Former Hartford Courant opinion editor Carolyn Lumsden’s first-ever interview was legendary artist Christo in 1978

When Carolyn Lumsden got her first-ever journalism article pitch accepted, an interview with the writer Christo, there was one catch. “The problem was, I hadn’t done any such interview,” Lumsden says. “I’d never met Christo.”

Carolyn Lumsden. Photo: The Hartford Courant.

A 26-year veteran of Connecticut’s largest newspaper opinion section, Lumsden has won not one but two Sigma Delta Chi Awards in Editorial Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists.

In 2017, her four-part editorial series “Crumbling Foundations” spotlighted tens of thousands of Connecticut homes made with pyrrhotite, a little-known material that causes foundations to easily deteriorate. In 1995, her three-part editorial series “Justice in the Dark” helped convince the state to reform the confidentiality laws for trials involving juveniles.

But before that job, before her job as a reporter for the Associated Press, Lumsden’s first-ever journalism interview — her first ever — was with Christo. The experimental artist, who died in May 2020, spent decades attempting among the most audacious and largest-scale art projects in memory, including 1995’s wrapping of the entire German Reichstag building in fabric and 2005’s installation of thousands of bright orange gates in New York City’s Central Park.


2005’s “The Gates” exhibit in New York City. Credit: Wikimedia user Delaywaves.

Here’s what she remembers about landing that first interview, and how it set her on the decades-long journalism path she eventually pursued to great success.

The artist Christo was my first interview ever.

It was the spring of 1978. I had a lowly job in New York City. Tired of that and desperate to get my name in print, I called Soho Weekly News, a chic paper in lower Manhattan. [The publication existed from 1973 to 1982.] An editor there said yes, he would look at my interview with Christo.

The problem was, I hadn’t done any such interview. I’d never met Christo.

I then called Christo. It was easy to find phone numbers in those days. I told him that Soho Weekly News wanted a story on him. He said OK.

A few days later, a thin, shaggy-haired Christo opened the door to his loft. He looked and sounded like an intense professor. His loft was hung with photographs of his mammoth projects: Wrapped Coast in Australia, Valley Curtain in Colorado, and Running Fence in California.

Of course, there was a large mysterious package in the living room. Christo called it Wrapped Canvases.

I offered him the expensive bottle of wine I could barely afford. He ignored it. He set to work, dictating ideas and opinions.

“We live in the most political, social, economic century of human history,” he lectured. “I think that any art that is less than political, less than social, less than economic, is certainly less than contemporary art.” And so it went for an hour.

He talked about clashes over his projects, including one dustup involving wrapping walkways in Kansas City. “We have so many problems in trying to get the permits! … Some people around the community think that doing the project will create a fantastic traffic jam … And that the park will become the place of marijuana smokers and drunkards. And who will collect the garbage?”

The projects usually ended up making people happy and giving them great memories.

After an hour, [Christo’s wife and artistic collaborator] Jeanne-Claude came home. She also had shaggy hair, but she looked more like a fashionable art curator, and she praised my gift of wine. It was a moment of triumph.

The story ran in April 1978. When Christo died earlier this year, I went looking for the article online and found that the Whitney Museum of American Art had excerpted it for the exhibition catalog called “Surveying the Seventies.”

I’m grateful to Christo for taking me seriously and giving me such a wonderful first-ever interview.

Here’s an excerpt from the actual article:

I think we live in the most political, social, economic century of human history. It is unprecedented… I think that any art that is less than political, less than social, less than economic, is certainly less than contemporary art. We cannot stop that concern, we cannot stop that dimension of art…

Of course, all the activity created the momentum of the project [Running Fence]. Without that, the project would not have had its impact. The project created forces for and against. All my projects have that same character because they are built outside of the art system. The art system is anything from the National Endowment for the Arts to the private galleries to the museum collector who dictates what is avant-garde and contemporary art. Because the project was put outside of that system, it was in subversive relation to the structure of perception of what is art, what is permitted. That is the source of energy of the project.

From Carolyn Lumsden, “Christo: ‘I Am a Political Artist,'” Soho Weekly News, April 6, 1978, p. 20.

Follow her on Twitter @CarolynLumsden. And do yourself a favor and read the series of editorials and op-eds she spearheaded in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting.

On a personal note, Carolyn repaid the favor that the Soho Weekly News first paid her, by greenlighting my own first-ever “real” journalism experience outside of my high school newspaper, with my 2010 op-ed about competing in a hot dog eating contest:

“Testing Limits at Nathan’s Hot Dog Contest” was published in the Hartford Courant, on June 9, 2010. Click the above image for a larger view.

Before he was a major pop music analyst and critic, Chris Molanphy reported on an Irish folk music radio show

“We must have that banjo,” Ernest Shackleton commanded his 1914 Antarctic expedition’s crew, forced to abandon ship and cross the frozen continent on foot. “It is vital mental medicine.” If music is vital mental medicine, then today Chris Molanphy ranks among the topic’s most vital writers.

He may not write for GQ, but this suit looks like he models for them.

Though he’s appeared in such prestigious publications as Rolling Stone and Billboard, he’s most known for his writings in Slate. Every time a new song reaches the top spot on the chart, Molanphy writes an installment of his regular Slate series “Why Is This Song No. 1?” analyzing which factors — social, cultural, even political — contributed to the song’s ascendance. He’s now penned dozens of these articles, every single one a fascinating and educational read even if you hate the actual song. Even if you haven’t liked any new music since 1974, you’ll find Molanphy’s contemporary analyses fascinating nonetheless.

