From Iceland — The Editors Speak

The Editors Speak

Published September 17, 2009

The Editors Speak

The first editor
My career as editor of Grapevine ended the way it started, being shouted at by ancient men with grey beards.
I had written the cover story for the first issue, but by the second I was assuming full editorial duties. The cover story for Grapevine 2 was the Pagan Asatru Association in Iceland. They were having their annual Midsummer Eve gathering in Hafnarfjörður, with Viking fights, bonfires and the whole thing being consecrated to Odin. They certainly made an impression, as I have since gone on to write a novel with a Nordic Mythological background and am trying to get to Denmark for further study.
In the short run, however, the most vivid impression was a massive hangover. The Pagans took me under their wing. I was young, the beer was free and the results inevitable. I remember the Viking Elvis doing Heartbreak Hotel in full Viking regalia. I also remember the difference between Icelandic and American pagans. The Icelandic ones were more interested in the symbolic aspects of the heritage, few going so far as to say the old gods actually exist. The Americans, however, tended to be true believers. One rather biker-ish looking man told me he had met Odin himself on a bridge somewhere. I don’t really recollect my reaction, but it prompted him to challenge me to a duel. I declined and lived on to edit the third issue of Grapevine.
By the 20th issue, I had become something approaching a professional journalist. This included showing up for work sober, even if it was on a Saturday night. This Saturday, Bobby Fischer was coming to town. It was probably the biggest media event in Iceland since the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in 1986, and I was running around with reps from Associated Press and Dutch Handelsblad. Before the economic collapse and subsequent revolution, we thought this would be the story of the decade in peaceful little Iceland.
It was, however, something of a non-event. Representatives of the world’s press corps and all the local media were waiting at Reykjavik airport when Fischer’s plane appeared in the sky. Normal programming had been cut as the event was broadcast live on Channel 2. It felt like the aliens were landing.
However, instead of so much as a greeting of “take me to your leader” or “does anyone know a nice hotel,” Fischer was whisked away into a waiting Channel 2 car by Channel 2 chief Páll Magnússon. It was their story and they weren’t letting anyone else in on the game. Even the police played along and cleared the area of other media.
We finally got to meet Fischer a few days later at a press conference. He had lost his Messianic beard, but his opinions were still misreadings of Biblical proportions. Most of the press people were packing down before he had finished his tirades against the Jews. This was the last time Fischer would appear publically, before he became just another Reykjavik kook, one of those characters that lend the town colour.
Bobby Fischer passed away peacefully in Reykjavik three years later.
Páll Magnússon later became head of RUV State Broadcasting.
Valur Gunnarsson studies Medieval history and literature and is constantly working on one historical novel or another. 
The second editor

