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RapidChat: Tom Hagan

Whether you are located in New York or Grand Rapids, breaking into the world of journalism can prove to be a difficult feat - one which Tom Hagan, a local freelance writer, can affirm. We are living in a digital world, where our lives are being oversaturated with content on a daily basis.  How do we make sure we are getting the most definitive information out there? With years of experience in the entertainment journalism, Tom explains his perspective.
 
Tom Hagan

Whether you are located in New York or Grand Rapids, breaking into the world of journalism can prove to be a difficult feat - one which Tom Hagan, a local freelance writer, can affirm. We are living in a digital world, where our lives are being oversaturated with content on a daily basis. How do we make sure we are getting the most definitive information out there? With years of experience in the entertainment journalism, Tom explains his perspective.
Rapid Growth: What is your background in?
 
Tom Hagan: I graduated from GVSU, majored in Writing and Environmental Science.  I’ve been writing since I was nine or ten years old.  I’ve always been a frequent visitor of my local library, even when I was young, always reading. 
 
RG: What (or whom) first inspired you to look into writing as an artistic outlet?
 
TH: When I was twenty years old I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma.  I took an extended break from college during treatment.  I had a lot of idle time.  I would play guitar, read a lot, write, rent movies, just to occupy the day.  When I was in remission and finally returned back to school, at GRCC, I took a creative writing course, professional writing, and a journalism course, where I wrote for the college paper.  I really enjoyed that experience.  One day I told my professor I was transferring to Grand Valley and explained how I really loved writing.  He told me if I wanted to continue on the path that I was on I should choose writing as a major.  Before that, I didn’t even know such a major existed.  So that is what started me writing again as an adult. 
 
When I graduated in 2008 I didn’t have a lot of luck finding a career in the writing.  I don’t think I’m alone in that respect. However, for the last three years I’ve been working to supplement my income as a freelance writer for On The Town Magazine, also a few articles for Advance News Kentwood.  I covered mostly music, some famous, but also local acts.  I was gratified for that experience, while building my portfolio, and hopefully in the future will continue to do more.  I also, occasionally, write fiction in my spare time, as well as write about movies in my film blog, just for fun.  
 
RG: Why music?
 
TH: I've been playing guitar since I was 14 or 15 years old, and I can speak the technical lingo with most musical folks.  My grandfather played violin in the Grand Rapids Philharmonic Orchestra and my father has been playing guitar since he was a teenager, so I learned mostly from him.  Music has been a big part of my life, for as long as I can remember.

My friend Nicole Corley wrote for On The Town for many years, before myself.  When she decided she was moving away from Grand Rapids she mentioned my name to who Joanne Boorsma, who would become my editor.  I think the thinking, on the part of On The Town and my editor, was that as a musician I would be comfortable hanging out with and talking to other musicians.  They were right.  

I interviewed and spoke to a lot of great musicians, heard so much great music during my time as a freelance writer..  It was like writing local, music journalism, I suppose-- Grand Rapids-style.  Very fun!  One of the nicest people I talked to was Kix Brooks, of Brooks & Dunn, when he came through Grand Rapids.  I'm not a huge country fan, and I didn't know much about them, but he was an absolute riot to talk to.  And I got to help local musicians through the writing and promotion of their shows.  It all worked out for everybody.  
 
RG: What are some of your personal favorite resources for news on arts and entertainment?
 
TH: This will sound boring and conventional to some people, but the best thing you can do for yourself, as a member of your community, is to read your local newspaper.  For those of us living in Michigan this means picking up the Grand Rapids Press, or the Detroit Free Press, perhaps.  There is so much “click-bait” and disinformation on the internet these days.  You will actually do yourself a disservice by reading “alternative news” sources online or otherwise, if you ask me.  Newspapers are subject to defamation laws, libel and slander.  And they must have their facts straight, or else retract their stories, which always looks bad, ruins credibility.  There are many journalists working very hard to get you the information you need, daily, round the clock.  They should be applauded for that service!  Good journalists are my heroes!
 
For my entertainment news, I’m always reading On The Town Magazine or Revue, our local arts magazines.  I enjoy reading about bands touring through Grand Rapids.  I absolutely adore reading about the different chefs and restaurants throughout town, hearing their methods.  The recent interview in Revue with Grand Rapids resident, Joshua Burge, who starred in the recent award-winning movie, The Revenant, was really fantastic.
 
RG: Do you feel that free content is of any lesser value than content you may need a subscription to?
 
TH: Not necessarily of lesser value, no.  Much of the content you find for free—say on the MLive website, for example—is just as interesting as the content you pay for.  Since the news I read on MLive is local, I sometimes find it to be even more relevant, really.
 
RG: What are some journalistic topics that you feel get widely overlooked?
 
TH: Oh, man!  Where to start? 

I feel there is a bit of a recycling effect in United States culture.  American culture, the arts, the popular culture, music, fashions, movies, etc., are constantly recycled from some other distant American era.  There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of originality, currently.   If something or somebody is currently popular, there is a chance somebody else was doing it better twenty years ago.  There are always exceptions, of course.  I hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious or cynical, but I believe this recycling effect to be true.  It’s a cannibalistic effect; we’re essentially eating and regurgitating our own culture.
 
The reason for this has to do with, I think, the United States being fairly isolated, cut-off, when it comes to knowledge of the vast world around them.  How many Americans could name the most famous German pop singer?  The name of the President of Mexico?  The Prime Minister of Canada?  I’m no better, for I don’t know their names either, but it does illustrate my point.  What I’m trying to say is: it’s a great big, interesting world out there.  We should embrace being citizens of the world, pick pieces from this or that culture, learn new tricks and ideas, combine them, look to outside sources of inspiration and rediscover originality. 
 
RG: What topic(s) do you think the media needs to place further into the spotlight, then?
 
TH: Since it’s campaign season, I’m really sick and disgusted with politics.  Our media places a lot of emphasis on politics and everything gets politicized.  It’s overkill.  Clear out the politics, make way for something else.  Anything else!

Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media
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