Feeling Journalistically Reflective

It’s lunch time again. Time for some words.

I came across a receipt for a story I did for The Atlantic earlier this year and I just kind of held it in front of my face, reveling. It wasn’t for an extraordinary amount of money; It wasn’t for an extraordinary story of great journalistic acclaim. But it was for The-freaking- Atlantic! Cool stuff.

When I started this journalism effort, I was coming off an unsatisfying gig as a teacher at my alma mater. I hated going to work every day and it wasn’t because of the kids or most of my colleagues. It was because I couldn’t seem to do right by my department supervisor, who still believed we should teach classes like it’s 1970.

In any case, there weren’t many people happy or encouraged by the decision to try the journalism thing. This is another entirely different story, but I wanted to give shout outs to those who helped along the way, while simultaneously telling some version of the story that began this journalism voyage.

Alan Siegel, maybe the goodest of all the eggs in the world, had no obligation to talk to me or provide me with any journalistic advice, but he did. He still does, often. He gave me constant feedback on this very blog, telling me what was good and what was not so good. When time came around for an assist, he provided it.

I’d written something about my time doing an internship with the Atlanta Braves back in the spring of 2001. It was a wistful piece about baseball in the spring and our youths and growing up. It was like a lot of baseball stories. To this day, I still love this story. I’d written about the experience as part of coursework for the internship, but never had I actually reflected on the experience. With a decade or so gone, it was a fun piece to write.

I wrote this piece and shopped it around. I got no bites. I didn’t even get a negative response. This, editors, I get you’re busy, is so hard for a young writer. Write back, at least. Acknowledge it. So I went to Alan and I told him about the piece. He referred me to Dave Roth — another really good egg — at The Classical, who liked the story and paid me nothing for it. I was proud to just see my name on a website that wasn’t ending with wordpress.com.

A few months passed and I did more work with Dave. I eventually wrote a longer piece on the connective tissue between the Red Sox World Series and Barack Obama’s DNC Address in 2004. It was exhaustively researched and reported. This was the one. This was the piece I’d get paid for. This was the piece that’d put me on the right path.

But I found no home for that, either. Nothing. I got an encouraging “no” from a couple places.

Reluctantly, I took it back to Dave. I knew that if I wasn’t going to get paid for it, I’d rather have him edit it and publish it, which he did.

A month or so goes by and Eric Nusbaum e-mails me out of the blue. He wants the Red Sox/Obama piece for a baseball anthology. I’m more than happy to say yes to him. Incidentally, I had written a pitch that week or sometime around then that I was shopping. Eric, I found, worked for Vice Sports so I asked him if I could pitch him the idea, which Vice Sports accepted. Since, I’ve done multiple sports stories for them, with him being my main editor. That’s helped me launch into Slate and Smithsonian, among others.

Journalism, in the end, ends up being a celebration of connections. It was those three people that encouraged my ideas, believed in me, made me a sharper writer, and helped push me along the way. There are others, too, and that’s for another time. I can’t thank those three enough. There’s a deeper narrative, somewhere, and I find that these things tend to get self-aggrandizing about where I’ve published, what I’ve written, stories I’ve gotten. This isn’t about that. It’s about the others, it always is in journalism. We’re telling other people’s stories, and rarely our own.

That’s okay, but I felt reflective today. We don’t ever really need to help other people for anything. And so in the rare instances that people have come my way for support, advice, or a lead, I do my best to respond to every one of their e-mails, just like these people did for me. Thanks, guys.

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