By Erika West
Emerson College has released an article on the upcoming release of the music documentary Do It Again the collaborative work of reporter Geoff Edgers, professor and director Robert Patton-Spruill and a group of Emerson film students. According to the article, the documentary has been accepted to the Rotterdam Film Festival and the Glasgow Film Festival among others. Check out the article and if you see the film, post your opinion of it here.
Thank you to my readers for supporting me during this assignment (especially to my friends and family who read almost every week). I wish I could continue writing on this subject, but I will not be able to since I am preparing for my semester abroad in Europe. Perhaps, when I return to the States, you may hear more from me…
But just because I am busy, that does not mean you cannot keep up with Geoff Edgers’ work!
By Erika West
On the day of our interview, Geoff Edgers had returned that morning to Boston from New York, where he attended an event to promote his documentary that will be released in 2010. Edger’s journalistic experiences extend far beyond newsprint. Although he pursued journalism instead of more creative work out of college, he has combined both styles of expression in recent arts ventures.
A few years ago Geoff Edgers undertook a project to reunite the members of British invasion rock band the Kinks and decided to turn it into a documentary, entitled Do It Again. He describes the endeavor as challenging because he was learning how to do something he’d never done before and also because it involved obtaining many resources to produce it. Edgers enlisted the help of producer and Emerson College film professor Robert Patton-Spruill to direct the film, along with a crew of Emerson film students. He created a Kickstarter profile on the Web, a fundraising platform for artists, to raise money for the film. He offered rewards for backers depending on how much they donated to the project, ranging from a signed copy of one of his children books (for pledges $55 or More) all the way to a thank you in the credits to a personal house call. Although the page shows no individual pledging higher than the $300 or More, it does reveal that he more than succeeded his goal of $5,500.
Do It Again “follows Edgers as he talks to a variety of musicians…about The Kinks and their influence on their music” said the Muso’s Guide site. A movie is a form of story-telling the same as journalism, Edgers explained; “you have to create characters; you have to have a narrative that runs straight through it.” Documentary, as a form of visual journalism, emphasizes the importance of pictures as much as words, a perspective to which Edgers has been exposed with this project. “To actually make a movie, in a way, is much more lasting and exciting than writing one article,” he added.
Edgers has also written the children’s books Who Were the Beatles and Who Was Elvis Presley, published in 2006 and 2007 respectively by Penguin, which describe the lives and influences of renowned musicians. Edgers wants to teach kids more about music, especially since he has a younger daughter of his own who he tries to steer away from bad music. “Kids are drawn to story more than someone telling them what they should listen to or like” he said of his motivation to write these books. Although he does not have the time to work on more, Edgers said, if he did, he would write about Bob Dylan or Jimi Hendrix—“the historical figures rather than new ones because we don’t really know if…they’re going to have the same lasting power as the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.” Like in journalism, Geoff possesses a sensible judgment of newsworthiness even in a genre where it could be difficult to ignore popular taste.
On December 11 Geoff Edgers and I sat down in the Boston Globe’s café to discuss his beat and his career in journalism.
By Erika West
“There weren’t many newspapers that had a really qualified arts reporter, somebody who understood and was curious about the arts as a discipline but also had the skills as a reporter to look at budgets and do interviews that were investigatory,” said Boston Globe reporter Geoff Edgers on his life and arts beat.
Geoff Edgers has been writing professionally for upwards of 17 years after he obtained his Bachelor’s in English from Tufts University in 1992. He thought it would be practical and worthwhile to go into journalism, as opposed to creative writing, because he would be able to do what he loved (write) and also earn a salary.
The Globe hired Edgers in February 2002 to create this arts beat that extends beyond typical reviewing or opinion. Previously, he worked as the arts reporter at the Raleigh News & Observer for six years as well as four other papers in and around Greater Boston. Edgers said he doesn’t like pack reporting in journalism so he enjoys his job because he likes “the idea of having the chance to do special stories that only I can do.”
When asked to describe his process in finding and developing newsworthy articles, he responded,
“I don’t know what’s going to be important or special or great until I find a story. So it might be a tiny organization in western Massachusetts. It might be the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the biggest orchestra in the world. It could be a lone artist having a show at one of our museums.”
