David Hajdu is a respected author, journalist, and teacher who, aside from publishing two books, has worked as a senior editor at Entertainment Weekly and is currently a columnist for The New Republic. He talked with PRWeek about his love for New York City and his beneficial relationship with a publicist.
PRWeek: What influenced you to combine your two passions of music and journalism?
David Hajdu: I don't understand music. Music is an unending mystery to me. It's the most abstract of art forms and it's awfully complex. It's infinite in its variety. I'm interested in every kind of music that I have heard to some degree - from opera to jazz, rock, heavy metal, and even hip-hop. It's that variety, complexity, abstraction, and mystery to it that draws me to it. I feel I can never master it. So it has always posed a challenge to me as a journalist. I'm writing about something that is a little bit out of my reach; so writing about music is always a struggle for me. I think that is the chief attraction. Another attraction of music to me is that I love it so much. It gives me more pleasure than any other form of art. I'm writing about something that I love, but don't quite understand.
PRWeek: You have taught at Syracuse, the New School, and Columbia. What do you think you can offer to those looking to start a career in journalism?
Hajdu: I represent how attainable a career is in journalism. I'm just a guy from Jersey. My father drove a pickup truck, and I drive a pickup truck. I write about fine arts. I try to do so in as literate a way as I can. I like to think that students think: "Hey, if that guy can do it, I can. If that guy can get published, how hard can it be?" I don't know if I'm just naturally juvenile or if my own intellectual and emotional growth is stunted, but I still think like a student a lot of the time. Or I remember how I thought when I was a student. So it's not hard for me to relate to what young writers are going through. I'm not just a teacher; I'm mainly a working journalist. I'm going through every day confronting the same challenges that they're confronting every day as writers. So there is never a week when I'm not teaching something that I wasn't just dealing with. I'm the music critic for the New Republic, so I'm filing pieces on a regular basis. Pretty much every week something comes up that I can say, "I just had that problem," or a student will come to me and say, "I can't decide how to start" and I'll say, "Yeah I know, I just spent two days figuring out how to start my last piece."
PRWeek: Which lifestyle do you prefer: your life as an editor at Entertainment Weekly or your life now as a freelancer and author?
Hajdu: I worked at Entertainment Weekly when it was a startup, a brand-new magazine. I love trying to do something that hasn't been done before. I love the challenge of trying to figure that out. Now I'm at a point in life where I'm trying to figure out how to do a whole different kind of thing, which is teach.
PRWeek: One of the big themes in your writing has always been New York City.
Hajdu: I didn't realize that until other people have told me that. I guess it's true. Pretty much everything I write about has to do with the city. I'm writing a new book that is all about the city. It was always my world. I just finished a book that is going to be published in the spring. It's going to be called The Ten-Cent Plague, and it's about the hysteria over juvenile delinquency and comic books in the early post-war years. The country basically went crazy over comic books. There were riots and bonfires and Senate hearings. It is a forgotten chapter of cultural history. It is really a mad time in history. That will be published in May. That is another city story. I think my fascination started with New York City when I was a little boy. The first time I went to the city was to go to the dentist and I remember going into this big, boxy granite building with a newsstand in the lobby and going up an elevator. I remember it closing and it was one of those old screened in elevators. There was a door with a glass window and the dentist's name was painted on it. I just remember feeling at home. I can't explain it, but I've always been an urban creature. I'm from New Jersey, and my parents would take us in to see a show. I saw Fiddler on the Roof when I was a boy. I remember this feeling, that I now know is my blood pressure lowering, and feeling at peace. I still have that feeling. When people talk about going to New York and feeling pumped up and revved up, I've never understood that. One thing I do prefer about New York is the anonymity of [this town]. I love being nobody in New York. I'm in the deli, and I'm in the subway, and I don't know whom I'm with. I'm a writer, but the guy sitting next to me could be a Nobel Prize winner. There is something kind of stimulating about being in that company, and there is also something humbling about being in that company. The humbling aspect is what keeps me going.
PRWeek: Tell me about your relationship with the PR industry.
Hajdu: I've been lucky that I've made some good friends with the publicists I've dealt with over the years. They have not all been phony, just-for-business, PR friendships. But they exist, too, and we all take part in that. It's the nature of the business.
I have a friend who is a music publicist, and we were having a casual lunch a couple of years ago. Our conversation, which had nothing to do with her clients, led to a major story I wrote for The Atlantic Monthly that led to a nomination for a National Magazine Award... sure, some publicists are nagging jerks, but so are a lot of journalists. I don't think it's endemic to the field.
Name: David Hajdu
Outlet: The New Republic
Preferred contact method: email@example.com
Web site: www.tnr.com