Monday, October 12, 2009

My first Herald byline: "Passover play not to pass up"

It's funny how life works -- though one of my best friends, Jenna Scherer, has been the Boston Herald theatre critic for as long as I've known her (about 2 years), it never occurred to me to pitch a story to our fair city's second largest newspaper until this month. But a paragraph in the Craigie on Main newsletter (which I highly recommend, it's hilarious and informative), about an upcoming production at the Central Square Theater about food and nourishment, caught my eye. And while I normally send play-related news directly to Jenna, I felt that in this case, the story was calling to me. Jenna generously agreed to put me in touch with her longtime editor, and this story was born.

I began by having a great conversation with the play's star and creator, Belle Linda Halpern, who shares my love for the Food Project and for Michael Pollan. I then went on to speak with two local food luminaries who made cameos in the production this weekend, and who have played important roles in my development as a food writer. The first was David Waters, the CEO of Community Servings, who was one of the very first people I interviewed as a budding journalist back in the day, when I was interning for the Boston Business Journal. The second was Tony Maws, the chef at Craigie -- a place that has been very good to me as a customer, and very good to the Boston local food community at large.

I then had the privilege of being edited by the consummate professionals at the Herald. To put this pleasure in perspective: In the past month, I've spent as much time futzing with Moveable Type slideshows for Bostonist, creating Googlemaps for an interactive city guide, trading Twitter and Facebook messages with sources, and wrangling photos via iPhone and Nikon digital and Flikr Creative Commons and iStockphoto, etc. as I have simply writing my stories down. Because I am busy and work in a competitive industry, I'm dashing off articles and submitting them as fast as I can, and I'm lucky if the person uploading it to the site (me or someone else) catches my spelling errors, much less gives me feedback on how I can make the whole thing more readable and interesting. I'd almost forgotten what it was like to bang out a clever story with a punchy lede, to sit across the table from someone and talk about memories and missions that are meaningful to them, to see my byline on a piece of flattened wood pulp that exists somewhere outside the Internet.

Journalists love to talk about the fact that print journalism as we know it is dying, but I don't think they talk enough about the ways in which print makes life worth living -- especially for us journalists. This experience was one of them. It slowed me down, it made me a better and more careful writer, and it was fun.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm still in favor of moving away from killing trees for the sake of making art. I love being able to share my work and ideas with people outside my geographic vicinity. I love blogging and uploading and learning new things, and I always will. And I love being the first person to post on a new restaurant or piece of news. But there's still something about actually clipping a clip that takes me back to the first time I saw my first byline in the Buffalo News, ran my eyes over those three slightly smeared serif words -- three tiny words amidst a cacophony of crime reports, blurry pictures, tawdry advertisements for laundry detergent -- and thought, "Yes. This feels right. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life."

So thanks, Herald, for that.