Just a Journalist

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At the first Handworks in 2013, I overheard a funny conversation about my credentials. I was standing in the Lost Art Press booth with my back to a bunch of bearded fellows who were debating the fine points of workbenches.

Beard No. 1: Chris Schwartz says that….

Beard No. 2: Shwatz is just a journalist. He’s not a professional woodworker, so he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Chat closed.

I know that Beardy No. 2 was insulting me by saying I’m “just a journalist,” but to me it was anything but. I am – unapologetically – a journalist. I trained to be a newspaperman at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and am proud I survived the school’s bloodletting process. I then received my masters in journalism from Ohio State University, which is where I learned about Noam Chomsky and American anarchism.

Like it or not, Lost Art Press wouldn’t exist without my training from these two journalism schools.

While it’s unpopular to be a journalist these days, I didn’t enroll in journalism school to become rich and universally loved. Instead, I decided in 8th grade to become a journalist because I think – scratch that, I believe – there should be voices who are independent of the government, mega-corporations and churches.

Of course, when you work as a corporate journalist for reals, you learn that you are an underpaid and overworked tool of all three institutions – unless you can plot an escape that doesn’t involve public relations. And that you need to live low to the ground. And be happy with a small audience.

So everything you love (or hate) about this blog is a result of my training. We don’t take free tools, advertising, sponsorship, affiliate status or Dick Butkus thanks to every moment I spent in my Law & Ethics class at Northwestern. I learned the value of document research in Investigative Journalism. I fell in love with history in the History of Journalism.

But wait, let’s go back to Beardy No. 2. Shouldn’t I be insulted by the fact that he said I’m not a “professional woodworker?”

Well, no. I’ve met a lot of professional woodworkers in the last 25 years, from Sam Maloof on down to the guy who just got a job making particleboard cabinets with a narrow-crown stapler. Just because you make a living from working wood doesn’t mean you have superpowers (anymore than being a journalist gives you a monopoly on the truth).

In the end, I hope to be judged by the work I leave behind. That includes the words, the furniture I build and the ideas that I’ll share with anyone who will listen.

And if you got to this point in the story then that might just be you.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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68 Responses to Just a Journalist

  1. John Hall says:

    Well said.

  2. duckfarmer27 says:

    Chis –

    You nailed it. But I will add that every profession has it’s scoundrels, unfortunately. And they just make it hard for the rest. Keep up the good work.

    Dale

  3. Judith Katz says:

    Our greatest things we leave behind are our children. Behind them are the people who remember us five minuets after we are gone. In your case I think more than a few will regret your passing and some of your work will be thumbed through for quite a few years after. Live long and prosper grasshopper.

  4. Mark says:

    Say what you want about super powers but don’t think the vague resemblance to Clark Kent wasn’t noted on your ID badge. I really don’t know how you do it when there’s not a decent phone booth to be found these days.

  5. There is a phrase for people like that: “Fuck ’em”.

  6. pathdoc70 says:

    Chris,
    You have done more than any woodworker, journalist or otherwise that I know, to almost singlehandedly revive Handtool woodworking in the United States over the last decade or more. And that is a very good thing, as it certainly has been for me, but perhaps not my bank account with buying hand tools .
    There are always naysayers, which I just ignore and I know so will you.
    Cheers.

  7. The journalistic aspect of your writing is the best part. There’s enough opinon presented as fact out there to last several lifetimes.

  8. I like the words you write.

  9. Jim Maher says:

    You’re my hero!

    You keep doing what you’re doing just the way you think you should and with just the motivations you feel. I’ll keep trying to learn from and follow your example and maybe even further the cause in my small ways.

    I hope you ARE proud of what you’ve been able to do. I hope your friends and family are proud of you, too. I know that I’m thankful for the opportunity and proud to follow you.

  10. artisandcw says:

    It is curious to juxtapose Chomsky, a totalitarian collectivist, with anarchism. In large part the current widespread and well-deserved animus towards “journalism” is driven by the conclusion that most who claim that mantle are not. My perspective on that has been validated repeatedly over the years, by the journ-o-list affair a couple years ago, and anarchist-ish law professor Glenn Reynolds’ observation that the “news” industry was better understood once you realized that “journalists” were most often agenda-driven partisan agitators with by-lines rather than the unbiased paragons they promote themselves to be. I have encountered that (and their incompetence) personally, having been interviewed numerous times by newspaper personnel whose final products were so riddled with factual and contextual errors as to be unrelated to reality.

    Yes, you are a true journalist, unfortunately that is an undertaking that as practiced by you is nearly extinct. You report honestly, which takes you out of the common practices of the mega-corporations known as “the news media.” You observe, explore, and chronicle with integrity, using the tool kit of ideas, words, and hand tools, In so doing you have emerged as the voice of a newly revived sub-culture pursuing excellence and fulfillment at the workbench. Thank you.