On a personal note, he was also gracious enough to include me on a June installment of his podcast Hit Parade, in which we took turns trying to stump each other with music trivia. And he did stump me! On one question, at least. Listen to the episode here or by searching on your favorite podcast app under the title “Music Trivia: The MTV and Alt-Rock Edition.” (Listen to the whole thing, but my appearance starts about nine minutes in.)

But decades before he was writing about the highest-selling music, Molanphy was writing about some of the lowest-selling music.

As a freshman at Yale in the fall of 1989, Molanphy contributed his first-ever piece for the college newspaper, the Yale Daily News. It was about music, alright, but quite the opposite of the genres he would come to specialize in during his subsequent career. An image of the article is below, along with a transcription.

Check out his website, follow him on Twitter @ChrisMolanphy, and check out all his Slate articles and podcasts — including his regular article series “Why Is This Song No. 1?” and monthly podcast “Hit Parade” — here.

[Yale Daily News: 11/8/1989]

Traditional Irish Folk Music Show Wishes Top O’ the Mornin’ to Yale

By Christopher Molanphy

Contributing Reporter

Students who tune in to WYBC on Sunday mornings expecting to hear the station’s usual mix of modern and classical music may be surprised to hear Sean Canning playing traditional Irish folk songs.

Canning has been the disc jockey of his own “Sounds of Ireland” program on Sunday mornings since 1975. The show was featured on various radio stations in and around New Haven until June, 1987, when he began broadcasting on WYBC.

He joined the Yale station after his former station cancelled his program due to a format change.

Asked why he chose to come to Yale, Canning said, “It was available… and they gave me the time I needed — time to blend in, as well as the Sunday morning slot I wanted.”

“Sounds of Ireland” is a 9 to 11 a.m. broadcast of strictly Irish music, sung mostly in English. “We play very few Gaelic songs,” Canning said. “We try to keep it universal, so everybody can enjoy it.”

Canning attributed his popularity to a faithful legion of listeners who tunes in every week for his unusual yet simple program. “For many people, it’s a tradition,” says Canning. “It’s their Sunday morning.”

Even though the station is owned by Yale students, Canning’s primary audience remains the sizable Irish-American population in New Haven and the surrounding suburbs.

Canning’s audience ranges in age, he said. “We have a lot of old people. We also have young people who have to listen because their parents do… and then [the young people] continue listening. They tell me, ‘We grew up listening to your program. It brings back memories.'”

The disc jockey’s listening base goes beyond the New Haven area. He has received feedback from listeners as far away as Trumbull, New London, and Middlefield.

John O’Donovan, a friend of Canning’s and frequent listener, said Canning’s publicity about Irish-American groups in New Haven draws Yale students to Irish-American cultural events.

“He tries to relate events to the Yale community,” he said. “Sometimes, students will come to our musical programs, which they wouldn’t know about without Sean’s program.”

As of this year, there is no organization for Irish-American students here at Yale. Clan na Gael, a group founded by Brendan Crowe ’89 two years ago, failed to meet the registration deadline this year and subsequently folded.

As pleased as he is with WYBC’s generosity, Canning also is proud of what he has given back to the station: a wider audience, and revenue in the form of increased advertising.

“I hope to stay there and continue to bring in money and some publicity,” he said. “YBC is a station with great potential, and I hope I can help it realize that potential.”

Canning is optimistic about the potential of his fellow Irish in any community. “They are all over the state,” he said, “and they blend in well in any community… They come into [a community] and they work like hell. They’re not afraid to take another step.”

Canning himself is personally involved in the community’s activities. He is the president of the local chapter of the Pioneers of the Sacred Heart, an organization founded in 18th-century Ireland to “atone for the sins of drunkenness,” he said. The group in New Haven is celebrating its 31st anniversary this year.

Kara Swisher’s first tech article was about pay phones in 1980


Kara Swisher, tech reporter for Recode Media with more than 1M Twitter followers

Not many people have interviewed both President Barack Obama and Kim Kardashian. But most people aren’t Kara Swisher, executive editor of Re/code, the huge website covering all things tech.

A profile article called Swisher “Silicon Valley’s most feared and well-liked journalist,” with 1.2 million Twitter followers.

Swisher enrolled at Georgetown University in fall 1980, hoping to work for the CIA. She hadn’t even written for her high school newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey, instead only serving as an editor for the yearbook.

Yet she started writing for the Georgetown Hoya, winning a journalism award her freshman year which was usually intended for seniors.

The very first tech journalism piece Swisher ever wrote was on October 3, 1980 about pay phones — and featured a typo in the opening sentence. (Kids, pay phones were devices on street corners where you had to put money in to call someone.)

Here’s Swisher’s exclusive intro, followed by the actual 1980 article:

Here is what I recall: Absolutely nothing about writing this piece. I have written so many articles over the years, I am afraid that it is impossible to recall any of these. In fact, it speaks to the change in journalism — it is such a fast-paced media world now that we are subject to a news cycle that is both immediate and incomprehensible at times. As you might imagine, this is both good and bad. 

Phone Co. Cracks Down on Cheaters

by Kara Swisher

HOYA Staff Writer

[Georgetown Hoya: October 3, 1980]

The Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Compnay [sic], the utility that services all public and private phones on the Georgetown campus, says it will attempt to “crack down” on fraudulent calls from campus areas, particularly zeroing in on the fraudulent use of public pay phones.

