Friday, June 19, 2009

Journalism has been very, very good to me


When I was in Atlanta recently to accept an award for investigative journalism from New America Media, it occurred to me that this was my third trip to Atlanta as a journalist on someone else's dime.

When I was a travel editor for a New York magazine, Ringling Bros. flew me to Atlanta to see a new boutique circus show they were unveiling. Last year, I had a fellowship with The Association of Health Care Journalists, and they flew our fellowship group to visit The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And now an association of ethnic media was dropping some coin on me to come pick up a certificate.

I'm not one to take good fortune for granted. I grew up with no money, not much ambition - a drug kid who was good at school, but had a sense of hopelessness that kept me from imagining my future or trying to prepare for it. Really, I owe it to the U.S. Navy and its prestigious NROTC scholarship for snapping me out of it.

As for journalism, I owe rock & roll for that. In graduate school for English literature, I started a rock band that opened for Uncle Tupelo when they were just starting to get famous. I wrote about the show, which was pretty amazing, and showed my story to their manager, Tony Margherita. He told me I should submit it to the local alternative weekly in St. Louis.

"They broke us, and they take pride in that," Tony said, sitting on his couch with his cordless phone, in a time before cell phones. "I bet they would go for something like this." He was right. Features editor Cliff Froehlich did go for it - and I have been getting paid to produce jounalism ever since precisely then.

I suppose I am carrying on about all this tonight because I was just picking which shows I want to see next month at Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. As I was choosing silent films with live music, Vieux Farka Toure, Ornette Coleman Quartet and The Bell Orchestre among the shows I want to see, I remembered my previous trip to this great island city in Quebec.

I went up there as a travel editor to experience Mondial de la Biere, the Montreal beer festival. Getting paid to drink beer, those were the days. Just like getting paid to go to the circus or learn about disease prevention and control. Getting paid to listen to jazz - those, too, will be the days.

But then again, getting paid to hold accountable dubious elected officials and the criminal justice system in a corrupt old former slaveholding town like St. Louis - these, too, are the days.

*

Picture is of me with Kelley Weiss of NPR Sacramento and Joy Robertson of KOLR 10 Springfield, Mo., my fellow fellows with The Association of Health Care Journalists.

1 comment:

kelley said...

What a nice post Chris. I have to say journalism has been very good to me as well. I'm so glad we're both still in this biz...and sad to think of all the great journalists who haven't been so lucky. And, how cool that you're going to Montreal for jazz!