By Keisha Reynolds
Experiencing journalism through music is the life John Sinkevics lives. With a great passion for music and journalism, he has become a Music Critic and Entertainment Writer. He has allowed us to have a peek into his life, the roads he took to get there, and how he is maintaining his ground. In this interview you will learn about his career path, education, daily task, and even some personal details. Enjoy!
Question: What is your Job title and description?
John: I'm a Music Critic and Entertainment Writer for The Grand Rapids Press, covering pop, rock, blues and other popular genres, as well as writing about entertainment events in the Grand Rapids [Michigan] area, ranging from the current Art Prize competition to community festivals.
Q: What is your level of education? Where did you attend college?
J: I have a bachelor's degree (honors) in Journalism from the University of Michigan.
Q: What was your first job as a tech writer? What inspired you to become a tech writer? Did you have any mentors?
J: I don't necessarily consider myself a technical writer. I started as a hard news reporter, covering everything from the police beat and City Hall to the environment. I was The Press' environment writer for more than a decade. However, I also am a musician and began writing CD reviews for The Press during this time period. When The Press asked me to take a position writing for their new Weekend section about a dozen years ago, I jumped at the chance and have been writing about music and entertainment ever since. I didn't have any mentors in this regard. If you consider being a music critic "tech writing" (and I'm not sure I do), I've been reviewing concerts and albums, and writing a Sunday column on music for more than 12 years.
Q: What is the most important part of interviewing different artists?
J: As with any journalism beat, the most important part of being a music critic is preparation. You can't know everything about every artist, so it's important to do the necessary research, listen to an artist's music, and otherwise become informed about the subject of your article before interviewing him or her. I learned quickly that there's far more background work involved in pounding out a music feature or review than I realized.
Q: What is the best part of being a Journalist?
J: The best part? Being able to interview important musical artists you've spent years listening to, attending their concerts, and being able to spotlight local and regional artists who deserve attention for their work.
Q: How as technology affected your career; any software or hardware changes?
J: Emerging technologies, from surfing the Internet (using it for research, music downloading/sampling) to blogging and using digital video cameras and recorders have completely changed the way I do my job. I now frequently use a Flip Video camera to take footage of local community events and concerts and post these videos online, having to learn basic video editing, etc. This is something I never could have envisioned even 10 years ago. But because many Press readers access information online, blogging, videos, etc. have become an integral part of covering music and entertainment.
Q: What is your daily schedule like and what is a typical day for you?
J: It varies a lot, as is probably the case with most music critics and entertainment. On a "normal" day, I'll come in around 8:30 am and leave around 5 pm (starting the day with reading and responding to perhaps 100 e-mails or more). The day is filled with interviews and writing (usually several different stories or columns at a time). But my schedule varies a lot because on concert days, I might come in for a few hours in the morning, go home in the afternoon, then return to attend the concert.
Afterward, I either go home or back to the office to write my review -- sometimes not finishing this till 1 or 2 am in the morning (depending on my deadline for the next day's paper). Also, I have daily deadlines and weekly deadlines because many of my stories run in the Sunday Entertainment section or the Thursday Weekend section. The deadline for each varies, so sometimes I'll be working a couple of weeks in advance on stories about a particular band or artist coming into town for a concert, setting up the interviews, doing online research, listening to CDs, writing the actual stories.
Q: How often do you communicate with clients?
J: I usually work/write alone, though larger events (such as Grand Rapids' Festival of the Arts) are covered by several reporters here so I'll contribute quotes and copy to that coverage. I do "collaborate" regularly with the photographers, because they provide the images for my pieces, and I have to set up the photo assignments for these stories.
Q: Who do you communicate with most often?
J: My editors, the subjects of my stories, publicists with record companies and concert tours, local and national musicians, managers of area music venues and night clubs. I also chat regularly with my co-workers about upcoming events and stories.
Q: Any specific stories about your career or the path you took?
J: Can't say that I do. I started working for the student newspaper at the University of Michigan and decided I'd make journalism my career. I do have to say, however, that the opportunity to switch from being a hard-news reporter to becoming a music critic and entertainment writer about 11 years ago was a surprising-but-welcome one for me. It fits perfectly with my interests.
Q: Can you offer advice for individuals interested in this field?
J: Honestly, I'd have to caution anyone in college to think twice about a career in newspaper journalism at this point. Newspapers are in a crisis stage, trying to hold on amid falling ad revenues, competition from the Internet and other information sources, and declining readership — especially among younger audiences. I believe journalism will survive because there will always be a demand for an objective view of happenings in the community and the world at large, but the way a journalist does his or her job is changing dramatically.
For those insistent on pursuing this course, I'd advise them to broaden their talents and experience in as many ways as possible: Keep working on your writing and reporting skills, but also learn photography, video and audio recording techniques (including editing programs), familiarize yourselves with online vehicles and methodology, keep up with technological advances in communications. The business is changing rapidly and you'll have to bring a broader set of skills to the table in the future so you can improve your marketability in print, TV, radio, and online journalism.