The Conversation Issue: Can We Talk?

The back story on how our unique November issue came about.

This is the transcript of a chat on Slack — the intra-office messaging system Philly Mag uses — between editor Tom McGrath, senior editor Richard Rys and editor-at-large Christine Speer Lejeune.

TOM: We’re calling this the Conversation Issue. You two oversaw the whole package. Explain what we’re up to here.

RICH: A fool’s errand?

CHRISTY: Haha. For real. Proof that the art of conversing isn’t dead, despite Google’s and Apple’s best efforts. We wanted to have the city’s most interesting people talk to each other and see what stories came out.

RICH: I keep coming back to the idea that in this age of high tech, we’re communicating more than ever, but the art of conversation is often lost in all the texting and tweeting and Facebook-status-updating. This issue is a chance for folks to put their phones down — for the most part — and really talk to each other.

CHRISTY: Emojis can only go so far.

TOM: Who’s included in the issue?

CHRISTY: A lot of it came down to people we think of as good talkers. Who has interesting opinions, ideas and experiences? And then we wondered whom we could pair that person with who might bring out a new story, a new perspective, or a new side that we hadn’t seen before.

RICH: We also tried to find some surprising combinations, like Stephen Starr talking music with Pierre Robert.

CHRISTY: Right. Stephen Starr talking about music instead of restaurants is a whole different Stephen Starr. He once got drunk with Bono. Who knew?

RICH: With three of our subjects, we took the conversation to their turf — Sheena Parveen at the Shore, Blondell Reynolds Brown on the dance floor, and Commissioner Ramsey on the streets. They were all very much in their element and comfortable.

TOM: The issue has some other features, too. Like the overheard conversations around town.

CHRISTY: We basically eavesdropped. And got some great stuff. SEPTA is full of interesting conversations, as it turns out.

TOM: True. The words “poem” and “poet” will never be the same for me.

CHRISTY: Conversation isn’t always pretty, Tom.

RICH: I also enjoyed our chat with two of the Eagles’ offensive linemen. They’re hilarious. You get a real sense of their camaraderie. And learn that a quarterback is wise to give them a nice
parting gift at the end of the season.

TOM: Shameless-plug time. This issue aligns really well with ThinkFest, Philly Mag’s ideas conference, which is happening on November 14th at Drexel University. Anyone in particular you guys are excited to hear from? Some of the speakers: M. Night and Bhavna Shyamalan …

CHRISTY: Yes, M. Night!

TOM: Penn president Amy Gutmann, Drexel president John Fry, and Alex Rice, the coach of the Taney Dragons …

CHRISTY: I’m into seeing William Hite.

RICH: Looking forward to hearing from the Taney Dragons coach — I love our chat with the kids on the team.

TOM: You guys have spent the past couple of months arranging, conducting, listening to and editing conversations. Does it make you more excited about the art of conversation? Or do you never want to talk with anyone again?

RICH: I’ve been living like a monk nights and weekends. Except in the QuietRide car on SEPTA, where folks love to chat it up. (I see your ThinkFest plug and raise you.)

TOM: Yes, the QuietRide car! People need to read your story.

CHRISTY: I have to say, the conversations were pretty inspiring. It made me want to talk to all the people in the issue.

RICH: This issue actually deepened my resolve to find ways to disconnect from all my devices and seek out more person-to-person contact. (Even though, um, we’re typing to each other right now.) Some of the best material we have here came from people sitting down, face-to-face, and enjoying not only each other’s viewpoints, but their company. That’s something you can’t replicate via texting.

TOM: Thanks, guys.

RICH: Now do we get the rest of the day off?

Originally published as “Can We Talk?” in the November 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Read more from our Conversation Issue.