By factoring in the uncertainty and wide range of what the arts yield Geoff Edgers has developed many a fresh, intriguing perspective and subject.
Three stories in particular from this year stood out in his mind.
On December 6 he filed an investigative, analytic piece on the Rhode Island School of Design’s conflict between the museum director and president. His article stated “on Aug. 3 that RISD, one of the country’s preeminent art and design colleges, tried to announce, in a low-key way, that the director of its 106-year-old museum…had resigned.” Edgers questioned this peculiar announcement and pursued the lead when others news organizations did not. He enjoyed this story because he “was able to learn of details and circumstances that gave us a chance to tell a great story and also to reveal things to our readers that I believe they should know- ” that museum director Hope Alswang was “effectively fired.” Because of RISD’s proximity to and influence on the arts in Boston, it was an important story.
Edgers also acknowledged the series on the Boston Symphony Orchestra and music director James Levine’s back problems as important for his audience. “They keep people in touch in the same way sports fans are in touch with the Red Sox.” As I reported previously in “Musically and Culturally Inclined” it makes sense for Edgers to inform his audience, some probably frequent attendees of the BSO, whether or not they should expect Levine or another conductor at the next performance.
Finally, he discussed the consequence of writing an extensive profile of the artist Shepard Fairey, creator of the Hope Obama posters, in January of this year. “[Fairey’s] a controversial figure [and] he was having his first museum show in Boston [at the Institute of Contemporary Art] and I thought it was the perfect time for us to write that,” he said. It is indeed true, considering then the artist’s recent legal problems with attribution of his work to other artists, that readers would find interesting a close look at this street artist turned high profile, subversive artist and designer. One intriguing part of the article (page four) discussed Shepard Fairey’s outrage at being called “a sellout (for taking on corporate clients” or “unoriginal (for incorporating others’ images into his own work).” Edgers related this upset to readers well with an explanation of the Fairey’s outward accreditation of inspirations and his gratitude for his ICA solo museum show.
On the newsroom staff’s reactions to the Globe’s uncertainty and financial struggle this year (see “Glancing Back, Treading Forward with the Globe”), Edgers described how difficult it has been to watch respected, beloved collegues leave or retire early and to maintain news quality with less resources. When he sits and his desk to write a story he takes time to appreciate his job, he said, quite fervently.
“We have jobs and we’re writing for a living and I think that’s something we shouldn’t take for granted. It’s a special position to have and there are people out there picking up garbage and in assembly lines riveting fenders. And I don’t forget that.”
A true artist’s words if I’ve ever heard them.
By Erika West
** See updated content below, posted December 16.
Waltham artist John Tirrell wrote to Globe reporter Geoff Edgers about his financial struggles and possible eviction; on December 4 Edgers responded with an article appealing to the public on his behalf. Journalism class teaches the importance of maintaining proper distance from that which a reporter writes about. Was this article’s service broad enough?
“Painted into a corner” explains how Tirrell left his regular job at an asset management firm last year to pursue a professional career in the art business. This ultimately led to his current situation, says Edgers: thousands of dollars in debt, struggling to pay rent and facing lawsuits from landlords. Although Tirrell declared a plan “to stave off eviction through the mass production [and sale] of paintings,” Edgers says it is the man’s story that impresses him—a man took a great risk for his art only to have the world crush him. Tirrell also presented to Edgers, via mail and in person, his history of promoting volunteerism, his habit of serial-letter writing, from which he has response letters from “Norman Schwarzkopf, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan,” but most importantly one from modern artist Jasper Johns in which he advised Tirrell “One jumps in the water or doesn’t.” Tirrell jumped but apparently forgot how to swim.
Edgers framed this article with brief global appeals attempting to familiarize audience members with Tirrell and his situation. By beginning with the holiday season’s many observable charity cases “Bell ringers outside Walgreens. Globe Santa. Post-show appeals at “The Nutcracker”” he aimed to draw attention to the giving spirit in hopes his audience may extend theirs to the artist. His last paragraphs make a direct request to readers to consider buying Tirrell’s work and compare him, “a mild-mannered former seminarian who may have been too rash in pursuing his dream” to the ridiculously profitable “Wall Street robber barons” and “Free-agent outfielder Jason Bay” to further promote his deservingness.
