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Biography

CHILDHOOD

High school senior and bus driver (with sister Dawn and mother Joyce), Brown's Summit, N.C.

High school senior and bus driver (with sister Dawn and mother Joyce), Brown’s Summit, N.C.

I was born to civil-rights-activist parents in Chicago, Ill., in 1963, but moved south at an early age. I spent the bulk of my childhood in North Carolina, moving to a commune in rural Brown’s Summit when I was 13.

As a teenager, I was interested mostly in basketball and John Steinbeck novels, worked a variety of odd jobs and compiled an indifferent academic record. Thanks to the efforts of one teacher who recognized that I had been lost in the shuffle, I was reclassified out of vocational-level courses at the beginning of my junior year in high school. Several months later I was a surprise selection to the six-week N.C. Governor’s School summer program.

When both my divorced parents moved away from the commune, I stayed on alone to complete high school, compiling enough grant and scholarship money to attend Appalachian State University. Though I was initially rejected by the university’s General Honors program, I became a Dean’s List student at ASU and gained entrance to the program at the beginning of my second semester.

Cuts to the federal Pell Grant program forced me to drop out of school during my junior year, followed by my first marriage and my four-year enlistment in the U.S. Army.

ARMY

On the Czech border, 1986.

On the Czech border, 1986.

I graduated with one of the first classes of recruits trained to operate the new M-1 Abrams tank and was assigned to the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment, a border cavalry unit stationed in Bindlach, West Germany. During my two-year German tour, I conducted 26 One-Alpha border patrols, got assigned as a border operations specialist, took command of my first tank and earned my sergeant’s stripes.

Reassigned to the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment in El Paso, Texas, I served as an M1A1 gunner and later as the Troop Tactical Operations Center vehicle commander. I spent my final six months in uniform as the unit’s training and operations NCO and earned a secondary Military Occupational Specialty classification as a cavalry scout squad leader.

JOURNALISM

I graduated from the  University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, a Dean’s List GPA and the MacNelly Award (given annually to the best writer in the graduating class). During my two years in Chapel Hill, I worked as a reporter and columnist for The Daily Tar Heel, edited the journalism school’s quarterly journal and worked as a paste-up clerk at The Chapel Hill Newspaper. I skipped graduation to begin work as a reporter at The Mountaineer, a tri-weekly newspaper in Waynesville, NC.

My son, Luke Owen Conover, was born less than two months later.

In the summer of 1992 I was recruited to the daily paper in Shelby, NC, by a former boss who convinced me a stint as city editor would help my reporting career.

THE POST AND COURIER

With Luke just after he completed his first organized "fun run."

With Luke just after he completed his first organized “fun run.”

In 1994, on my 31st birthday, I was hired as the state/political editor of The Post and Courier, a 110,000-circulation metro in Charleston, SC. Though I still hoped f0r a career as a reporter elsewhere, I did well as an editor in Charleston and was soon placed in charge of the Sunday edition.

In 1997, I reluctantly applied for the paper’s city editor job after filling the vacant slot for several months. At 34, I was the youngest city editor at a Top 100 American metropolitan newspaper.

Less than a month after my promotion, the newspaper’s executive editor suffered a heart attack, and under new leadership the newsgathering philosophy of the organization changed. My first marriage ended, and a weird series of untimely deaths began to haunt the news staff.

Things showed signs of improvement in 1999 when I married Janet Edens, the paper’s design editor. But misery continued to stalk the paper. My beloved direct supervisor died in a car accident in October 1999, the improbable string of newsroom deaths continued, and morale plummeted.

SCIENCE FICTION
Janet and I each turned down out-of-town job offers to maintain our joint-custody family, which included Luke from my first marriage and David, Lee and Callie Hartsell from Janet’s. Beyond our happy home life with our four children, my release from the stress of an increasingly unhappy newsroom came through fiction writing.

