Aug 28 2015

The Life and Death of a Humble Zombie Reporter

Until this time last week, I was a 6-year employee of news site Examiner.com, a responsibility I took seriously, in my own way.

I never had any journalistic training or ambitions, but in 2009, while working a job I couldn’t stand and writing an early draft of what became The Brain Ingredient, my craigslist job search found their post, asking for someone to write about zombies and San Francisco. I’d never been more qualified for a job. I became the San Francisco Zombie Examiner.

When I started that beat, it seemed like there were always some new undead-themed social events and outbreaks of zombie flash mobs to write about. Things were exciting, and I covered my way from article to article, trying to keep up with events and learn as I went. I wasn’t writing about the best places to hole up if the fictional monsters attacked, not yet, because there were actual hordes of menacing, leaderless, blood spattered creatures that appeared on our streets at unpredictable intervals, like so many off-season SantaCons. The zombie flash mobs were my favorite things to cover, especially if I could be there for them.

If you stood in the path of this 2009 flash mob with a "Z" taped to your chest, that was instructions for the flash mob to attack and "convert" you. This is the aftermath of my conversion.

If you stood in the path of this 2009 flash mob with a “Z” taped to your chest, that was instructions for them to attack and “convert” you. Here I am, immediately after that moment.

Even after characters like the “zombie wrangler” and his Frank Chu inspired kotsdrodenikel shields left town, there was still the regular event of a zombie prom or a bar crawl to cover.

I’m the first to admit, I was never very diligent about hunting down stories. I didn’t reinterpret my job and start posting recaps of Walking Dead episodes, because those events are set thousands of miles away. I focused on the overlapping venn diagram of zombies and the city, in what I saw as my only assigned subject matter, writing new stories as frequently as they came up.

Except, after any period of two months without an article posted, Examiner’s automated system would threaten to shut off my account, so I would write something. That’s how I ended up covering the 60’s British band, The Zombies, and their upcoming show in the city.

Ironically, Fear the Walking Dead, the Walking Dead spinoff set in Southern California, premiered two days after I was suddenly and not-so-unexpectedly fired.

After years of pretty much doing the minimum amount to keep my account active, Examiner.com caught on and shut me down.

I like to imagine this was some kind of mass purge of accounts below a certain threshold of content or clicks, because there was no warning, no “shape up or ship out” message before this.

I didn’t want to lose that job. In early 2010, they payed me the first money I ever made from writing. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve earned enough in the years since then to earn them cutting me another check. It’s kind of a relief not to have that assignment hanging over me.

There will be no more brief articles at two month intervals about whatever I can find that seems specifically relevant to my assigned topic, for the sake of people who happen to stumble on the content. My only real regret is losing the first articles I wrote.

A few months ago, to avoid to cost of hosting old content, the site took down everything written before 2010. I didn’t sweat too much at the time, because I could still access that content through my account, which kept limping along.

Now those stories are lost to me, unless I can get Examiner’s legal team to make some kind of special exception, or convince the site to rehire me, for all the good that would do them.

Anyway, one of those missing articles was the first time I felt like I did real journalism, compiling all the history I could find of zombie flash mobs in the city up until then. I can’t find any archive of it online. This is the closest I got, though I guess even that was more historical record than a news article. Aren’t journalists supposed to keep the record and provide context for recent events? Maybe not on the internet. I never said I was great at this. I guess that’s why they fired me.