I’m a foreigner. Even today, there isn’t another magazine or newspaper in Iceland that would have allowed a foreigner so much control – and the owners of the Grapevine didn’t hesitate in offering me the position. I have close friends who lived in Iceland for thirty years, and for them, having a foreigner with access to that kind of position meant was enormous in significance.
I edited the paper for a year and a half from 2005-2006, which we can look back on now as the time a corrupt few pilfered the nation. With just about every editorial, and every fourth cover, we tried to warn both the Icelandic media and the country to start speaking up.
That’s going to sound pompous. I’m not saying we were brilliant. I see flaws in every issue, and in every article. My stomach turns over what we could have done. Times were great for some, and difficult for us: every writer we got, as soon as they got some success, would be recruited by Baugur or Landsbankinn for some kind of project– you could hear the criticism dissipate with every check coming from those corporations.
I read the Grapevine now and I see the same energy we had. And the quality gets better with every issue. I can’t think of another periodical for which that has been so consistently true for so long. 
(actually an on-line editor)
My first contribution to Grapevine was an incoherent rant about immigration that I sent in after reading Issue #2, in the summer of 2003. I had a lot to get off my chest, and what started as a letter ended up becoming an article that meandered all over the place and had no real point. To my surprise, they published it.
After moving downtown in 2004, I was offered a proofreading job with Grapevine. Shortly thereafter, I was asked if I wanted to be the online editor. This decision was based on my having founded and briefly run an HTML-based, Tripod-hosted online literary magazine with a readership of maybe 200 people. Being “online editor” didn’t entail any actual coding work—I would just post daily news, a weekly opinion column, and draw up a list of design ideas for the Grapevine site. Some of these ideas were even considered.
Daily news was fine, but it was the weekly column that taught me how dangerous being a columnist is. It’s a power that changes you. It’s like someone got you very drunk, put you on a rooftop, gave you a bullhorn, and told you, “Here you go, say whatever you like.” You’re a blogger, really, but because you have a respected publication’s name above your by-line, you get this kind of hall monitor authority kick. In retrospect, this was probably a position better suited to someone with a slightly smaller ego.
There was plenty to enjoy about working for Grapevine. I was given the freedom to cover whatever I wanted, which made me pretty fortunate as far as journalists go. In particular I enjoyed covering immigration issues, as well as seeing other media covering our coverage—such as coming onto the roundtable discussion television show Silfur Egils a few times, which was always a pleasure.
I worked with some great people as well. Hilmar and Jóndi built this thing out of pretty much a conversation over beers in Prague or something. Aðalsteinn is like the Babe Ruth of sales, without the alcoholism. I’ll always be grateful to Valur Gunnarsson for giving me a shot, as well as to Bart Cameron for helping to shape my writing, and for letting me fulfil my lifelong dream of drumming a steel bucket while someone else plays guitar and sings. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even mind that people did and still do think I’m the editor of Grapevine. Anyone I forgot, I humbly apologize and owe you a beer.
What I really, really loved most of all about working for Grapevine, though, was the night before we had to go to the printer’s. The graphic design team in one room, with their electronica playing loud. The proofreader pouring over the pages across the table from the editor. A couple journos helping out with some last minute finishing touches, clacking away. Pizza and beers all round. The charged, race against the clock, purely electric atmosphere of a magazine nearing deadline and trying to finish up the next issue; an energy I have never experience at any workplace before or since.
After Grapevine, I made a brief foray into politics. While in office, I tried to fill in the holes that I had seen in immigration law in the course of covering the stories of ordinary people and the laws that drastically influenced their lives. In the end, many of these much-needed changes were made. My time at Grapevine helped make that happen. Now that I’m back at Grapevine, more or less, as a contributor and online news person, I still sometimes pop in on the night before going to the printer’s, just to soak it in a little. Yeah, I miss it. It becomes addictive. Grapevine’s an awesome place to work. 
The third editor

During the summer of 2008, we set out to do a special issue to celebrate the 5-year anniversary of the Reykjavík Grapevine. A few of us sat down and tossed around ideas for how to approach this, and soon decided that we wanted five different guest editors to each edit five different pages to celebrate our 5-year anniversary. We put together a list of people who we thought might be interesting to work with, and then we called them and asked if they’d be willing to work pro-bono on this project and help us out. The response was so overwhelmingly positive that eventually, we were able to choose from almost anyone from the pool we had decided on. That’s what the Grapevine has come to mean in Icelandic culture.
I first joined the Grapevine in the fall of 2005. By then, the Grapevine was a fairly established publication, one that I always made a point of reading. I sent in an email to editor Bart Cameron and asked if I could contribute in any way, and soon I started an internship that eventually turned into an editorship.
I remember the first few issues I worked on rather fondly. At first, I had the luck to work with some very pleasant people like Paul F. Nikolov and Bart Cameron, who both helped me tremendously in the beginning. Gúndi shot photos and Gunni Þorvalds handled designs. Soon we were joined by Skari and Steinunn Jakobsdóttir and later on, Haukur S. Magnússon and Gulli, aka GAS. Paul went on to do politics, Bart followed his Icelandic girlfriend to the US (usually, it is the other way around) and I was left to run the show.
I edited roughly 40 issues of the Grapevine, during my 29 months as an editor. It is a thankless, stressful job that offers terrible hours and disgruntled phone calls. But it was always worth it. The dynamics and energy that erupts from working in a small, creative group that is determined to make the best of any given situation creates a rush that cannot be replicated.
But as much fun as the job was, what I most appreciate is the friendships I made at that place. The co-workers who were so much more than just co-workers. The Grapevine has always been more of a team effort, rather than a professional organisation. And as a veteran of Pro-Am sports, I think it might be the best team I ever played on. So: Hilmar, Jóndi, Óskar, Höddi, Aðalsteinn, Bart, Paul, Gunni, Gúndi, Steinunn, Haukur, Skari, Gulli, Jim; to me, you are the Grapevine. Thanks for the memories 

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