"I graduated in 1978 and immediately went into Medill’s summer program, somehow convincing the school I was worth a shot, despite not know how to write. Ok, I knew how to write some of the time, but not all of the time, and couldn’t tell the difference. And my thoughts, while original, were all over the place, and so my work was either surprisingly spiky and strong or mysterious at best. Medill fixed that. Grizzled pros eliminated the mystery by showing me how to turn the heat up on my own paragraphs, reducing the exposition until the main ingredients lay bare, and at that point it was pretty clear what I had left to work with. The rest was just picking the order of the ingredients - (“Does this one lead with the starch or the protein?”) and then learning to judiciously ladle the sauce. With this new clarity and a ravenous hunger to do something that mattered I spent my twenties in newspapers in Norfolk, Va., and Louisville, Ky., uncovering waste and corruption, observing, as an old editor once put it to me, “how people deal with reality.” Then I landed at the Oz that was The Philadelphia Inquirer at the end of its staggering run of Pulitzer Prizes. I never left. We had twins, my wife became a tenured gifted-ed teacher in the schools outside Philly, and I played through the entire course, from suburban reporter to the city desk, feature writer, feature columnist, foreign correspondent (Berlin), full-time blogger, and finally got the job of my dreams: metro columnist. Along the way I was asked to fill in for a colleague who was writing a book and teach his urban journalism class at Penn. I had a pretty good idea how long it took that colleague to meet a deadline, and so I was right in sensing that the job was mine for as a long as I wanted it. I taught for a decade until my new day job became too taxing. By then I had taken a job as an editor at the Inquirer, which was finding itself online as well as dealing with the collapse of print advertising and figuring out how to do less with less. I had some interesting jobs in too-fast succession: enterprise editor, news-features editor and most recently quick-strike on the I Team, which means handling a group of investigative reporters whose job is to jump in when news demands and provide fast, deep context for the events of the day, week or month.
Through all of this my background in American Culture/Studies served. The interdisciplinary nature suited me. So did what I'd learned about gathering historical materials and layering them with interviews and observation to come up with something of value. There was a guy back at Northwestern - kind of a simple-minded fellow, I thought at the time - who once mused that college should be for adults, offered mid-career, when we’d take fullest advantage of what was before us. I have such sharp memories of the great lecturers who captured the imagination of this highly distractible kid: Carl Smith, Robert Wiebe, Bari Watkins, Howard S. Becker come first to mind. I’d like, please, to start again."