Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Anniversary Waltz

We now pause for a brief acknowledgement of time passed: On this day, 28 years ago, my first professional review appeared in the Baltimore Sun.

It was, to be honest, a bit of a fluke. I was 20 years old, had just finished my junior year at Johns Hopkins University, and was convinced that I could do a better job writing about jazz than the stringer the Sun had been using. So I took a bus down to the Sun’s offices, found the features editor and made my pitch — which, if memory serves, wasn’t much more sophisticated than, “That guy you have reviewing jazz? I can do better than him.”

I had a sheaf of clips from the Hopkins student paper, but I doubt the editor had any intention of reading them. Instead, he asked when I was next going to see a jazz concert, and I replied that I had arranged to see Milt Jackson that very evening. Fine, he said; if I wrote it up, they’d take a look at it. He wanted 450 words the next morning, and 450 words by 10:00 a.m. they got.

It ran as filed the following day.

From what I can tell, this may as well be a Cinderella story by today’s standards. For one thing, at most major dailies you couldn’t simply walk in off the street and collar an editor; there are security guards at the door, and people who expect you to have an appointment outside the editor’s door. And forget about hearing, “Sure, kid, we’ll give you a try” — unless you have references and clips attesting to others who’ve already tried and tested your work, you won’t get the time of day.

Internships, which seem a prerequisite these days, barely existed back then, and surely didn’t apply where music criticism was concerned. The expectation was that aspiring journos would learn by doing — and getting paid to master my trade was a lot more appealing than forking over tuition to some J-School.

Not that the pay was all that good (and no, the irony of celebrating 28 years of professional journalism on a blog has not escaped me). But even at its worst, it’s still the best job I could imagine having. So here’s to the late Charlie Flowers, who gave me that first break, and to all the editors who followed. Thanks, and cheers!

Seriously. I'll send you clips.
Max Berry
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