Approximating that Edger’s audience is slightly wealthier than average, those who subscribe to the Orchestra or regularly attend shows, these devices may work. However, because this is such a singular case, not related to a more general topic, such as other struggling local artists, the effects may be lost on readers not fitting the audience demographic.
This article looks to the timeliness of the holiday season and to human interest for this individual. However, nothing really seems to differentiate Tirrell from other artists in similar situations, aside from his active correspondence with the reporter. Therefore, the human interest does not sustain the article’s newsworthiness. Although its timing with the holiday season and references to its charitable spirit succeed on this note, Edgers did not use them to their fullest potential. Being a “Voices” piece, it is understandable that the article focuses on John Tirrell and his particular voice; but a broader statement about artists in general or people in similar financial pickles would better relate the “charity cases” appeal to the reader.
Online comments to Edger’s article varied, but a few were distinctly disgruntled. jefffromNM, who proclaimed himself “a professional artist” quoted Darwin-“ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge-”to assert that Tirrell did not have enough experience or qualifications to succeed in this business venture. Leaving all artistic critique aside, some of this person’s opinions towards Tirrell’s motivations can be attributed to the lack of distinction this article offers as validation for the subject.
**In my recent interview with Geoff Edgers, I asked him to clarify the events which brought this story about. His response was:
“He wrote me a bunch of e-mails and I was going to ignore them because they seemed a little crazy. But I thought why not go and see what this guy’s like, and I was surprised by how normal he was. I thought I would encounter someone very strange. I just thought it was a good story for one day. I don’t know if it’s the greatest story I’ve ever done, but I think it caught people’s attention that one day.”
The Boston Globe’s publisher Steven Ainsley and editor Marty Baron spoke to Emerson College about the standing of the paper and its place in the future of journalism.
By Erika West
“It was extraordinarily difficult having to stand in front of people who care a great deal about the newspaper and tell them that if we didn’t make the kind of progress that we needed to make that the newspaper… might cease to be,” Steven Ainsley, publisher of the Boston Globe recalled of informing employees that they were on track to lose around $85 million earlier this year. Ainsley and Marty Baron, editor of the Globe, discussed the newspaper’s situation over the past year with Emerson College’s journalism department at the school’s Semel Theatre November 19.
As a result of the company’s financial distress, the two had to make tough decisions and sometimes found themselves working at cross-purposes. This was especially the case when Ainsley brought in a team of outside consultants to examine the paper’s functioning. Although the publisher welcomed the new perspective to their problematic situation, Baron found their presence in the newsroom troubling. He conceded they “imposed a certain discipline on our work, it forced us to come to a conclusion, they were helpful in some ways, particularly in certain levels of analysis.” However he worried that these people would attempt to apply measurements to journalism, directed at the size of their staff or productivity, which would only impede the quality and integrity of the work.
Another major change that came about was the elimination of the Globe’s foreign bureaus and a scaling down of national reporting, according to the moderator. Baron answered to this “we have to do what’s necessary to live within our means…and we can’t have less local coverage—our core purpose has been to cover this community.” Although “the stuff we write has a larger national and international readership,” he said the Globe can afford to print others’ national and foreign coverage because polling has shown that readers don’t expect them do it themselves.
Consumer knows best and consumers also continue to pay more for their Boston Globe. Steven Ainsley explained that though it did not get press, the Globe’s recovery can be contributed to less noticeable changes such as pushing costs more on the consumer through “dramatic rate hikes” (although he said for now Boston.com will remain free to maintain the traffic it receives). The paper announced earlier this year that a weekday Boston Globe would sell for $1 within Greater Boston, up from 75 cents, and for $1.50 outside, up from $1. Considering the strength of this community-institution bond Ainsley related, the moderator questioned to what degree the reader’s appetite influenced what the Globe covered. Baron responded that their interests help determine the allocation of resources to a certain extent, but not the day-to-day judgments on the presence and positioning of stories.
The Boston Globe just came off the sales block a month or two ago, said Ainsley, with their improved financial situation. He believes that the paper is now in good shape and that putting it on sale again is “not a decision that you revisit unless the circumstances change dramatically.” Baron has “no expectations one way or the other” and says it is important for journalists to “learn to live with uncertainty.”
