Ripples alumni: Alumnus succeeds in publishing after career in reporting, editing

BY MONICA DIX —

Ripples and SHS class of ’92 alum Josh Modell has made a name for himself in the publishing business. As the current managing editor of Onion Inc. he oversees four sister news sources: Click Hole, The Onion, the A.V. Club and Star Wipe from his home in Chicago.

When it comes to high school, Modell has fond memories of his time at SHS. “I had a fine time at Shorewood; I think I got a solid education,” Modell said.

Modell was a writer on Ripples all four years, writing record reviews, stories and eventually his own humor column, called “Just Joshin’.”

“I’d just sort of make fun of stuff around school,” Modell said, “One column I wrote was making fun of the superintendent at the time who was sort of famous for never calling off school for snow … and she actually got really mad and called the editor and the faculty advisor and was kicking and screaming … That’s my fondest Ripples memory I think, really pissing off the superintendent of schools.”

As a writer, Modell said that Ripples was the first newspaper where he feels like he was actually read. “If you write something in Ripples you know that almost the entire school was going to read it so you had a really captive audience,” Modell said.

“We did a few things that sort of annoyed some people, which is always kind of a little bit fun to me. You know, you always want to stir things up a little bit,” Modell said.

josh_modell_1
(courtesy of Josh Modell) Josh Modell, class of ’98, now works for The Onion.
An example of this occurred when a columnist from the Journal Sentinel came into the Ripples class and wrote a piece about them. Modell was less than satisfied with her writing.

“She wrote real snarky, in a way that I thought an adult should never necessarily be, so I ended up kind of writing a response column to her, calling her out for coming to a high school where people are trying to learn to be writers and then making fun of them for it,” Modell said.

The Ripples class that the reporter and Modell wrote about was essentially a past form of the same things editors and writers still do today, but in the context of a 7th hour class. This class involved some instruction, but a lot of personal writing and editing of stories and content. The students also got one-on-one time with the teacher, Dr. Botts, who has since retired.

“I remember a lot of fooling around and doing nothing, which is like working at a real publication,” Modell said. Modell was also in the Lake Bluff Beagle, Lake Bluff Elementary School’s student newspaper, before writing in Ripples at SHS.

“[Ripples] was another step in an important part of being a writer, which is writing, all the time and writing as much as you can and getting better,” Modell said.

After graduating from SHS, he studied journalism at UWM and worked at Atomic Records and started a music zine in Milwaukee. He was hired by The Onion for basic fact checking and data entry in 2000. During this time, he wrote more and more and freelanced for music magazines like Magnet and Spin.

“Eventually my job at the A.V. Club got bigger and bigger until I was the editor in chief there,” Modell said. Modell describes his job as writing all the time, editing all the time and taking a print publication and ushering it into the web age.

“There’s very little business for print anymore … [The internet] is still a crazy watershed thing in the world: it’s still evolving and people are still trying to figure out how to use it properly and how to get their heads around it,” Modell said.

Last year he took the job of editorial director for Onion Inc. “[This] essentially means that I’m the boss of four different editors in chiefs of the four different Onion publications … my day now involves a lot less writing and lot more facilitating great writers to do what they need to do,” Modell said.

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