U.S. 1 Turns 23

Unless you are under the age of 25, chances are you don’t remember where you were or what you did when you reached your 23rd birthday. It’s not exactly a huge milestone.

So we at U.S. 1 can be forgiven if we passed our 23rd anniversary date, officially decreed by our founder to be November 1, without so much as a lifting of a single glass. We just plain forgot — until we were abruptly reminded by that aforementioned founder, who insisted on sitting down for his annual give-and-take on the health and welfare of our enterprise, conducted with one of the newer members of our staff.

The exchange went something like this:

Young but fearless (or possibly foolish) reporter: Congratulations, boss, on making it through another year. Some of us wonder if your reluctance to celebrate is part of some deeper concerns you might have.

Founding editor: On the grand scale of things, 23 hardly seems like an anniversary that deserves a blow-out party. I’m not sure that even 25 deserves much of a party. But what’s this about “deeper concerns?”

Reporter: Well, people around the office have noticed that you have been a little subdued lately, tight-lipped, some would say. Maybe it goes back to the reference to the trip to “Red Sox nation” and the bitter loss of your beloved Yankees in the playoffs and the defection of A-Rod. And then the subpoena that came in, and then the registered mail from the state department of labor. Some of us are a little worried.

Editor: Hold on, kid. Let’s go back to the Yankees reference. First off they are not my “beloved Yankees.” My beloved Yankees are the team that played back in 1956 and 1957, when teams were developed through a farm system and most players stuck with the same team through their entire careers.

The Yankees and all other teams of today bear no resemblance to any of that. But the Yankees are still my team of interest and I still find them entertaining. And to find them or any team entertaining you have to appreciate that the nature of the game has changed.

Take the A-Rod “defection,” for example. A friend of mine called the other night with a theory, one that jibed with something I had been thinking about concerning where Rodriguez will end up in 2008. The theory is this: That after much sturm und drang A-Rod will be back with the Yankees, and that the announcement of his “defection,” leaked to national television just as those Damn Red Sox were clinching the World Series, was chiefly a PR stunt made to show that Alex individually is as big a player as some entire franchises.

In other words, it’s more gamesmanship, which thrives off the field as much as on. And here’s where baseball is instructive for business: It’s fun to watch and fun to play, but it’s more fun when you play for keeps and when you care about wins and losses. We could all come into work and be nice to each other every day, but it’s a sweeter effort when you show a profit at the end of the year.

Reporter: Speaking of which, we’re a little worried about those legal servers showing up at the door.

Editor: I’m not worried and here’s why. A couple of months ago we wrote an article about a guy with an Internet business, and in the course of that article reiterated some information from an earlier article we ran about the guy, published two years earlier. After the recent article was printed the guy called to correct some information from the previous article — proving our contention that if you are portrayed incorrectly in the media, you should always complain just to set the record straight.

Meanwhile the guy apparently becomes embroiled in a fight with two former colleagues who are now out of state. He files a suit against them. The next thing we see is a sheriff’s officer arriving at our door with a subpoena for “the keeper of the records.” The lawyer for the out-of-state guy wants any and all records, notes, E-mails, or audio recordings pertaining to any and all dealings we have ever had with the guy in Princeton, and that includes not only the printed articles but also the drafts and their revisions.

Even though everything we know about the guy has been poured into those two stories, and we have nothing to hide, we are still not cooperating. Happily for us, New Jersey has a strong “shield law,” which protects journalists from blanket searches such as this. Without that law reporters would be impeded by sources reluctant to offer confidential background information for fear it would end up in a court of law.

If the case involved our reporter seeing a car fleeing from a crime scene, and our reporter jotted the license plate on his notepad, it would be another matter. But this case apparently involves some contractual dispute — the facts of the case should be more relevant than our reporter’s interpretation of hearsay evidence. We rest our case, your honor.

Reporter: But what about the Department of Labor? We have a story in this very issue about a guy charged with diverting millions of dollars that should have gone to the government in payroll taxes.

Editor: Well this is something like $11,000 in state unemployment tax assessed after a Department of Labor audit determined that a number of our independent contractors were — by its definition — employees. We went through this before, 10 years or so ago, and as a result of that audit I voluntarily reclassified all of our deliverers as employees. The rest of our independent contractors were writers and photographers who have operated on that freelance basis since, well, probably the time of Don Quixote.

Ten years ago the labor department had no argument with that classification. Now those contributors, many of them the exact same people doing the exact work for us, are being called employees. The only thing that has changed is that the state is more strapped for money than ever.

So we’re going into the mud wrestling ring with the state to fight over a pile of 11,000 small denomination bills. I’m looking forward to it.

Reporter: After 23 years in business, aren’t you secure enough to leave 11,000 small ones on the floor and stand above the fray?

Editor: It goes back to what we said about the game. That amount of money could prove to be an insurance run in the profit-loss game for a given year. Plus it’s a matter of principle — I was a freelancer for a dozen years before starting this business and if the Department of Labor went by these rules back then, I would have had to ask every prospective editor to enroll me as an employee before giving me my first assignment. That’s not part of the editor-freelance writer dynamic.

Reporter: So are you disappointed that Joe Torre got run out as Yankee manager.

Editor: Not really. I have a lot of admiration for Torre and think his patience, calm, and willingness to stick with players even when they are temporarily under-performing are traits that would serve any business manager well. But I also think 12 years is a long time — complacency can creep into an organization.

Reporter: What about 23 years?

Editor: You have a point. But let’s see what the score is at the end of the year.

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