But Baron was optimistic about journalism in the future and room for budding journalists in it. “If you look at the media at large, it’s exploding…It’s becoming much more entrepreneurial, it’s becoming much more creative, it’s capable of engaging with readers and users and listeners and all that in much more dramatic ways,” he said. He described his ideal candidate as someone who “has a passion for covering the news,…is engaged in public affairs…[and] has a full-throated commitment to serving our readers” in addition to a combination of traditional and contemporary skills. If green journalists are willing to prepare for the changes the future will hold, he said they will leapfrog over veterans and join the business alongside them.
By Erika West
Geoff Edgers learns from Salem News that a Rhode Island theatre owner may buy and reopen the recently closed North Shore Music Theatre. He wants to research this development further before disclosing the details. But he also wants to communicate this breaking news to readers as soon as possible. What does he do? He blogs about it.
Edgers combines the internet technology of blogging and the print tradition of filing stories to provide his audience with information that is both timely and accurate. He utilizes his Boston.com arts blog The Exhibitionist to share the latest interesting arts happenings with his readers, sometimes as stand-alone posts and other times in support of articles in progress.
As in the case of the possible revival of North Shore Music Theatre, Edgers posted what he knew at the time to give readers notice of the budding situation. Although The Salem News quoted “William Hanney” as the potential buyer, Edgers refrained from using his name, described him as “a Rhode Island theater owner” and sourced the article he had read this from. He very cautiously presented this as another source’s information to clarify that these were not his findings and to allow readers to interpret them for themselves.
Once he had done his own research, Edgers not only quoted the potential buyer by name but also described Hanney’s ownership of and experience with other theatres throughout New England, as well as his plans for improving North Shore’s business model.
In other cases Edgers simply blogs about remarkable arts events or coverage, from an intriguing piece of art he sees to an interview he has read. These short subjects are interesting enough to merit recognition but they may not necessitate a fully developed article. Blogging is the best way to display them.
On November 4 he posted about an interview he read with Joao Ribas, the new curator at the MIT List Visual Arts Center who was listed as “one of Boston’s 25 most stylish, according to the Globe.” “I have an abhorrence of both consumer culture and infantilism, which is why I don’t own a pair of jeans,” Ribas responded to the Globe’s question about where he shopped. Edgers had spoken to the curator a few weeks before reading this and found this statement inconsistent with the “personable and funny” man he had encountered. He contacted Joao Ribas to set the record straight on these seemingly out-of-character comments. According to Edgers he was completely exaggerating and “poking fun at me being on the list” among people “who probably are indeed stylish and fashionable.” To assure readers of his sincerity, Geoff included a picture of Ribas in jeans. As a responsible journalist he questioned what he learned from another source and investigated a curious lead to create a mini follow-up story.
Geoff Edgers started The Exhibitionist in early 2006.
By Erika West
Have you ever wondered what kind of music musicians listens to? Geoff Edgers has. And he acted on this idea by starting a serial short feature entitled “iPOD Shuffle” for the Boston Globe.
Edgers meets with musicians and other professionals in the field and asks them to put their iPOD on shuffle and to discuss the first ten songs that come up. Altogether, this is a very intuitive idea. What better way is there to interview a musician and to discover their point of view than by hearing their professional opinions and reactions to other artists? While these features could easily become indulgent , Edgers grounds them with an introduction containing brief career notes and the artist’s upcoming or current performance in the Boston area, his news peg. This enables the feature to be timely, relevant and more captivating.
Question and answer features present their own risk to Edgers. The quality of the article depends on the quality and extensiveness of inspection and introspection the subject offers. When artists offer some explanation or analysis for each song the article transcends invention and becomes compelling. Those that simply list the songs and then include a blurb at the bottom for the “Glad We Missed” section expose the vulnerability of this format.
