Breckenridge: I found my voice, but Baltimore is losing one

“Do you have a favorite writer on the staff?” Rebekah Kirkman, the City Paper visual arts editor and intern coordinator, asked on the other end of the phone as I paced nervously around my living room. Truth is, I hadn’t read the paper enough to know.

“Joe MacLeod,” I answered, after flipping two pages into the latest issue sitting on my coffee table and arriving at the weekly “Mr. Wrong” column. I was hired for the fall 2015 intern position two weeks later and became a permanent staff member three months after that.

I’d just finished up at UMBC the beginning of that summer. Several professors gave me confidence with praises for my writing. So I thought, a popular newspaper with tens of thousands of readers? I got this.

I didn’t have shit. It turns out academic writing and journalism are quite different, which ensured that some of my early writing never saw the light of day. (I’ll have to catch up with Brandon Soderberg one day and clown my first attempts, which he probably has buried somewhere deep in his email.) So, the next couple of years at CP ended up like that series of “ThunderCats” episodes where the main character, Lion-O, trains individually with each member of the ThunderCats to become proficient in their special abilities. I picked up something from everyone.

I feel hella fortunate to have worked with everyone here at CP, but there were some pivotal lessons and experiences that have left an impact on my writing and reporting. Former editor-in-chief Karen Houppert always carefully scanned through my features, rejecting my initial use of excessive paraphrasing. “Let people speak for themselves,” she’d say.

As deputy editor and later editor-in-chief, Brandon Soderberg grabbed me from my desk and sat me in an empty conference room countless times to demonstrate the importance of structure and the power of the “TK”—to come— when I just can’t come up with something at the moment. As Rebekah Kirkman’s research assistant, I learned the importance of thorough research and getting facts right before an article was published.

My fellow veteran, photo editor J.M. Giordano, showed me how to operate as a photographer/writer team (he called us Riggs and Murtaugh from “Lethal Weapon”). He showed me how to get the hell up from my desk and grab a story no matter where it was on the streets.

Ed Ericson Jr. kept his office door open and let me harass him, sometimes multiple times a day for a myriad of journalistic questions and the occasional aimless chat. I learned to mostly leave him alone on Moody “Murder Ink” Mondays (JK, Ed). In a newsroom where we covered serious topics—and where responsible publishing was paramount and often put the team under strain—Charlie Herrick’s sense of humor showed everyone how to work hard but to not take it all so seriously.

I can’t fully detail what I’ve learned from everyone individually, but I’d be remiss not to recognize Reggie Thomas, Lisa Snowden-McCray, Anna Walsh, Maura Callahan, Brandon Weigel, Athena Towery, Jake Carlo, and Baynard Woods for sharing considerable time and great skill with me here at CP.

I hope they all see a piece of themselves in my writing, because I’ve witnessed every bit of their efforts to highlight local people and culture. There are 40 years worth of voices that would have otherwise never been heard if not for the outlet that’s being extinguished after this issue. These writers understood and took in earnest the responsibility of informing the public of ideas, people, events, and issues that may affect their lives.

These are writers who have dedicated countless hours to interviewing, combing through public records and other sources, traveling around the country, and using what they’ve found to tell Baltimore’s most important and compelling stories. I started working here as CP operated with barebones staffing, a small budget, and below average compensation. I’ve witnessed writers endure personal losses, juggle family responsibilities and even life-threatening health issues while still faithfully producing a newspaper more representative of Baltimore in content and staffing than most publications.

What tremendous fortune I’ve had to learn from, work with, and struggle with such a professional and honorable group of journalists.

It’s such a shame that it took me two years and the extinguishing of such an important beacon of information in this city to finally be honest with you, Rebekah. However, I think it’s obvious who my favorite writers are now. Thank you City Paper for your dedication and contributions to the people of Baltimore and for the opportunity to serve them.

Kenneth Stone Breckenridge is a reporter and assistant research editor at City Paper.

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