Allen R. Coale, security manager at C&P, says, “College campuses hold the dubious distinction of ranking as the most identifiable source of toll fraud in metropolitan Washington.”

Over the past six months, toll frauds have increased one-hundred and two percent, and the projected bill for 1980 is $115,000. Faced with these costs, C&P will be using newer and more sophisticated means of catching offenders. Coale explained, “Given C&P’s responsibility to our customers who pay for phone service, we have no choice but to go after persons deliberately giving false or unauthorized billing information to an operator. Toll fraud is like shoplifting, and if we let it get too high, we must keep it within limits. Some people think of the phone company like the government, but we are out to make money, and if us someone is stealing from us we must take whatever measures necessary to stop them.”

The means with which C&P will attempt to thwart the frauds are varied. According to Coale, the local phone affiliate is as advanced electronically as any section of the nationwide Bell System. Ultra-sophisticated equipment in conjunction with the operator will alert the phone company to “suspicious calls,” and the culprit will now be dealing with machines rather than just human beings. New procedures in verification on credit card calls and third party billing will be utilized with operators and computers checking pay phone calls more often, rather than the “on the spot” methods being used right now. The phone company will also be arresting and subjecting the offender to civil and criminal penalties.

C&P maintains that telephone frauders leave clear trails, such as the number called. The company claimed that it will even go as far as coming right to the phone to catch the offender in the act. A number of students from surrounding universities have been apprehended in this manner.

The Bell System’s attitude towards this situation is reflected in Coale’s comments. “Unfortunately,” Coale said, “we can no longer afford the luxury of letting college students off with just a warning. If the matter continues even after these methods, we have no other choice but to discontinue use of the pay phones. We have done this on other college campuses for three to four weeks, and have found that students understand the real advantage of a pay phone system.

“Those phones represent a partnership between the college and the phone company. We rent the pay phone space from you at the university. If the phone is being used for fraud, there’s not much point in the phone being there. You lose out as well as we do.”

Sums up Coale, “We’ve tried the soft touch, because the students are in a delicate situation, both academically and career wise. But because of these abuses, we can no longer do this. Arrests will be made. We are giving fair warning. The risk is now yours.”

Thanks to Georgetown University Archivist Lynn Conway for locating this article deep in the archives.

Follow Swisher on Twitter @KaraSwisher where she has 1.2 million followers and counting. Visit her Re/code author page here where you can read all her articles and listen to episodes of her podcast Recode Decode.

Politico editor-in-chief John Harris wrote a political article in college about an alum who became Defense Secretary

John Harris, Politico editor-in-chief. Photo source: Politico.

John Harris, Politico editor-in-chief. Photo source: Politico.

Decades before he ran one of America’s top political journalism newspapers and websites, John Harris wrote a political article for his Minnesota college newspaper in which he interviewed an alum who became one of the key figures in the Vietnam War.

Harris has done more than almost anybody else in the past 10 years to shake up journalism for the better. Previously a longtime reporter for the Washington Post, in 2007 he co-founded Politico, the upstart political journalism newspaper and website which quickly became one of the most important in the country. Today as their editor-in-chief, he oversees a publication with millions of readers whose morning newsletter Politico Playbook drives the agenda in Washington. Just the other week, Politico arguably caused President Trump’s Labor Secretary nominee Andy Puzder to withdraw his name from consideration, after they exclusively published a video of Puzder’s ex-wife detailing alleged abuse. (Perhaps that’s partially why Politico was banned from the White House press briefing room last week, along with the New York Times, CNNLos Angeles Times, and BBC.)

Everybody should read Harris’s September article “Why Journalism” about why he believes the field is still bright and its best days are ahead, even as the press these days is so often attacked, maligned, and distrusted. Also check out Harris’s interview last week with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, the governor of America’s largest swing state.

On a personal note, I’d also like to express gratitude to Mr. Harris for taking the time to speak with me one-on-one for a solid half hour during my 2015 Politico internship. At many institutions, those atop of the hierarchy won’t even make eye contact with those at the bottom.

Harris’s Politico author page with all his articles is here, and you can follow him on Twitter @HarrisPolitico here.

Here, Harris explains the backstory behind his March 1982 college newspaper article titled “Melvin Laird’s best defense.” The article itself is at the bottom.

I remember vividly the reporting circumstances around this piece—written 33 years ago, during my junior year in college—but definitely did not remember much about the actual text of the story.

I was that year editor of the Carletonian, the campus newspaper at Carleton College. I was always interested in politics—an interest that preceded my interest in journalism—so it was natural that I agitated to publish pieces that could connect the campus in Northfield, Minnesota with people who had done interesting things in Washington or other parts of the political world. At that time, only a decade past the traumas of the Vietnam War and Watergate, Melvin Laird was still a well-known figure. (He died last year at age 94). He was a Carleton alumnus from 1944 who had gone on to be a well-regarded GOP congressman from Wisconsin and, more controversially, President Nixon’s Secretary of Defense during the closing years of Vietnam.

Importantly, from a Carleton perspective, he had gone from being a loyal alum to someone who was rather aggrieved with the institution. He felt he had been ostracized and even smeared by student activists and some faculty during Vietnam, and the college leadership had not done enough to stand up for him personally or the cause of open debate generally. Specifically, he believed that an offer to come explain himself and administration policy on campus had been rudely snubbed. That assertion was disputed by some, but he was clearly sincere in his belief that it happened.

