High School Journalism Day welcomes music minds to speak

Category:  News
Wednesday, March 28th, 2018 at 6:04 PM

This year’s Edinboro High School Journalism Day keynote speakers, Jason Pettigrew and D.X. Ferris, both hail from the music industry.

Pettigrew is the editor-in-chief of Alternative Press (AP), a music magazine based out of Cleveland, Ohio. Ferris is an author and reporter, most recently working on his book “The Story of Donnie Iris and the Cruisers,” a long work in progress, he noted. 

Pettigrew said music journalism was something he was always interested in, but he first got involved with AP when he saw a free copy of the magazine towards the front entrance of a music venue he and his friends were at in Cleveland. He saw in the magazine that Mike Shea, “the founder, owner, CEO, kahuna of Alt Press” wrote a “not-pleasant” review of Bauhaus’ Peter Murphy covering Pere Ubu’s “Final Solution” and was displeased with it. 

Shea had his number on the masthead around 1985-86, and Pettigrew said he called him and was very complimentary, but then questioned why he wrote about Murphy the way he did. Shea responded with, “Well, dude, you think you can do better?”

Pettigrew said the largest changes he’s seen while at AP are the change of musical generations and technology. 

“The same people who were going to live and die by Jane’s Addiction or Red Hot Chili Peppers or Ministry, I don’t know if those people are going to shows anymore or buying records, or if they just have a Spotify subscription,” Pettigrew said. 

He also described technology as “constantly in a state of flux.” 

“It’s not ink on paper anymore, and because all of these other aspects to the brand, to the business are changing constantly, we have to step up our game even further,” he said. 

Pettigrew also runs a podcast called Cautionary Tales where he interviews musical artists and discusses their journeys through the industry. 

His two rules for new, younger music journalists are to be an expert and “be an expert at the Queen’s English.” 

“You want to write about grindcore polka? You have to be able to tell me the history of the genre, the crucial recordings, is there a cultural mindset that goes along with that?” he explained. 

Eventually, Pettigrew would like to see AP create a service that helps people discover new bands they might like, based on their artist history. 

Ferris had a bit of a different experience getting into the field. 

“When I graduated high school, the one distinct uncommon ability I had was writing, so that was the one thing I had that I thought I could develop a little bit,” he said. 

After beginning college as a technical writing major, he eventually wanted to go into bioengineering, but “my brain can’t do chemistry.” So, he ended up going into journalism. 

Eventually, he went to grad school for a corporate communications program and was in that “for about 10 minutes.” 

“I wasn’t really focused at the time, and I wanted to maybe try to do some writing about popular culture; that thing was still relatively novel then,” he said. 

Regarding music, Ferris stated that he “liked it” and that it’s “all I thought about, it’s all I wanted to write about.”

Eventually, he found himself at California University of Pennsylvania running the student paper.

“It wasn’t exactly my playkit, but I could do anything I wanted with it so long as I was getting the news covered and putting together the sports section and whatever,” he said. “I had a few pages I could fill up with whatever, so I started writing record reviews, and I kind of parlayed that into a series of half-decent clips and that got me work and that got me more work and here we are almost 20 years later talking about it.”

When asked what a typical work day is like, Ferris said, “Doing this kind of work is like taking all the time that you have and just setting it on fire.”

He further explained what he means by that. “Sometimes something that should be a simple affair can take all day and sometimes you’ll get sidetracked.”  

Once he got into a routine, Ferris said writing the Donnie Iris book was a lot like the movie  “Groundhog Day.” He tries to make every day the same: wake up early, work out, meditate, get coffee “and then just hit the track and start working.”

He noted that writing books is not all “hanging out with Donnie Iris and getting fun stories.” 

“You sit at your desk alone, a lot, and you just feel the rest of the world whoosh by you,” he said. “Over the course of my working life, I’ve gone to New York to MTV Studios on business, Alt Press has flown me to Europe, and I’ve traveled with bands. You spend a lot more time sitting at the desk, [but] sitting at the desk is what makes that other stuff possible.” 

Ferris, a professor at the University of Akron, tells his students to take initiative.

“Somebody out there is doing the job you want,” he said. “Maybe they’re special and maybe they have some kind of superhuman gift, but it’s very likely you can outwork them. You need the attitude that says, ‘it’s  going to be me, I’m going to be the one.”

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