Local journalist Mark McGuire, this semester’s selected writer for HVCC Reads, spoke in the BTC Auditorium on April 24. He discussed his experiences as a journalist and the importance of versatility in writing and in life. “Journalism is about everybody and everything,” said McGuire. This was said to him many years ago at St. Bonaventure University by one of his professors, whom he refers to as his mentor. McGuire discussed his parents’ reaction to his decision to major in journalism, his intense focus on news early in his career, and his gradual realization that journalism is all about adaptability.
“I never wanted to write the way I do. I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had,” said McGuire. After speaking, McGuire took questions from the audience and also spoke one-on-one with people during the reception following his lecture. When he graduated from college, McGuire wanted nothing more than to be reporting only hard news. “I was going to write about the murder, the mayhem, the political corruption…I wasn’t going to write fluffy features. I had tunnel vision,” he said. McGuire spent several years pursuing this passion, covering stories on crime, politics, and government. However, at some point along the way, he found himself making segues into sports and TV writing, neither of which he had previously taken seriously.
McGuire also spoke about the difficulties he faced early on in his career and his parents’ surprise at his decision to become a journalist. He said, “My mother… she cried. And I don’t mean tears of joy. My dad, he just shook his head.” This response was not limited to McGuire’s parents. His first English Composition professor in college was convinced that he would never write well and suggested that he “quit school and seek manual labor.” McGuire, however, stuck through all of these discouraging moments and went ahead with his plan. He advised his audience to do the same in his lecture, saying, “Don’t get down. Don’t get angry. Take those hard words…and use them.” In spite of his decision to stand by his chosen career, McGuire said that he did not, by any means, immediately experience phenomenal success.
“I was terrible. I did really bad,” he said. In reference to the music reviews he wrote for a while, he said, “[I was] offering up insights, like, ‘they rock, dudes!’ I was an idiot but I didn’t know it.” McGuire shared several anecdotes about the mistakes he made as a budding journalist. He said that he falsely allowed himself to believe he did not need to learn and be good at certain things, such as interviewing for TV. Commenting on one such interview, he said, “I asked this guy to ‘pacifically answer a question.’ He looks at me. He looks at the camera. He looks back at me, with sheer terror on his face, as he’s trying to figure out what the hell I meant when I asked him to pacifically answer a question.” He urged the audience to learn from mistakes instead of being discouraged by them and to never assume that certain things do not need to be learned.
McGuire said that he first moved to Albany in 1990, covered the presidential elections in 1995, and then suddenly took an unexpected turn in his career in 1998. “I took a detour, one I never would have wanted or expected, but now I embrace. I became a TV columnist,” said McGuire. He said that although he had always wanted to be a columnist, he was appalled at the idea of doing so for TV at the time. After that experience, however, and after doing an internet-only column for the Times Union, McGuire said that his perspective on journalism began to alter. “That stubborn guy, that guy who was only going to do hard news? He was gone,” he said. McGuire talked about how he began to experiment with his writing, venturing into a much broader range of topics and toying with grammar and style. He said that nothing in his career went as planned, but instead took a “serendipitous path.” He concluded his lecture by describing the best journalistic stories as being either “highly unique or universal” and capable of coming from any source.