Free Press, Free Lunch

Feed them and they will write.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008
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The gay '90s: lesbians marching in Noho

My story at the Valley Advocate begins, like so many good journalism stories, with a simple proposition: free food. I had grown up in the Twin Cities (far, far superior to the riot-cops-'n'-rich-whiteys impression suggested by coverage of the recent Republican National Convention there). Among the twin towns' many cultural trappings were two strong, independent weekly newspapers: The Twin Cities Reader (R.I.P.) and The City Pages.

As a high school and college student in the 1980s, going without my cultural lifelines was practically unthinkable. So when I moved to the Valley to study something other than journalism as a UMass graduate student, I took it almost as a matter of faith that a similar weekly would keep me posted on the news, culture, arts and, in particular, music that mattered most to this Gen Xer.

Fast forward now three years to a physics/astronomy grad student who's realizing that he'd actually rather be writing?for the weekly paper than simply reading it every Wednesday while writing a Ph.D. thesis about some esoteric subfield of astrophysics. I met one of the editors at the time at a local eatery, and (take heed, aspiring editors) he bought me lunch while we talked about what kinds of stories I could contribute to the Advocate's pages. He gave me the best answer imaginable: Take your pick, kid. And that I did. With a vengeance.

Eclecticism was my steady diet, and in a sense the Valley Advocate was my journalism school. I wound up not only with a sheaf of clips that spanned the spectrum—music and arts, investigative reporting, controversies (oh, the conspiracies!), news and analysis, medicine, technology, culture, commentary, satire, national, international, local... Talk about covering the waterfront!

Reporting for the Advocate also gave me the lead for my first book, which Gotham/Penguin Books published in 2005. Long story there. Best told at, shameless plug time, Today I've combined the science and the journalism backgrounds to work as a, wait for it..., science journalist for publications like Discover, Scientific American, and Wired. And I remain forever grateful to the Advocate for its inculcation of journalism's ideals into a cub reporter's head: ask tough questions, relentlessly fact-check, nail those deadlines and never, ever turn down free food.

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