By Lauren Wilson
I had the chance to participate in an e-mail interview with Bob Keefer. Keefer is an full-time arts writer for The Register Guard, and has years of experience in writing. He had wonderful, passionate responses to the questions I asked him. Below is the interview:
1. How long have you been covering the entertainment beat for The Register Guard?
I became full-time arts writer at the RG in 2005. Before that had done a lot of arts and entertainment writing as a full-time features writer since I was hired there in 1983. This past Dec. 16, as a result of the shrinking newsroom budgets, we moved our entertainment writer, Serena Markstrom, to a news beat, and I absorbed her job along with mine.
2. What made you want to become a reporter?
Someone told me it was fun, so I tried out and got on my college newspaper. It turned out not to be just fun, but completely addictive.
3. What are some challenges that arise when reporting for your beat?
Lots: The sense of entitlement that some arts groups feel about getting coverage. The squishy ethical issues that spring from the fact that, unlike pretty much any other beat at the paper, almost all my stories translate to artists making money because I wrote about them (or, conversely, not making money because I didn’t). The fact that my colleagues in the newsroom (Serena now excluded, of course) don’t have a clue what my job is like. And the sense of always being overwhelmed. There is never enough time to do it all, and you can never know enough about what you’re writing about.
4. Do you have any advice for up-and-coming reporters that are interested in entertainment news?
Write entertainment stories and read entertainment stories. Don’t wait to find a paying position, or you likely never will. Insert yourself into the world you want to write about, whether you have an invitation or not. When I started I had no background in the arts, no official beat in the newsroom and no permission from my bosses.
My interest really started in the early 1990s when I was assigned to write about a local oil painter and found her work fascinating. I was at a point in my career where my work was beginning to feel too routine, and as she and I talked in that interview, I had two thoughts: One was, I was amazed that someone as smart and accomplished as she was could dedicate herself to a low-pay field like art, so the job of being an artist must be pretty compelling; the other was, that art could be the next big challenge for me as a writer. How do you write about an oil painting (or an opera, or a dance performance) and make it interesting?
My first step was to start doing more stories about painters. I quickly realized I needed (and wanted) some education, so I signed up for a basic art 101 class at LCC. The instructor in that class, the late David Joyce, talked about the primary importance of drawing in art, and made the point that drawing is a skill that can be learned. Next thing I knew I signed up for a studio drawing class at LCC, two three hour sessions a week learning to draw.
That led over the next few years to more classes in drawing, painting, design, color theory, art history and the business of art. An unexpected thing happened: word quickly spread through the arts community that this reporter who had been writing stories about artists was now taking studio classes and learning to paint and draw. People loved it, and it gave me great credibility.
I should make the point that I took all these classes on company time without telling anyone at the paper. My job as feature writer was loosely enough defined that so long as I wrote good stories and made deadline, no one much cared what I did with my time. (My editor in those days was Bob Welch, now the newsroom columnist. He only found out about my secret art education years later when he was teaching reporting at the UO and one of his students interviewed me.)
5. What story are you most proud of and why?
Which is my favorite child? Tough call. I did an extensive profile some years ago of a local painter named Tom Blodgett. That’s as good as any of them.
6. Any other advice you would like to give to aspiring entertainment news reporters?
Write, write, write, and read, read, read. Go to all the events you can, get backstage, go to the receptions and parties, take people out for drinks, get to know the people who make the business happen. One way to learn a lot would be to volunteer at a performing center like The Shedd.