From hard rock to hard news: The switch from writing about music to designing front pages

For the last two decades, breaking news for me meant Riot Fest dropped a lineup update or Ravinia announced a new summer show.

Now the phrase has taken on a whole new meaning.

My official tenure with the Daily Herald started 26 years ago, and I spent the last 20 helping design Features editions and working with some incredibly talented colleagues on the Time out! entertainment section. Ten of those years also saw me exploring and writing about the local music scene through columns and interviews, and during the last five years, the creation of our local music spin-off Chicago Sound Check staked its claim on a lot of my week as well.

By day, I sat at my computer, banging out pages or crafting stories for those pages. And if anyone saw me outside of the newsroom, probably more than half the time I was headed to a local show or music festival with a camera over my shoulder and a pencil and notebook in my hand.

Last fall, I stepped into a new role as the Design Editor for the news section. Press releases for concerts and new music releases started to pile up as my focus shifted to emails from beat reporters chasing front page news.

I’ve had to learn (or relearn) about the very specific wording in breaking crime stories, the nuances in pieces about wars around the world and the importance of tone in headlines. (There’s a reason the phrase “Make it feature-y” meant “Make it interesting and fun”; news headlines require a whole different set of skills, most not involving puns about band names.)

It’s been a crash course on local politics; learning which suburbs are cities, villages or towns; way more than I ever thought I’d know about our high school and professional sports teams; and what’s up with all this libel business anyway? (Again, not something that generally came up in interviews with the new punk band from the next town over.)

The change has also taught me that early morning anythings are a thing of the past, since night shift deadlines can often run close to (if not past) midnight. I’m semi-embracing the night desk mindset and not planning to be anywhere before 9 or 10 a.m. if I can help it.

But with the training my predecessors shared and with help from my experienced and knowledgeable colleagues (including my wife Melynda, with whom I now share a mostly similar schedule), this whole new world has become a lot less anxiety-inducing than it was back at the start of October. And I hope as the months go on and the dust starts to settle on our recently adopted back-end system, I can bring more of my design ideas and stylistic sensibilities from Features to the front news section.

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