So, the interview in his Washington office started out a bit warily—he seemed to be sizing me up to see whether I had some axe to grind. I didn’t. Though the events were actually fairly recent—closer in time than, say, 9/11 is us to now—to a 20-year-old they seemed like a distant era. Laird was very close to many reporters, so I think once he decided I wasn’t baring fangs he got kind of a kick out of talking with me. I’m sure if a transcript existed it would show him running circles around me and my questions.

On to the writing… What I worried about when I went to read the piece turned out to be true. It strikes me as clumsy and pretentious. In fairness to myself, pretentious isn’t the worst thing you can say about a young writer. Probably most ambitious journalists start out as pretentious: We see work we admire and so we think to ourselves, “I want to try that.” We are not aware at the time how painfully obvious that trying and pretending is, at least to observant readers. In this case, even the conception of the piece was derivative. I had read a piece in the New York Times Magazine by Fox Butterfield about how as the Vietnam War receded in time and emotions on campuses cooled there was a reappraisal taking place in the academy: People were more willing to examine the Vietnam debate from multiple perspectives, including that of U.S. policymakers, and less prone to view it simply in good vs. evil terms. By trying to present the Laird story in that context—wanting to seem like I was deeply exploring an important intellectual movement—I let the story get muddied. The essence of the article should have been much more straightforward: What actually happened between Carleton and Laird in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and what did he and other relevant characters have to say now? This essence is lost in florid language and murky presentation.

Oh, well. Even as I cringe a little upon reading the story I’m certainly not embarrassed by it. I remember getting some praise from people who thought it was interesting. I think tackling the subject matter and trying to present it in a sophisticated way showed ambition, which is what I admire and look for now in young journalists. So I suppose I’ll give myself a B+ for the piece, and hope I am not accused of grade inflation.

Here is Harris’s March 1982 piece in full — click the photo for the full PDF of the article:



New York Times columnist Dan Barry’s 1978 profile of a college dorm janitor

Dan Barry

Dan Barry

Perhaps Dan Barry is the best person to describe his own career exploits, from an excerpt of the commencement address he delivered at his alma mater St. Bonaventure University just weeks ago:

“I’ve been a newspaper journalist for 35 years and I have written thousands of stories. Small town crimes and big city massacres. Political campaigns for Town Council and for the United States Senate. Saints and mobsters. Burlesque queens and circus elephants. The powerful and the powerless. I have met the coroner from The Wizard of Oz.  I have witnessed a man’s execution. I saw New Orleans underwater after Hurricane Katrina. I spent an entire year writing about what happened to the city of my birth after an attack on a sunny Tuesday morning in September. In some ways, I’m still writing about that.”

Dan Barry is truly one of the great storytellers of our time, best known as the columnist for the regular New York Times feature “This Land,” which tells the tales of ordinary people with unique stories or meaningful lives in the hidden corners of America. It’s always a refreshing break to read that in a newspaper often noted for its coverage of the most powerful, from presidents to popes to dictators. Among Barry’s best writings include:

  • The tale of Mamie Lang Kirkland, the elderly black woman who finally returned to her home state a full century after her family left while fleeing a lynch mob.
  • The offbeat story of activists in Keene, New Hampshire who were paying literally all the parking meters in the town to “save you from the king’s tariff.”
  • The sad life of Jesse Webster, who since 1996 has served life in prison without parole for a completely nonviolent offense.
  • Dan Barry's 1908-style baseball column in the NYT print edition. Click for a larger view.

    Dan Barry’s 1908-style baseball column in the NYT print edition. Click for a larger view. (It should surprise nobody that the Cubs lost.)

    His column last October covering a Chicago Cubs vs. New York Mets baseball game as though it was 1908, featuring old-fashioned terminology (a single becomes a “one-bagger” and the Mets become “the Metropolitans”), a century-old font in the newspaper print edition, and grainy black-and-white photographs.

  • Another baseball-related story,  his book “Bottom of the 33rd” about the longest baseball game of all time in 1981. Barry alternates chapters describing the game inning-by-inning and tracking down the (often tragic) lives of the minor-league players in the subsequent three decades. I read the whole thing, all 33 innings of it, and I’d highly recommend even if you don’t love baseball. As proof, I don’t love baseball!
  • Barry’s new book, released just last month, is “The Boys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland,” the true story of several dozen intellectually disabled men who were kept in servitude for more than 30 years in a small Iowa town without anybody knowing before gaining their freedom.

The piece Barry submitted for A Step in the Write Direction is a short column he wrote for his college publication the Bonaventure Convex in December 1978, about a janitor at a university dorm building who had more to his life than met the eye. The piece shows early glimpses of the “aura of mystique” writing style that Barry uses so often today, in particular phrases like “some people still say…” Below is Barry writing about what he remembers about writing the piece, followed by a photo of the piece as it appeared in the print edition you can read, followed by the original text copied and pasted. (A note for younger readers: Sophia Loren, who is mentioned more than once in the column and featured in the photo accompanying the piece, was an Oscar-winning actress from the ’50s and ’60s.)

Check out Dan Barry at his official website, follow him on Twitter at @DanBarryNYT, on Facebook at DanBarry.Author.

