I was born in Greeley, Colorado, and moved shortly thereafter to Monticello, Utah, then to Montrose, Colorado, and finally to Salt Lake City, Utah. I spent a lot of time as a child in rural Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah, with a fishing pole in my hands and a straw cowboy hat on my head. Moving around a lot when I was young might have given me the travel bug. I visited both Europe and Asia during and immediately after college, and have lived with my wife and family in Atlanta, Chicago, and now Boston. I studied English at the University of Utah, a gem of a school. I later earned an MBA at Northern Illinois University in one of those classic early-career “pushes” that many people make to find another gear.
Describe some of your current responsibilities, and what type of organization you belong to.
I’m currently running a small start-up called RedLink, a data company devoted to helping publishers, libraries, and end-users “see what they’re missing” by creating useful and interesting data-driven products. Running a start-up is invigorating. I’ve been viewed as a change agent inside the larger organizations I’ve worked at, but those organizations are filled with safety nets, so there’s not the same sense of urgency or excitement. As the CEO of a small company, every day means doing a lot of things, sometimes unexpected things, from customer service to data entry to marketing to sales to technology planning to finance to facilities to running meetings. It’s never dull, and running a startup is refreshing because there is no hiding success or failure — you know a win, and you know a loss. It’s real. It’s kind of electric.
What was your first scholarly publishing role? How did you get that job? What path led to your current position?
Well, I was mid-career earlier than some, at least in my mind. I remember in 3rd grade figuring out the ISBN logic and copyright terms via the copyright pages of my “Peanuts” paperback collection, as well as the difference between recto and verso. I created my first newspaper in 5th grade (it was posted on the fridge each morning, fresh out of the typewriter, including weather and sports), and my first magazine in 8th grade (I still have an issue). So writing, editing, and publishing have always come naturally. I worked on my college newspaper as a reporter, columnist, and editor, a paper that was recognized as one of the 10 best in the country my last year, a fact that still makes me happy and proud because that was such an awesome and fun group of people. After college, I got a job at 3M as a writer, editor, and designer. This was when laser printers were first coming into mainstream use, along with PostScript fonts and Quark Express. It was a perfect time for a young professional to bridge from old techniques to new techniques, which by now is a habit. Moving to Atlanta after getting married, I worked briefly as a typesetter (third shift, which is like “Night Court” no matter where you work), and then got a job at a small medical publisher, where I helped turn a group of seven publications into a group of 22 publications, again with a great group of people. Growing this group meant introducing digital workflows, which meant a modem in the office, a radical move at the time. I also launched my first website there, an online CME site that I think is still around in some form. This was in the earliest days of the public WYSIWYG Internet, when most newspapers weren’t even close to online, so finding a new job in a new city was daunting. But I was antsy, so I asked my wife to ask a friend of hers to overnight a Chicago Tribune down to us in Atlanta, where we lived at the time. This hunch was based purely on my perception that there were a lot of medical societies in Chicago. Sure enough, there was a job advertised in the classifieds for a Managing Editor at the American Academy of Pediatrics. I applied, and after some absolutely crazy and memorable transportation and young parent experiences — a flat tire in a narrow breakdown lane with semis buzzing us the entire time, a feverish daughter who needed a midnight rescue two states away, a surprise second interview requiring a nap and another drive back across those same two states — I landed the job, and we moved to Chicago.
Because this was right at the time that the Internet was really starting to matter to scholarly publishers, I was thrown into the deep end of the pool immediately — experimentation with online-only sections and journals, SGML and XML, online video and audio, e-commerce, and more. It was like drinking from a firehose. This was perfect for someone with a mix of skills in editorial, production, and technology. Because of all of the experiments I was encouraged to undertake, I was invited to speak and write about them early on. That led to a higher profile in the profession, which led to a job offer from the New England Journal of Medicine, which again was a great hotbed of innovation in journal publishing in the early 2000s. Because it was also a complex business all under one roof — both big enough to be complete and small enough to be addressable — I was able to learn a lot quickly.
If there was a pivotal moment or key person in your career development, please describe briefly.
There have been so many people who have helped me, it’s ridiculous. This is an amazingly nice and collaborative profession at the personal level, even if organizational behavior can be puzzling at times. I think one period was particularly influential, which was when online publishing was first becoming viable and everyone had to figure out a lot of things quickly. Among a host of others, John Sack at HighWire Press was pivotal for a lot of us, a real nexus of information, clear thought, and good judgment. He helped create a community we needed at the time. John was hugely influential for many of us who were trying to transition from a stable print environment to a dynamic online environment.
What tools, web sites and organizations do you find most valuable for your career development?
Writing has always been the most important tool in my career development. I learned in elementary school that I retain knowledge much better if I write it down — something in that loop from brain to paper to eye to brain reinforces, while the process itself gives you cycles to absorb and associate information. Writing also carries over to making presentations, which is essentially script writing and performance, even if there is some improv allowed. Ultimately, writing helps me figure things out, see connections or gaps, and make plans. It’s a great secret weapon for career development.
What are some of the surprises/obstacles that you’ve encountered during your career?
I think the biggest surprise and obstacle I’ve had in my career was about how some people are really prone to play politics in organizations, rather than solve problems or do the work. I spent a lot of my early career in organizations with very low levels of politics, either because the culture didn’t support it or managers wrung it out. Later, I ran into organizations where people seemed to exult in playing politics. I’ve always found this disconcerting and depressing. When I’ve had the chance to run organizations or departments, I’ve made a firm “no politics” rule. There’s simply too much work to get done, and teamwork equates to effectiveness in my mind. Interpersonal politics is poison to teams.
What do you wish you knew more about?
I’ve always wanted to know more about economics, in the broad sense. I think it’s a fascinating field that has the potential to transform societies, explain behavior that can seem irrational, and empower people. I also think it’s incredibly important in academia and publishing’s relationship to academia — how economics and incentives drive behavior, for good or ill.
What advice would you give to people interested in a career in scholarly communications?
The field is hugely varied, endlessly interesting, very dynamic, and central to social and scientific progress. But be ready for a crazy ride, because the industry is in the midst of a wrenching transition, which means it’s not for the faint of heart.
If you have a blog or personal/professional website, please provide a link.
The Scholarly Kitchen has to be my choice. I founded it almost a decade now, which blows my mind. Writing there has helped me figure out a lot of things, too.