My short story “Eula Makes Up Her Mind” won the Phobos Fiction Award in 2001 and appeared in the 2002 science fiction anthology Empire of Dreams and Miracles. My science fiction would appear in four paperback anthologies between 2002 and 2008, providing me the publication credits for membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

BACK TO REPORTING
In November 2002 I requested reassignment as a reporter. The newly promoted executive editor agreed to allow the move, but kept me in an editing job for an additional year. I used the time to write my first novel and create my first two blogs (the second of the two, Conover on Media, is still available on Blogger).

As a reporter in the features department in 2004, I devoted most of my energies  to improving science coverage in the weekly Health and Science section. The new beat generated enthusiastic reader reaction, and I received the state press association’s highest honor, S.C. Journalist of the Year, in February 2005.

NEW MEDIA
During the spring of 2005,my creative life began an unexpected shift. Since 2001, my focus had been on building a new career as a science fiction writer, but as my participation in the emerging new-media culture expanded, I became convinced that I was witnessing a revolution. By mid-summer, I had launched the paper’s first blog and created Xark, a group blog featuring several of my friends.

Storyboarding at UC-Berkeley, March 2006.

Storyboarding at UC-Berkeley, March 2006.

In the fall of 2005 I accepted a job working as the newsroom’s web developer. The job had only vague responsibilities but came with a mission from the executive editor to improve the paper’s website, which had fallen into disrepair over the previous two years.

In March 2006 I attended the multimedia “spring-break semester” at the University of California-Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism as a Western Knight Center Fellow. A month later, I launched Lowcountry Blogs, devoting myself to covering the postings of local bloggers.

CHARLESTON.NET

When a long-promised upgrade to the Charleston.net CMS failed to meet expectations in the summer of 2006, senior management reassigned the site director, and put me in charge with a mission to rebuild the site from scratch. Work on the new site began in the fall of 2006, but quickly ran afoul of plans to reorganize all the corporation’s Web operations. The new chart moved me off the newsroom staff in November 2006 and placed me formally in the role of interim Web Director. Though encouraged by my bosses to apply for the permanent director job, I declined  in favor of an eventual return to the newsroom. This proved to be a career blunder.

On Jan. 31, 2007 — the same day I certified completion of Phase One of our site implementation plan — I welcomed the new director. Two days later, after learning of his plans to discard Charleston.net’s already ambitious site implementation schedule in favor of an earlier launch date, I gave my two-weeks notice to the Web team and returned to the newsroom.

FRIDAY 5 AND FUN & GAMES

"The tide has turned." (Fun & Games cartoon, 2007)

“The tide has turned.” (Fun & Games cartoon, 2007)

In February and March 2007,  Janet and I created an experimental Friday features section. Rather than theming the section around a topic, the new section (Friday 5) approached any feature topic by breaking it into five component pieces that could be arranged in any order. No Friday 5 front ever jumped an article to an inside page. I filled the inside of the section with a new single-page feature called Fun and Games, offering weekly cartoon caption contests, a news-themed Wordfind puzzle and inventive news games. To make sure that both pages were represented properly on the Web, I created blogs for each.

I assigned all the Friday 5 copy and (with rare exceptions) wrote all its text. I also drew the weekly cartoon, created the weekly Wordfind, took most of the pictures, kept up the blogs and shot, edited and posted the videos I produced for the section. These innovations were greeted with early enthusiasm, but as the redesigned Charleston.net failed to meet its goals under the new director and the newsroom drifted back toward its original hostility toward new media, I found myself increasingly isolated.

In 2007, the executive editor asked me to help the news department reacquire the company’s multimedia operation, which I had created. I succeeded in early 2008, only to have the job running the multimedia staff go to a young photo editor who had never edited a video. That unexplained decision signaled the end of my newspaper career.

In August 2008  I was one of the first people from the newsroom to depart the company under its buyout program. Three weeks later I began work toward certificates in Web and Graphic Design at Trident Technical College.

FOR HIRE

First day of filming, "Brunch of the Living Dead," April 2008.

First day of filming, “Brunch of the Living Dead,” April 2008.

My freelance career began in late 2008 and picked up momentum in early 2009, collecting several print clients and a web consulting job. But I gained most of my exposure via a series of posts on new media written for Xark between March and May. My post “2020 Vision: What’s Next For News” was widely distributed within online journalism circles and earned me speaking engagements and honoraria from The American Press Institute and Johns Hopkins University. My May post “The Newspaper Suicide Pact,” on the folly the industry’s 2009 paid-content schemes, was even more widely read.