The story of Tony Oni — whose real name was Tony Villani — had a deep impact on me. I was a student at St. Bonaventure University, trying to imagine a life as a journalist who told the stories of others, including the vulnerable. And here, every morning, came Tony to my dormitory to pick up the beer cups and other debris of a bunch of relatively privileged young men from Syracuse and Buffalo and Long Island. Some ridiculed him for his intellectual disability, even as he cleaned their mess.
To check out the rumor that he was Sophia Loren’s cousin, I visited Tony in his squalid apartment in a dodgy part of town. He said he had a photo; it turned out to be a movie poster on his wall. But I kept digging, and ultimately found a photo of the two of them in an old campus newspaper.
I’m indebted to Tony Villani. I learned about the chasm that existed between the non-disabled and disabled worlds — that still exists, as I recently discovered in researching and writing “The Boys in the Bunkhouse.” I learned about not giving up in digging for facts. And I learned the rush from snatching a true story from out of the clouds of myth and rumor.

Toni Oni, The Spirit of Devereux - Dan Barry - The Bonaventure Convex, December 1978

Toni Oni, The Spirit of Devereux

By Dan Barry

When that freshman first lugs his suitcase up those stairs in Devereux, he can sense the tradition of the oldest dorm on the St. Bonaventure campus. It has a special air about it, one of pride and madness. The teachers refer to Dev as the “Zoo.”

As the upperclassmen arrive a few days later, they fill the freshman in on the history of his new home. Yes, Lanier lived here, and there’s where the Great Water War of ‘76 took place, and up on Fifth Dev two guys said a black mass and a priest held an exorcism.

But the only story that the upperclassmen tell with a special tone of reverence and mystery is the one about Toni-Oni, the janitor. He’s Sophia Loren’s cousin, the upperclassmen say.

As the years pass, that freshman (now an upperclassman) sees Toni-Oni almost any time of the day, dragging two plastic trash bags down the Dev halls, his eyes down in search of empty beer cans and scraps of paper. In his baggy blue uniform and black shoes, he perpetually cleans up after the students, never complaining, never scolding. Only smiling. He always smiles and says, “Hiya.”

Some people say his name is Antonio Villani and he lives across from Burger King in town. Others who know better say his name is Toni-Oni and he lives in Devereux tradition. After all, the upperclassmen say, he’s Sophia Loren’s cousin.

11-time Sportswriter of the Year Rick Reilly’s first big sports article about a local marathon included an interview with the governor

Rick Reilly photo

Rick Reilly, 11-time NSSA National Sportswriter of the Year

If you’re a huge sports fan, then longtime Sports Illustrated and ESPN Magazine columnist Rick Reilly is probably your favorite sportswriter. But if you’re not a sports fan, please keep reading this… because Rick Reilly would still probably be your favorite sportswriter.

See, Reilly rarely writes about game scores and recaps. He mostly writes about the people behind the games.

Rick Reilly's cover story last month. In this photo, just like in politics, the Green Party is on the left. (Photo: Walter Iooss Jr. for SI)

Rick Reilly’s cover story last month. In this photo, just like in politics, the Green Party is on the left. (Photo: Walter Iooss Jr. for SI)

Take his recent Sports Illustrated cover story about the Golden State Warriors, the basketball team which just set the record last week for most wins in a regular season. Almost any other writer would have structured the article around  superstar and Most Valuable Player award winner Steph Curry. Instead, Reilly structured the article around 15-year-old Sofia Petrafesa, afflicted with a bone cancer that shows up only 200 times a year in the U.S., a girl whose only dream is to see the Warriors play.

As another example, take Reilly’s 1999 column “Funny You Should Ask” which many people (including myself) consider to be his best piece. It’s kind of about sports, but mostly it’s about life itself, as in this beautifully eloquent paragraph:

I don’t think the meaning of life is gnashing our bicuspids over what comes after death but tasting all the tiny moments that come before it. We’re here to be the coach when Wendell, the one whose glasses always fog up, finally makes the only perfect backdoor pass all season. We’re here to be there when our kid has three goals and an assist. And especially when he doesn’t.

The cover depicts Reilly competing in the competition known as "ferret legging," which actually exists.

Reilly competing in the competition called”ferret legging,” which apparently actually exists.

Plus Reilly wrote one of the funniest books of the past few years — “Sports from Hell: My Search for the World’s Most Outrageous Competition.” In it, he goes around the world competing in everything from Chess Boxing to the World Sauna Championship to the Three-Mile Golf Hole.  And those are some of the less ridiculous contests.

Reilly is one of the best sportswriters but would probably be one of the worst horoscope writers. Here’s a quote from his 2011 University of Colorado-Boulder journalism school commencement speech:

“We’ll be fine. You guys should hang onto those diplomas. They’re like collectors’ items. It’s like ‘Donald Trump for President’ bumper stickers or polar bears. You’ll never see them again.”

So which early piece of writing did Reilly choose to feature here?  A Colorado native, Reilly, while still a sophomore in college, started writing sports on the side for the local Boulder Daily Camera newspaper . His first piece in May 1979 was about the local marathon, which even included a short interview with then-Governor of Colorado who was at the race. The article is copied below in text form at the end of this post, with a photo of the print edition version included as well.

As Reilly lamented when re-reading the piece for the first time in decades a few weeks ago, “It wasn’t much, was it?” To be perfectly honest… no, it wasn’t. Yet perhaps that just underscores the point: the best writers aren’t made, they’re developed.

Here’s how Reilly describes the experience in his own words:

The Boulder High School Owl, my first newspaper was called. “Hoo’s Hoo at BHS” I think was one of my columns. Yes, it was.

