|Reporter Mark Gilchrist interviews musician Jim Mayer|
I was reading a terrific profile piece this afternoon about my client, Jim Mayer, which was written by Mark Gilchrist, a journalist from Columbus County, North Carolina. When I reached the end of the profile, I felt a little sad because I didn’t want the story to end. I haven’t read really good writing – not like Mark’s – in a long time.
I’ve devoted more than 25 years of my life to a career in communications, and writing is a big part of my daily ritual. I also spend a lot of time reading and correcting bad writing — and there’s a lot of it in the world. The rare times that I stumble across really marvelous prose, I’m happy right down to my soul.
When you’re out in the trenches working on-site with a rock star client during a physically and emotionally taxing week, it’s great to encounter a fellow ink slinger who’s easy to work with because he “gets it.” Bonus when that person turns out to be a skilled and insightful journalist. Gilchrist knows how to ask questions; his amiable, laid-back interview style set his subject at ease. The result was a terrific conversation that Gilchrist turned into a seriously entertaining and heart-felt profile piece that brought tears to my eyes when I read it — not just for the content of the story, but also for the eloquent way in which he strung his words together.
Gilchrist’s January 12, 2012, front-page story (Page A1) was a seriously lengthy piece. The feature started on Page A-1 and jumped to Page A-11 where it continued, devouring nearly a third of the news space on the page before it reached its conclusion.
That’s unusual, because big blocks of text are rarely allowed on a newspaper page. They’re a visual turn-off, and you’ll lose readers in the big blur of text unless a) the story is quite compelling and b) the writing is really, really good.
Both were true in this case.
You wouldn’t know it was a long article to read it, because Gilchrist’s writing never got in the way of his story. In fact, the writing in this particular piece lures, cajoles and carries the audience along so well that you can’t help but see it all the way through to the end. For the 10 or 15 minutes you’re immersed in Gilchrist’s writing, you’re not really reading. You’re sitting on a stage, or in a jeep, listening to a couple of Parrotheads (technically one Coral Reefer band member and one Parrothead) banter back and forth about music, life and being a kid in a grown-up’s body who gets a kick out of singing and acting silly on stage…but who takes his “other” (non-Coral Reefer band member) life’s work of character education for children very, very seriously. It is his passion…and his joy.
I love my job, especially when I get to work with clients who are utterly devoted to such meaningful causes as saving lives and helping children live better lives. My greatest hope is that people will see my clients as I see them, and I work hard to help people understand why we do what we do. In this case, it took little, if any, effort (thanks in large part to the awesome people we worked with in the Columbus County Schools Superintendent’s Office). Beyond that, the story basically told itself through Jim’s seven concerts, and Gilchrist, one of many reporters who covered the events, truly understood the magnitude of what was taking place. Beyond that, he was able to capture the essence of both the man and his mission in ways that I simply could not as Jim’s publicist.
It’s incredibly rewarding to see a client’s story well-told by a wordsmith with enviable talent. I can see why his editors would be reluctant to cut a single line. Many thanks to Gilchrist for being so easy to work with, for not giving up on print journalism in these days of dramatic change in the news/media world, and for being such a good sport when it came to our insistence that he correct the classification of Jim as a Parrothead (he’s a devoted fan of his boss Jimmy Buffett, for sure, but he’s technically a member of the Coral Reefer Band, which unfortunately makes headline writing a real pain in the posterior). That winning combination of insight, skill and sincerity rightfully earned Gilchrist a couple of new fans.