shows screaming one day and this guy phoned up and said, you know, clearly about to threat to kill me, you know, `Are you Dave Talbot?' I said, `No, I can't be Dave Talbot. I'm on TV right now.' And he goes, `Oh, right.' And he hung up. So sometimes they're easily diverted, but not other times.  A more worrisome aspect was an organized boycott attempted to put pressure on advertisers to stop advertising at Salon. But I wear this all with a badge of honor now. We did get through it and I think if you as a new organization that comes into the world, a new media operation, don't take risks and don't stories that no one else does. There's no reason for you to have come into existence, there's no reason for me to be doing this, you know, unless we made a difference in some way in the world, unless we were reporting stories that no one did. So I'm very proud of it.

GROSS: Do you think that the story played out any differently in terms of how you covered it or the reaction to the coverage because you were on the Internet as opposed to a print magazine or a print newspaper?

Mr. TALBOT: Yes. Absolutely. Because the Internet still is suspect.  That's changing somewhat. And there's reasons why the Internet should be suspect. I mean, you have to every day decide whether a source of information on the Internet is valid or not. And print tends to have more credibility. There are fact checkers with print operations. There are lawyers, there are reporters and editors who are well trained. Salon has tried to adhere to all those basic professional standards because we do need to build, you know, a sense of credibility and--with our readership. But there are many Web sites that don't. So I don't fault people for having some suspicion of what we're reporting. But clearly we're not Matt Drudge, we're clearly not a site that just puts up whatever we've heard, you know, whatever gossip we're hearing.  We do have a filter.  I didn't go with the Henry Hyde story till Henry Hyde himself told me it was correct. I called up Henry Hyde before we went with the story, talked to his press spokesman, we were minutes away from posting that story. I talked to his chief aide--his press aide, he said, `What do you have?' I told him what we had, he said, `Do you have--is it really locked down?' I said, `I have photographs. I have, you know, eyewitnesses.' He said, `I'll get back to you in 10 minutes,' and he did with a statement--the now famous statement from Henry Hyde about youthful indiscretion which became, I think, a buzz word for--buzz phrase for a while. So even there, we wouldn't go with that story until we--the person himself had confirmed it.

GROSS: So you're saying that just because you're online doesn't mean that you don't use the same standards of journalism...

Mr. TALBOT: Exactly.

GROSS: OK. Before we run out of time, there's a question--I'm gonna stray from our subject at hand. I don't know if you're aware of this, but David Talbot is from a very interesting family. His mother was a chorus girl in the movies. His father, Lyle Talbot, acted as a contract actor with the Warner Brother studio. He appeared in some of those cliff-hanging serials like "Batman & Robin" and "Superman." He was Ozzie's friend on "Ozzie and Harriet."  And he appeared in two Ed Wood movies, you know, the "Plan 9 from Outer Space" and "Glen or Glenda." And, of course, there's recently a fiction film about Ed Wood. Whenever there was a movie festival of like the worst movies ever made, they'd be headlined by Ed Wood movies. So you actually have a great story about meeting Ed Wood. I guess this was after he made "Glen or Glenda." "Glen or Glenda" is about someone who is a transvestite and secretly cross dresses and...

Mr. TALBOT: Yes. Well, I think Ed did that particular movie because it was a culture that he was uniquely fascinated by--personally fascinated by. This story that you mention is my dad, who was quite a drinker and quite a partyer in those days, and was probably drinking that night to forget he was in the movie, I think. But Ed has somehow convinced him to be in both "Glen and Glenda" and "Plan 9 from Outer Space." "Plan 9," by the way, is famous because I think it was Bela Lugosi who died...


Mr. TALBOT: ...halfway through the movie, and then Ed Wood played the rest of the movie himself with a cape--a cape around his eyes, around his face.  Anyway, it was after the kind of glamorous, you know, premier of one of those movies that my father and Ed got very drunk, came stumbling home to our house when I was asleep, I was probably three years old at the time--my brother and I upstairs. And my dad insisted that Ed Wood stay and spend the night because he was too drunk to drive. How my dad was so lucid to give him that kind of advice, I'm not sure. So Ed Wood crashed on our living room sofa and the next morning, my brother and I went into the breakfast room where my mother was making pancakes. Now my mother was a very sweet and innocent woman. My dad was on his fifth marriage at that point. He was in his mid-40s. My mom, he'd married when she was 18. She was a chorus girl, but she was still I think very, very innocent chorus girl and was not used to the Ed Woods of the world.  Anyway as she's mixing the batter for us, and my brother and I are eagerly awaiting breakfast in the breakfast table, who should come stumbling out of bathroom in dressed in my mother's negligee but Ed Wood. He couldn't resist, you know, it was--and she later told me she destroyed the negligee, she never wore it again.  (Soundbite of audience laughter)

GROSS: I just want to ask you one more question. You--you've talked about earlier there were quotes--let's--seeing if I can find the one I wrote down here--about how much fun it is to do a publication online and surely you're one of the pioneers of online publications. Is it still fun? Now that things are so competitive on the Internet and now that financially keeping afloat is so important and so involved with like, not only advertising, but partnering and branding and all this. Is it still fun?

Mr. TALBOT: Yes. It is fun. I can't imagine doing anything else. It's like--I think--I do kind of liken to it my father's experience. It is like putting on a show every day. It's like the curtains part every day when you put up a new issue. You immediately get the applause or the boos or whatever you're going to hear. There's--it's like, you know, that enthusiasm that Johnny Depp captured in the movie "Ed Wood," you know, `It's a wrap,' you know, at the end of this terrible scene that he just presided over as a director. Hopefully we have a little more higher quality. But we--I do have that feeling every day that it's a wrap. We open the curtains and there it is. What's really hard and, you know, the great thing about the theater world--and I think this is true about journalism--you have a troup of people and those people came with from the other world, from the print world and they took a lot of risks in doing it. The worst thing in the world for me is to be a businessman and do what I did last week, which is to lay off people who are very near and dear to me. And it's incredibly painful. There's a discipline that the world of private enterprise imposes on you that is very hard for me as a creative person and as an editor, as someone from this kind of show biz like world where you're all a family. It's very hard for me to do that. So when last week, I think, was probably the hardest week of my life at Salon.  Other than that--and we're still here--and the rest of us are going on strong, the show must go on.

GROSS: David Talbot is the founder and editor in chief of the online magazine, salon.com. Our interview was recorded Monday at the annual conference of the Special Libraries Association.

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