I gave  up freelancing as my primary focus in July 2009  and three months later went to work as a content engineering consultant for e-Me Ventures, a now-defunct Chicago-based semantic technologies firm run by Abe Abreu Sr. I worked full-time for Abe from November 2009 through February 2010, dropping back to half-time in March.

In April 2010, after determining to my satisfaction that the news-media industry had no significant interest in my ideas for a semantic business model for journalism, I took a  full-time job as a mechanic at a local bicycle shop. In August 2010 I received certification as a bicycle technician from United Bicycle Institute in Portland, Ore., and I completed a year as a full-time mechanic in April 2011.

My life took an unexpected turn in December 2010 when my series of posts on semantic journalism attracted the attention of a few media executives. By mid-April I was back in the consulting business, only this time under the auspices of Xarktopia LLC (the media-services company Janet and I formed in 2010) and with less focus on technology and more emphasis on the business and practice of 21st century journalism.

In early 2012, Xarktopia devoted all its resources to developing my Fintann semantic dashboard (also referred to as a Semantic Content Management System) with partners in Columbia, SC, and Seattle. The effort flopped. In September 2012 I began a mobile bicycle repair service for the Uptown area of Charleston, and in February of 2013 I began publishing CHSSoccer.net, a local niche news site devoted to covering soccer in the South Carolina Lowcountry.

In November 2013, Xarktopia published four of my novels on Amazon: A Madness and Siobeth, the first two novels of The Key To Darbas and The Darbas Cycle; a contemporary sex-and-voodoo potboiler called Bokur; and Another Goddamn Novel About The Collapsing Quantum Multiverse, a sci-fi romp.

SOCCER

Midway through the 2014 season, the Charleston Battery hired me through Xarktopia on a contract to serve as its director of marketing and communications. Roughly 13 months later, the team hired me to do the job full-time.

The Battery finished in third-place in the Eastern Conference and blasted through its all-time attendance record in 2015, growing more than 8 percent over the previous season and averaging 4,080 fans per match during its benchmark USL regular season (no previous Battery team had ever exceeded 4,000 average attendance in the club’s 17 seasons at the 5,100-seat MUSC Health Stadium). Individual ticket sales — the category for which I was responsible — expanded by more than 15 percent and was the only category that exceeded all its season goals. The Battery also sold out two of the three nights of the preseason Carolina Challenge Cup, and drew more than 5,000 fans to its July exhibition with West Bromwich Albion. Fan culture flourished, with supporters groups marching to the match before every game. The offseason began with ambitious — though frugal — plans for 2016.

All that stopped in mid-November, when we learned that the club was on the verge of being sold. This was confirmed before the front office went on its annual holiday hiatus, and 2015 ended in a flurry as we packed up everything from our office and moved into the third floor of the stadium. We returned in January and set to work under new ownership, using the press boxes and luxury suites as temporary offices, packed in cheek-to-jowl with employees of the new owner’s other businesses.

In March, the company returned to its now-remodeled offices, and the new owner began a public feud with the local newspaper, attracting national derision. April, with the official 90-day probationary period for “new employees” about to end, the new ownership let me go without explanation, replacing me with a marketing firm and my intern.

The club stopped publicly reporting its game attendance shortly after my departure.

GOODBYE, CHARLESTON

I began my job search on Feb. 24. With few opportunities in Charleston, Janet and I were resigned to the inevitability of moving to a new city. But after several near-misses with interesting but flawed career chances, we began exploring a new idea: What if,  instead of moving to some random city to pursue some vague career, we transplanted our household to the South Carolina Upstate and took up residence on some family acreage Janet owned with her father and sisters?

By August 2016 our son David had moved into to our home in Uptown Charleston and Janet and I had opened Xarktopia LLC’s “satellite office” in Easley, SC, about 20 minutes west of downtown Greenville. Our new home is located just beyond the city limits on about 35 acres of farmland.

Stay tuned.

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