Take for example “iPod Shuffle with Jill Winters”, music director of Cirque Dreams. After Edger’s introduced her iPod habits and Cirque’s final shows, he listed the first ten songs that appeared in her shuffle. Although it presented her diverse musical taste through songs “Take a Bow” by Rihanna, “Gunpowder and Lead” by Miranda Lambert and “Some Kind of Wonderful” by Joss Stone, the audience did not learn anything about her connection to these songs. More importantly, they also did not hear her voice, a key facet of this type of feature, except in the “Glad We Missed” section where she discussed the Russian lessons she takes to help out the “many people from Ukraine and Moscow” in the circus.
Conversely, in more recent iPod raids of violinist Jae Young Cosmos Lee and of The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs Geoff Edgers delivered more personal and voice-driven features because the artists offered more evaluation of their shuffles.
Lee, member of “Boston’s self-conducted chamber orchestra” A Far Cry, offers criticism of albums, praise for musician’s great work and immense reverence for his colleagues. On “Crown Jewel” by Brother Ali, he commented “I think he’s probably the dopest rapper I know. He’s an albino Muslim…he doesn’t sound white.” Lee also made an interesting cultural note by contrasting Brother Ali to rapper Eminem who Lee says “you can hear he’s kind of white.”
Hoffs, lead Bangle, presently performing covers with Matthew Sweet as Sid n Susie, according to Edgers, adds to her shuffle her personal reactions. She relates Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto” to “going and looking at the ocean. You realize you’re part of a giant continuum.” Edgers’ article on Hoffs is far more effective than that on Winters because the former offered memories and stories in relation to the music, like “a camp counselor at sleepaway camp [turning her] onto Joni Mitchell.” These details strengthen the human connection Edgers seems to pursue in these features.
In all fairness and appropriateness to the topic matter, I present my music library shuffle for evaluation and potential embarrassment.
1)“Slipping Through My Fingers,” Mamma Mia The Movie, Benny Andersson. Not my favorite song from the film, but Meryl Streep performs it beautifully. I saw the sing-a-long version with my aunt and mother the weekend before I moved into college. No dry eyes in our row.
2)“Do No Wrong,” The Cheetah Girls. I’ll admit I indulge in some of the Disney stars. This song is catchy. It’s classed as “Dance” but it’s more like pop infused with a hip-hop attitude.
3)“Vagabond,” Wolfmother. I know very little of Wolfmother, but I intend to change that. I know this song the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack which has an incredible selection of music. This song in particular has a great beat and vocals.
4)“Empty Apartment,” Yellowcard. My cousin introduced me to them and I became addicted on the tail end of the teen-bop obsession with them. Though they may seem obvious, the symbolism and lyrics in this piece attracted me to this song.
5)“The Rush,” Dashboard Confessional. I began listening to this album in preparation for the Rock Band concert tour last year at which Dashboard performed. The friend I was going with was obsessed with Chris Carrabba and now I understand why. His songs, especially the less popularized ones, are very powerful.
By Erika West
Beverly’s North Shore Music Theatre announced a $10 million debt in early June this year. Last month Lenox’s Shakespeare & Company learned they needed to raise $2.3 million to survive until March. Both theatres pulled their resources hoping to supersede the remaining time reports ensured them.
Geoff Edgers has paid attention to how small local theatres are handling recession pressures over the course of the year, whether they are folding or creatively adapting. With debts accumulating and companies canceling seasons, these business matters directly affect theatre patrons and subscribers who invest in and regularly attend programs.
The first article mentioned below also demonstrates what immediately drew me to Edgers’ writing: his integration of imagery and artistic descriptions in journalistic writing.
On June 21 Edgers clearly painted the closed North Shore Music Theatre’s complex strokes of financial and interpersonal strife in the cleverly titled “Curtain, then finger-pointing at North Shore”. Half of their debt ensued from repairs after a 2005 electrical fire left “lights and sound gear melted; the stage and orchestra pit…a soggy, charred mess.” However, Geoff shows that the other half is entangled in the blame game involving former artistic director Jon Kimbell and his successor and executive producer as of 2008, Barry Ivan. Kimbell shunned responsibility for the debt, saying his job involved “[overseeing] virtually everything on stage, but not the business side”. But when refurbishing after the fire, he cost North Shore “upgrades [running] an additional $1.5 million” and “$1.5 million more as a result of shows that had to be canceled.”