The Owl was HUGE for me because that was the first time I could actually write for somebody else. As opposed to my terrifyingly-detailed “newspaper” accounts of me and my 10-year-old friends’ exploits in Home Run Derby every day and what we did at “night” — I dated Joey Heatherton, I remember, and drove a Rolls-Royce.

Also, through the Owl, I competed in the state high school journalism contest, where I won first place in sportswriting. They gave you a list of random facts about some game, all mixed up, some important and some not, and you had to bang out a game story in six paragraphs and 15 minutes. Somehow, I think I got the word “obstetrician” into it.

Anyway, the judge was the assistant sports editor at the Boulder (CO) Daily Camera. The problem was he judged the contest anonymously. That is, nobody’s names or towns were on the entries. So he didn’t know who he’d picked. When I won, I tried desperately to find him and ask for a job, but he was gone.

BUT… I was a teller at the local bank that summer after my senior year and who do I end up “telling” next to but the guy’s WIFE.

I begged her for a month to tell him I was the kid who won the contest and would they need any help? And finally she did and he immediately called me and gave me a JOB, which I worked at 40 hours a week while going to CU [University of Colorado at Boulder].

And, anyway, that’s how I got my break.

And now, here is — in both photo and text form — Reilly’s 1979 article about a Colorado marathon. (Reilly can be found at his official website, and follow him on Twitter @ReillyRick. Read and watch his ESPN articles and videos here, and read his 10 best Sports Illustrated feature articles through the years here.)

Rick Reilly - Boulder Daily Camera - Barksdale Beats Heat for Marathon Win - 5.7.1979

Click the photo or open it in a new tab for a larger version.

Barksdale Beats Heat for Marathon Win


Camera Sports Writer

DENVER – Boulderites Hank Barksdale and Bernie Allen are giving Colorado marathon runners the business.

The business is a wholesale running gear company — International Sports, operated out of Boulder by Allen and assisted by Barksdale. The company deals in professional equipment for the serious runner. The other business the two are involved in is actually running marathons. Allen won the first annual Boulder Memorial Hospital Life and Health Marathon earlier this year, and Barksdale claimed the United Bank of Denver Mile-High Marathon Sunday.

The red-haired Barksdale, who turns 25 today, beat the searing mid-morning sun, the altitude, and 1,657 other runners to win the title and cross the finish line at the Brown Palace Hotel in downtown Denver in 2 hours, 33 minutes and 39 seconds.

“I never pushed it,” an exhausted Barksdale said afterwards. “It was so hot out there that after a while, I realized that running with a kick was going to be ridiculous. I just decided to keep up a steady pace. The heat took at least five minutes off my time. So did the altitude.”

Barksdale took the lead at about the 20-mile point on the scenic Denver course and was never behind after that. Second place went to Longmont’s 18-year-old Perry Evoniuk, who ran 2:35:47.

The women’s winner was Bette Popper, a Littleton native and a member of the Rocky Mountain Road Runners, co-hosts of the event. She finished in 3:13:30, unofficially.

Claiming second behind Popper was Boulder’s Beth Schlichter, a physical therapist at Boulder Memorial Hospital. Schlichter finished in three hours and 15 minutes, also an unofficial time after a computer breakdown prevented accurate timing.

A crowd of about two thousand people roared as Barksdale made the turn onto 17th street off of Glenarm and headed into the last yards of the gruelling 26-mile, 385-yard course. When he arrived, a swarm of television cameras and reporters greeted him, along with Gov. Richard Lamm, who placed an Athens-like Olympic wreath around his head.

Lamm had already run his own 13-mile race earlier in the day, but remained at the race site for a few hours afterwards.

“This is such a joy,” he said. “I envy these people [finishing the race]. But you don’t have to go 26 miles to enjoy running. You should be able to run around the block and still have fun.

“I just ran 5 or 6 miles a day, but I keep thinking it would be a good goal to try and run one of these things. I have so much fun now, though, I would hate for it to become a chore. There are already so many chores in life.”

Women’s champ Popper was greeted with the same type of enthusiasm as she neared the finish.

“I have the best fan club in the world,” said Popper. “This is wonderful. The course was beautiful. I ran badly, but it was good enough to win, I guess.”

Businessman Allen, a native of England, dropped out of the race near the 20th mile but Barksdale, the man they call “Hammerin’ Hank,” hung on to win his first marathon ever.

The slender Barksdale didn’t enter last month’s Boulder event because he was training for the Boston Marathon (where he finished 190th). He says he will probably run in the New York Marathon.

Barksdale defeated former CU track star Mike Peterson, one of the favorites of the race, who withdrew after 24 miles because of blisters.

Last year’s winner, Skip Houk, from Reno, Nevada, finished fifth. Houk ran a 2:30:53 on a cold, snowy day in 1978.

“The heat made all the difference,” Houk said. “It was bad for me. Even before the halfway mark, I could feel it. It was a lot easier to run last year.”

Third-place finishers were Roger Gerard, 35, of Arvada and Martha McKeal, also 35, of Colorado Springs.

Though the breakdown made complete results unavailable, Boulder also had one of the best efforts by a young runner Sunday. Twelve-year-old Jay Roper finished the 26-plus-mile race in 3:56.

