Q&A with Baxter Holmes, a Boston Celtics Beat Reporter


I thought I'd ping some questions off the new guy on the Celtics beat, Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe.

1. Let's start with an introduction. You are still relatively new to the Boston beat. In fact, your last stop was in the belly of the beast Los Angeles! How did that work out and what has the adjustment been like?

Before joining The Boston Globe, I wrote for The Los Angeles Times for 3 ½ years, starting in late June 2009, about two months after graduating from the University of Oklahoma, where I studied journalism. I wrote about a variety of sports (and non-sports) for The Times but I often focused on writing about basketball, which I played through high school in Oklahoma and have always followed. At The Times, I covered more college basketball (USC at the start, UCLA at the end) than NBA, though I was a part of our team of reporters that shuffled between L.A. and Boston to cover the 2010 Celtics-Lakers Finals. I was also a Clippers' backup beat reporter for a while and wrote quite a few Lakers stories as well. Then, in late 2012, when I was in the midst of covering the UCLA men's basketball team, I was contacted by the Globe and asked if I'd be interested in covering the Boston Celtics. I joined the Globe full time on Jan. 27, 2013, when Boston beat Miami in double overtime, 100-98, at TD Garden.

As for the adjustment, everything has been great. And, for the record, I'm actually not new to Boston. I was a summer intern for the Globe's sports desk in 2008, and during that time I fell in love with the city -- and especially the Globe. It was especially cool being here during the Celtics-Lakers Finals that summer and writing the majority of the copy for the Globe's commemorative section after the Celtics won their 17th NBA title.

2. Help us understand what your job is like and what the average fan might not understand about your job. For example, I have a press pass that I rarely use because I realized very quickly that (like anything) there's an art to it and to do the job well, you need talent and passion. Interviewing is an art. I can only imagine that developing relationships in order to get "sources" takes a lot of cutting through the excrement to find a few nuggets to use (that might very well be forgotten in the next news cycle).

First, I'd say that I'm a reporter - first, last and always. And, I think, there are many who might assume that these jobs go to sports fans who can also write, but that isn't so. Readers often see the finished product (the story) but not the work that went into it, including the invaluable efforts and guidance from editors and the saints on the copy desk, who can never be praised enough. On my end, some of the basic challenges include, in no particular order: extracting pertinent (and often difficult-to-obtain) information through interviews and other means; cultivating relationships with sources; maintaining the stance that you write for the readers and that you'll sometimes (if not often) have to face people pissed off at you for doing your job; breaking 100% accurate news in this lightning-fast news cycle so that you can stay ahead of the competition without making a costly mistake; writing (which will always be hard) on a razor-thin deadline; discerning truth from lies or "spin"; developing fresh, interesting story ideas almost every day; dealing with a schedule that requires you to more or less be on call at any moment; having your work critiqued by the masses. Over time, I've come to realize and respect the fact that, in this job, you need a sort of journalistic compass that keeps you on track, but it takes time to develop one worth trusting.

So, in toto: Yes, this job is great; it's also not for everyone. Not all cooks can become chefs, nor would they want to be. The same is true here. Like anything, you have to really love this job to want to do it professionally - and I love journalism and have been obsessed with it since I started writing for newspapers at the age of 16 in Oklahoma. My bookshelf today is filled with more than a hundred books about the craft of reporting, writing, storytelling, about ethics, narrative non-fiction, the history of journalism and the media business, about icons in my industry and more. I'm a huge journalism nerd. (On that note, perhaps my all-time favorite book of any genre is "The Powers That Be" by David Halberstam. No book taught me more about this business. Also: the best newspaper movie -- and probably my favorite overall, now that I think about it -- is "Deadline USA," a 1952 black-and-white flick starring Humphrey Bogart as a crusading editor who takes on a notorious gangster. Here's my favorite clip from that movie)

Now, as for the nitty-gritty about the job, I divide the majority of my time between home, the road, TD Garden and Waltham, where the Celtics practice. I rarely go into the Globe's newsroom. During game days, I write some kind of game story that I hope tells the reader not only which team won but also what the game or a moment in the game tells us about the team or a player or a coach. That's usually between 800-1000 words along with a notebook that's around the same length. I have to file an early notebook before halftime and then re-write it for the third edition, which is usually 12:15 a.m. That's also the time when my full game story is due as well, though I have to write a short game story and turn that in as soon as the buzzer sounds; that short recap is for one of the early editions. Writing on the West Coast is tough because of the time difference. In the meantime, I'm always working on a variety of stories, some of which take a lot of time. I try to chisel away at those every day.

3. I have to ask, is Rondo hard to work with (from a media perspective)? Or perhaps a safer question is "are members of the media frustrated with Rondo or does he just take getting used to?"

I haven't worked with Rondo just yet. My first day on the job was the day he was declared out for the season with a torn ACL. I saw him a little bit during the playoffs, but not much. I'll have a better answer once I'm around him more this coming season. I'm looking forward to working with him.

4. The Boston Globe and the Washington Post were just sold in the last week. The newspaper industry has faced a number of challenges and is being forced to change their business model a lot. What do you see as the direction that the Globe and other newspapers are heading in?

People will always want to know what's going on - and they should. And there should always be professionals whose job it is to inform those people - and there will be. It's all about how that information is delivered - and that part is changing. Now, I love the actual, physical newspaper. One of the first things I do when I travel is buy the local paper because there's nothing a cup of coffee and a few uninterrupted minutes of quiet calm, perusing through stories that give context and meaning to that place. But there's a good chance the physical newspaper and the business model built around it won't last. The new model seems to be related to paywalls and so forth, and that could work. The New York Times has close to 700,000 digital subscribers. But will a local, metro paper build that type of devoted audience that can help support the type of journalism that, frankly, is expensive? We'll see. Either way, I'm glad that John Henry bought the Globe. He's sharp and seems to care about the paper as an institution, which it is.

5. Open ended question: Do you have any fun stories or a particular message you'd like to share with (die hard) Celtics fans that you normally wouldn't get a chance to write about?

I suppose I'd say that Celtics fans are passionate, smart and have a great sense of history as well as a curiosity about the inner-workings of their team, from the intricacies of the game itself to the front office. I think that's true of Boston sports fans in general, and it's something that I don't think is true of all sports fans across the country. It really is a pleasure to write for an audience like that. Beyond that, it really is a pleasure to write for the Globe. Its history speaks for itself, and I'm humbled to have my stories printed in its pages.

Thanks very much for your time Baxter. Looking forward to your continued coverage of the team.

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