Ivan knew about the theatre’s financial qualms; however “it wasn’t until he had started that he recognized the extent” of this troubled inheritance. Edgers subtly implies someone should have known though since “the information, [however], was readily available in… public filings. According to Edgers’ article, many aggrieved North Shore associates attributed the downfall to Ivan’s separation from the community, lack of experience and deviation from Kimbell’s established traditions.
Edgers peacefully concludes the examination of emotionally-charged accusations with a funereal depiction: board chairman David Fellows “headed to the theater with a checkbook. He met with the three remaining staffers and wrote out checks for the electric and phone bills.”
On October 14 he made an interesting connection between the closed North Shore Music Theatre and the recently struggling Shakespeare & Company: the Nonprofit Finance Fund examined the records of both theatres. North Shore, though, waited too long to request help; Shakespeare & Co. recently sought financial reports to initiate immediate changes to stabilize the organization, reports Edgers. Debts stemmed from ambitious spending on “buying property, renovations and transition costs”, resulting in mismanaged funds and “[forcing] Shakespeare & Co. to borrow.” Remedial efforts encompass restructuring loans, “staff reductions, a hiring freeze, and performance schedule shifts” limiting days on which the theatre is closed. Edgers emphasizes in the details and tone of this article that Shakespeare & Company very sensibly handled the situation by taking responsibility for their bungle.
Why does this matter? Edgers notes North Shore delivered high-quality productions to suburbanites who didn’t want to drive through traffic or pay lofty prices to see theatre in Boston; its demise “leaves a vacuum” in local theatre.
Both of these theatres, North Shore until its closing, were presenting great productions when they realized their situation. Edgers reports many surprised patrons, in reference to Shakespere & Company remarking “there’s been no outward indication of financial struggles”. Geoff implicitly emphasizes theatre is a business dependent on active community involvement, especially contributions.
By Erika West
Though Geoff Edgers covers theatre, lifestyle and visual art for the Boston Globe, no topic has been more prevalent in his recent work than music. From local bands to Boston’s professional music scene, he covers realms of musical expression that do not attract much attention from other media outlets, but that are nevertheless culturally innovative and relevant.
On October 23rd Geoff wrote about a new kind of Beatles tribute band: the Fab Faux. Although cover and tribute bands generally aren’t very newsworthy, he found a strong purpose for the subject in their pursuit of “sonic purity”. This is not just a bunch of middle-aged men dressing in mod and wigs pretending to be The Beatles, but professional musicians who strive to “[re-create] on stage the band’s studio gems as accurately and legitimately as possible” with a variety of unconventional instruments, not a synthesizer. Edgers portrays their work very respectfully. Another sign that falls into a pattern I have noted: he seems to have a slight addiction to The Beatles. He has also written a children’s book about them, titled Who Were The Beatles.
The same day Edgers also filed a story on the New England Conservatory’s adoption of the prestigious youth music education program, El Sistema or the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras in Venezuela. This program will educate “at least 50 people, starting with the first class of 10 [fellows], over five years to open music educational centers, or nucleos, throughout America” to provide children ages 2-18 who usually couldn’t afford to study music with instruments and free lessons. Because this is such a ground-breaking development in the arts, a story full of importance, meaning and proximity, it is really disillusioning that no other prominent local paper covered it. The Christian Science Monitor did write about the performance of El Sistema’s star graduate, Gustavo Dudamel, earlier this year, but the adoption of a U.S. program marks significant advancement in arts education, far more important than celebrity.
Although other Boston papers took notice of the further delayed return of Boston Symphony Orchestra’s conductor James Levine until January, Geoff Edgers makes a business out of following the man’s career and reporting breaking updates. Rightfully so. James Levine is a well-respected, tenured conductor working with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, who will unfortunately have to miss “27, or 11 percent, of the 247 concerts he was scheduled to lead” due to back injury that requires surgery and recovery. It makes sense to provide Bostonians with frequent updates of the situation, because those who frequently attend the BSO, and who could be the main consumers of Edgers’ beat, want to know what they should expect when they attend the next performance—whether Levine will be there or a substitute will conduct his Beethoven series.
Edgers reports on arts and lifestyle news that people should know about, not just celebrity-soaked popular culture. What a refreshing perspective.