Pulitzer Prize winner and Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten wrote a haiku about life in eighth grade English class

In honor of Gene Weingarten's haiku in today's post, here's a haiku for this photo caption: Gene Weingarten sits Staring contemplatively At the camera

In honor of Gene Weingarten’s haiku in today’s post, here’s a haiku for this photo caption:
Gene Weingarten sits
Doing his best impression
Of Rollie Fingers

If you’ve only won one Pulitzer Prize in your life, you might want to skip this post because it may hurt your ego.

Gene Weingarten is the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for his work at the Washington Post, where he now writes the weekly humor column “Below the Beltway.” Recipient of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award, Weingarten is one of America’s most acclaimed columnists of the past few decades. His book “Fiddler in the Subway” compiles his best writings through the decades… and is, quite simply, one of the best books I’ve ever read. Five of his best include:

  • “The Great Zucchini,” a profile of DC’s most popular children’s magician who hides a dark and secret past.
  • “None of the Above,” a profile of Ted Pruz, a normal guy and swing-state undecided voter chosen at random in the weeks before the 2004 election, a piece which ends up revealing great insights into the voters who decide the leader of the free world.
  • “Fatal Distraction,” a sobering look at loving and well-meaning parents who accidentally leave their children in locked cars with the windows closed. One of the saddest articles ever, but should be required reading for all new parents.
  • “The Armpit of America,” where Weingarten spends a week or so living in Battle Mountain, Nevada, which had been named as “the worst town in America.”
  • “Pearls Before Breakfast,” a 2007 article in which Weingarten set up a social experiment. World-renowned classical violinist Joshua Bell played anonymously as a street performer in a Washington D.C. metro station to see whether people would pay attention when he was not in prestigious concert halls and everybody was hurriedly on their way to work. My favorite excerpt:
    • “There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.”

Weingarten is currently at work on his next book, all about the date December 28, 1986. What happened on that day, you ask? Nothing in particular — he selected the month, day, and year from random out of a hat. His author page can be found here and followed him on Twitter @GeneWeingarten.

Now here is his submission, featuring an early piece of his which is not only the shortest one the website has published so far, but also the shortest likely to be published even if this website continues for decades! Gene will take it from here:

When I was in eighth grade English class, the teacher introduced us to haiku.  I suspect that all eighth graders are introduced to haiku: It is easy to understand, and deceptively simple to do.  (It is hard to do with skill, but that is irrelevant, in eighth grade.)

We were assigned to write one overnight and bring it in the next day, to be graded.

I spent some time on this.  I was a morbid little guy.   What I came up with was:

As death draws nearer

Like an eagle hunting prey

Life becomes dearer.

I was pretty proud of this poem.   I guarantee you it kicked the crap out of all the other kids’ poems.   The teacher graded me harshly, and held it up as an example of what not to do.  Why?  Because I had rhymed it.   Haiku is not supposed to rhyme.

To this day, I hate haiku, and all un-rhymed poetry, and fucking rules.

The Atlantic writer Derek Thompson’s college article comparing the Middle East to a college bar scene

Derek Thompson photo

Derek Thompson is one of the top writers for The Atlantic magazine and website, where over the past few years he has become perhaps one of the most entertaining yet incisively thoughtful commentators analyzing current events. Currently a senior editor writing his first book to be published in 2017 on the science of pop culture hits, some of his most popular articles include:

  • The print magazine’s July cover story A World Without Work, about the possibility that increased mechanization and automation could produce a future where there are few occupations that humans could do better.
  • The Secret Life of Grief,  an emotionally powerful piece shortly after the untimely early death of his mother from cancer, a half-personal half-academic article on what psychology research reveals about the grieving process and how much it did (or didn’t) apply to Thompson’s personal case. “I cried often, but privately, in the stairway at work, on the train behind a pair of sunglasses, and in my apartment, indulging a memory behind a locked door.”
  • On Repeat: Why People Watch Movies and Shows Over and Over, which features perhaps my personal favorite example of Thompson’s writing: the two paragraphs about youthful nostalgia beginning with “A year ago, at my college reunion…”
  • The Greatest Good, about which charities and non-profit organizations are the best to donate to. Worth reading all 4700+ words, but the one sentence summary is that Thompson estimates the best charity (combining bang for the buck with worthiness of their mission) as being the Against Malaria Foundation.
Derek Thompson looking suspiciously at his enemies. Oh yes, "CBS This Morning," he knows what you're up to.

Derek Thompson looking suspiciously at his enemies. Oh yes, “CBS This Morning,” he knows what you’re up to.

For his A Step In The Write Direction selection, Thompson at age 29 provides our first writer young enough that their “long time ago” writing sample was still during the Internet age. I’ll let him explain in his own words the backstory behind his November 2007 article, after which the article is posted. You can read in its original form on the website North By Northwestern by clicking the title or else by reading the text pasted below that:

I chose this essay from my college website because it’s sort of the best representation of my voice. When I read it, I can hear myself. That probably sounds conceited. But I think developing a strong sense of perspective in writing is one of the hardest and most important things for writers — particularly online writers today — to do. One of the challenges of digital media is that writing about current affairs on the Internet is one of the most competitive industries ever. There are literally hundreds of millions of people around the world with access to most of the information that you have, and yet you have to say something new and distinct. Information is a commodity. What’s scarce is personality and the perspective that comes from your experience, your voice, your chair. And my favorite writers are those with clear voices that don’t use style to obviate substance.
I was a politics and international affairs writer at Northwestern. In my senior year, I left the newspaper and started writing for a new website called North By Northwestern. My editor pushed me to be interesting and weird. This was in late 2007, and the Middle East was in chaos (unfortunately, this is a timeless clause). I wanted to find a weird metaphor to explain the region. So I picked The Keg, a famously terrible dive bar in Evanston, and built an extended metaphor about the Middle East as the bar — with Iraq as a young coed with a weak “constitution,” Saudi Arabia as the bouncer, Iran as the BMOC quietly ruining Iraq’s night, and so on. It was ludicrous, glib, occasionally smart, and loaded with way too much figurative language. In other words, at 21, I was way too proud of it.

