In the mid-nineties, I was named arts and entertainment editor for NUVO. I inherited some fine writers but the movie reviewer at the time was not so fine. Within a week or two of my new appointment, Ed Johnson-Ott began to contact me. In those days it might have been emails or it might have been carrier pigeons, but the point was clear: “Jim, you need to replace your current movie reviewer with me.”
Ed sent me that message numerous times. He sent me his clips. There was no doubt he was a better writer, but I was squeamish about firing a writer the minute I took on the job. It just didn’t seem fair.
But Ed would not give up, and his argument was clear, and so I did the uncomfortable thing and let go of the movie reviewer and hired Ed.
I never looked back.
For the next two decades, Ed would prove to be the most consistent, most reader-focused, most insightful movie reviewer imaginable. He was the consummate professional: never late, delivering copy that was pristine.
What was always foremost in Ed’s mind was the reader: the everyday person who had to pay for the ticket the studios gave Ed.
Sure, he hated certain things — he was never comfortable with the rating system we introduced in the 2000s, in fact, he resented it. He felt his reviews would communicate what a reader needed to make a decision — without a rating. It was a condescension to give out stars, and he would repeatedly — but elegantly — grouse about it in his reviews.
So he not only spoke to the reader on their level, but he also trusted their intelligence to make the right decision about whether to buy a ticket or not. Those sorts of decisions were more important in those days, quite unlike our current multi-platform plethora of options.
As I said, he never missed a deadline, and his copy was perfect, but it was not always easy for Ed. He overcame a lot of troubles to deliver this excellent content, whether it was computer problems or his increasingly harrowing medical issues. He also persevered through personal heartbreak, and the whole time, he was a loving and caring father to his son, Donnie.
One way for me to appreciate Ed’s gift is to contrast his work with mine. I reviewed movies for years for other publications before I took the NUVO position. I fancied myself a pretty clever guy in those days, ready to take on the Hollywood elite and knock ‘em down a peg or two. But in hindsight, I believe my work was often about me, and about my ego. What I learned from Ed to think not so much of myself, but focus on the reader.
I don’t want to give the impression that Ed only covered movies for NUVO. He covered a lot of subject areas for us, and could always be relied on when we had a special issue coming up and needed a dependable writer. Over a couple of decades, Ed wrote about many things, TV, food, theme parks … there are nearly 2000 entries for Ed Johnson-Ott!
Treat yourself and do a search on NUVO and randomly pick an article to read. You’ll find yourself reading more and more, and likely delighted.
I also learned from Ed just how resilient a person can be; he fought through innumerable hardships and you would never have known it when you picked up your NUVO and read his work. He kept his suffering to himself and a small number of others. For a time, I was one of those others and proud to be his friend and colleague.
From the mid-90s until 2013, Jim Poyser served in various editorial staff capacities at NUVO; he is Executive Director of Earth Charter Indiana.