Q&A with John Locanthi

By Gina Ginsberg

Freelance journalist for Willamette Week, in Portland, Locanthi infuses comedy in his writing. He has used satire to get his message across and written a wide range of stories. In his Q&A he reveals how he pulls off his swiftian-style reporting. Life as a journalist can be hectic, but Locanthi seems to be handling it with ease. This weekend he was covering  jazz and strip clubs. “It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it,” he said.


John Locanthi, freelance journalist for Willamette Week.

1. What is your experience with satire journalism?

I have experience covering events in a sarcastic manner. Like say Chip Kelly leaving Oregon to coach the Philadelphia Eagles. Instead of writing a news blurb about the beloved coach’s departure, I wrote a letter of interest and resume—mentioning many of the recent events surrounding the program—to apply for the vacancy. Another example would be my paper’s response to former Hole guitarist Eric Erlandson’s stop in Portland on his book signing tour for Letters to Kurt. Instead of reviewing that piece of dreck, I wrote a response letter from Kurt Cobain styled after his suicide note. As a lifelong consumer of fake news (The Onion, Weekly World News) and satirical news shows like the Daily Show, most of my writing has a certain level of snark or attempted humor to it. It’s just very difficult to pull off in print—at least while working for a legitimate newspaper.

2. How did you get into journalism?

I stumbled into it in the same way as many others do: I wanted to be a writer. Writing is one of my few lifelong passions—I still have a few composition books filled with the generic fantasy stories that occupied my elementary school days—but I had no idea how to turn it into a decent career. That all changed when my father introduced me to the works of Hunter S Thompson. As cliched as it sounds, it’s true. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 72 and his articles in Rolling Stone were my first taste of the more literary stylings of New Wave journalism. It was far more exciting than the articles I used to gloss over on my way to the comics section of the newspaper. Real life makes a far more important, interesting and often bizarre subject than I could ever dream up, anyways. The journalism professors provided the necessary training (First rule: don’t write like Hunter S Thompson) and some experience to be an actual journalist. And just like that, I covered a variety show hosted by a renowned drag queen for my first professionally published article.

3. What type of stories do you primarily cover now?

I stick to the culture side of the paper for the most part. Outside of that, it’s difficult to say. I will cover/write about/review whatever they’ll let me. My most recent work has been reviewing movies, bars, rating children’s sleds and publishing my faux application for the head coaching position at Oregon.

4. What do you like about writing freelance?

The money. It sounds a little cynical but it makes a difference. Even if it is nowhere near a living wage. The knowledge that editors are setting aside part of their budget to get your voice in the paper is a great feeling. It also forces one to learn how to find and pitch a story. A necessary step in becoming a true reporter.

6. How do you find the satirical approach to stories effective?

It keeps the readers’ attention. For example, my live-blogging of Oregon football games. Most news outlets that cover specific teams will have a beat writer live-blog games. This would be a useful way of covering games for smaller programs or back in the days before major television deals but it is superfluous now. Every single Oregon football game was televised last season. And yet most live-blogs are written in a dry, informative way to benefit those few people with internet access who do not feel like turning on the TV or stream the games online. Whereas I wrote my game blog as a companion piece to the game. Far less actual information was provided, but it offered a window into the game as viewed by a pompous twat with all of the random tweets, videos and jokes people watching the game might have missed.

7. What has been your favorite story?

While the cover story I wrote back in December is the biggest story I’ve worked on in my brief career, my favorite is my web series on the hobo pirates docked in the Willamette river last summer. It took weeks of waiting around before finally making contact with one of them (Finger, who became a minor celebrity over summer) but it was well worth it. The affable transient boater, to use the technical term, had fully embraced his lifestyle. As a non-serious news piece, I was allowed to write in a literary style while following Finger and his crew’s preparation for a party during Bluesfest.

8. Do people you interview ever get annoyed by your writing style?

I haven’t spoken to many interview subjects after they’ve read what I’ve written. Finger and his friends got a kick out of my first article about them. Most of my satirical writing hasn’t dealt with interviews, though I am interested to find out how Eric Erlandson took my parody of his book, Letters to Kurt. (Wrote a response from the late Kurt Cobain that was modeled after his suicide note.)

9. You are, funny, but you also do conventional reporting, yes? How do you balance that? Is it considered fine in the field journalism to switch it up? It is not a faux pas for journalists to be silly? I feel like I know of some Pulitzer-winners out there who have also written some snarky satire.

It depends on the subject. A mass shooting? Yeah, you’re going to stick to a very serious tone with that one. But for stories that are intrinsically dull, like say Willamette Week’s cover story on the library tax last fall, it helps to lead in with a little humor (in this case, a hobo masturbating in the library). But in general, anything approaching snark should be avoided in reporting news. The news is news because it affects people’s lives. If a person willing to talk to you gives you an embarrassing quote, go with it. But it is poor form for a reporter to mock people or make light of someone else’s plight.

On a more basic level, it’s hard to use sarcastic or satirical humor effectively in a written article. Any statement in an article can and will be taken at face value by the readership. There is a tumblr page, Literally Unbelievable, dedicated to people taking Onion articles seriously.

10. You write ridiculous things on Twitter and people still take you seriously, right?

I honestly have no idea. I’m very much an obsessive tweeter. It has strengthened my relationships with other journalists and the like. I doubt anyone takes my twitter “very seriously” but that hasn’t been a problem whenever I’ve told someone, “I’m a reporter for Willamette Week and I’d like to talk.”

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