Just when you thought the Middle East couldn’t get any more confusing, you open a newspaper. The White House is talking showdown with Iran, Gen. Pervez Musharraf declared martial law in Pakistan and Turkey has considered invading northern Iraq just as Iraqi civilian deaths started falling. You could be excused for asking what the hell is going on.

So here is your one-stop explanation of Middle Eastern geopolitics. All politics is local, and the politics of the Middle East is even more local than you might expect. Skip your Middle East history lecture and take a closer look at The Keg, on Sherman and Grove. Maybe it’s the liquid resources, but Middle Eastern politics bares a striking resemblance to bar politics, with a few exceptions: angry dancers lob missiles instead of punches; the taps lead to oil instead of alcohol; and the carbombs are real.

Boys and girls: Welcome to The Powder Keg.

Let’s begin with Iraq, since it’s the hub around which our Middle East policy whirls. Iraq is the girl you saw from afar and thought, “This is so easy, I’d be crazy not to do it.” You throw a bunch of drinks at her, such as Fire and Ice, B52s and more than a few carbombs—although she had a few before you arrived. But before you can even try out your new pick up line (“So I hear you like bath parties?”), she’s toppled.

Now you’re in for the close-up, and you realize this couldn’t have been a worse idea. Not only does this girl have more domestic issues than a Democratic Candidate Forum, but also after repeated trips to the restroom to check on her, you can hear your money being flushed away. You once had historic visions for this hook-up, but you’ll settle for any kind of exit to keep your dignity. It’s probably your fault for messing her up so bad, but you go ahead and blame it on her weak constitution, anyway.

You’ve also probably heard about Iran, Iraq’s long-time adversary who is allegedly building nuclear technology and sending troops into Iraq to stir up civil war. We all know Iran — he’s that twit hitting on the girl you’ve already targeted. While Iraq’s teetering around the bar, Iran is still supplying bottomless drinks with a fat wallet. He doesn’t outright declare his intentions to make this a war over a girl, but since he and Iraq share a long history, he knows how to manipulate her. In fact, you and Iran have been enemies for a long time.* The bottom line is that he hates you, and you still think he’s a coy meany.

*You once played an awful trick on Iran when you convinced your friend to date him just so she could pilfer alcohol from his room and bring it back to yours. He returned the favor by stealing your M Bass guitar and keeping it hostage for a few weeks, which blew up your Sha Na Na cover band. I could go on, but the history of drama is pretty complex.

Pakistan is a military dictatorship that denies civil liberties, houses terrorists, bleeds nuclear secrets and cancels elections. Why are you friends, again? Because Pakistan is the bartender of the Powder Keg. Of course he’s a jerk — you’d be testy too if you had his job — but he’s a jerk you need. With one hand on the Jagermeister machine and another on the beer tap, he’ll provide the assistance you need, but at a price. He overcharges and makes his own bar rules, but what else are you going to do — reach across the counter and take things into your own hands? You need him, so you don’t provoke him. Oh, and if he sees you in cashmere, he’ll kick your ass.

Turkey is an odd bird—a secular constitutional republic bordering Iraq with a history of good relations with the United States. That means Turkey is Iraq’s less attractive, but more level-headed, roommate. Since you’re old friends, you initially wanted to get to Iraq through Turkey. But to your surprise, she said no (don’t good roommates allow this kind of thing?). Since then, you’ve strained your relationship with a series of petty and not-so-petty fights with Turkey. She’s mad you tried to use her to get to Iraq; she’s pissed at Iraq for not respecting her private space; and she’s going through some inner turmoil.

And there’s Israel, your precocious freshman brother. You bought him a fake ID so he could go to bars with you, but the regulars don’t think he belongs. Sometimes, Israel does things that really piss you off, and you wonder if bar life would be easier without him. But you stand up for him, because you come from the same family and share similar values. You have to admit that he’s pretty advanced for his age. But he’s got an uncanny ability to piss off every person he meets at the bar. Most of them outwardly hate him. Others pretend they don’t recognize him.

Finally, you can’t talk about The Powder Keg without talking about Saudi Arabia. Like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia is our friend by necessity; not by choice. Despite housing the world’s most dangerous terrorist cells, the Saudis are the gatekeepers of the oil reserves we need. In short, they are the bouncers of the Keg. You tell people that you’re friends with the bouncer, but let’s be honest, you don’t want to know what he does in his personal time. He’s a jackass most of the time, he’s easily bought off, and lately he’s been letting in some truly shady individuals. But the bars have the precious liquid you need, and what else are you going to do? Supply your own? Don’t be ridiculous. With nothing but Busch in the fridge back home, we will rely on The Powder Keg for a long time.

You can follow Derek Thompson on Twitter along with his other 30 thousand+ followers at @DKThomp, on Facebook at DKThomp86, or find his archive of articles for The Atlantic here.