  11. Starius says:

    I applaud this post, wholeheartedly.
    I actually have a degree in Journalism (with an emphasis in visual communication) from the Greenlee School of Journalism at Iowa State University. I also spent a year in the graduate program there. However, my job that “pays the bills” is selling contractor grade tools at a tool store. (And prior to that, I worked in the mail room at a paper stuffing advertisements in the local shopper because it allowed me time to be a caregiver for my mother.)

    There have been many times where I don’t even mention I went to college at all, let alone have a degree in journalism, when I find myself around certain crowds. And there are so many reasons why, ranging from the judgement of others to my occasional own embarrassment for living a life where I’m not using my degree to make a living.

    But why are we so quick to judge someone based on “credentials” such as the bearded man #2 you encountered? As human beings, we are more than our jobs, more than our degrees, more than bank accounts or our collection of material goods….. those are all reflections of experiences we’ve gone through. They don’t necessarily show our likes and dislikes, are desires, our hopes and dreams, our capacity for love or hate, who we are in a crisis, or what we are capable of in a interpersonal relationship.

    I remember taking a logic class back in college, where one of the lessons learned was how people tend to look at their own situation with complexity but look at the situations of others with a very simplified view. On a personal level, I feel the way to counteract this occurrence is to exercise our skills of empathy as you would any other muscle in your body.

    Sadly, on a cultural level, I feel that empathy has been falling out of fashion.

  12. Starius says:

    On another note, I believe that Beard #1 probably let the conversation fall right there because he realized Beard #2 was a close-minded individual (what with cutting him off so fast) and figured it wasn’t worth his time or effort to continue that line of conversation.
    I know I’ve been there…

  13. RL Sitze Jr. says:

    Very well said.

  14. rons54 says:

    No journalist who blindly believes in One True Way, be it tails first vs pins first or one side or the other in the political arena is worthy of the name. Your integrity is refreshing, your writing is informative and entertaining and your work with ink, pixels and wood will speak for themselves for many years. Not to mention all of the woodworkers, artists and writers that you have helped with your business acumen.

    Ok put an ice pack on your head to reduce the swelling and get back to work.

  15. kaisaerpren says:

    Yes you were just a journalist, by your journey has brought you to woodworking. like a lot of people you didn’t start out where you ended up. I wanted to work for NASA designing the ecology inside those gigantic space stations we were going to have by now… I for one am glad of your investigative journalism approach to finding information about woodworking to write about.
    thank you
    K

  16. mbholden says:

    I don’t agree with everything you say, but you make me think. I can think of no higher compliment. Mike Holden

    • Starius says:

      Your statement reminds me of the old quote “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” by Evelyn Beatrice Hall. (Often misattributed to Voltaire)

  17. gtrboy77 says:

    Chris, how long ago did you work at The Greenville News and how long? Small world…

  18. ejcampbell says:

    Hear, hear!

    Eric Campbell ejcampbell1950@gmail.com +1 617 803 4824

    >

  19. Roger Benton says:

    As a professional woodworker, let me say thank you for all the experimentation, testing, researching, building, documenting, and old lost knowledge you’ve given us. Because I sure as hell don’t have time for that in our shop. From open to close it’s “GO GO GO!” and there’s extremely little time for experimenting with new ideas, new styles, new techniques, etc. I’ve had the extreme fortune to travel the country and meet many amazing woodworkers so I know that there is no real skill variance between real pro’s and average Joe’s. Of the 10 or so most skilled woodworkers I’ve ever met, none of them make their living solely from making furniture. They all teach, or write, or make tools, or run farms, or whatever. Hell, if I had a side job that paid the bills I might actually be able to get in the shop and experiment more…

  20. This insult is so ridiculous I can do nothing but shake my head at the close minded fools who would offer it every time I hear it.

    “They’re not a professional woodworker so they shouldn’t be”:

    –Writing for a woodworking magazine
    –Editing a woodworking magazine
    –Teaching woodworking classes
    –Writing a woodworking blog
    –Writing a book about woodworking
    –Making a woodworking podcast
    –Making YouTube videos about woodworking

    My take? Being a professional at something (ANYTHING) just means that you get paid to do it. It does not mean you can write well about it. It does not mean you are any good at teaching it.

    Being a professional does not even mean that you are any good at doing it. It just means you get paid to do it. Nothing more.

    Some of the best teachers that I’ve had, never had any professional experience in the subject they were teaching. Some (most?) of the best writers I’ve read have never had any professional experience in the subject they were writing about.

    I’ve also seen professionals who were very good at their craft, but couldn’t teach it or write about it worth a lick.

    We all have our talents.

  21. sawnutz says:

    Illegitimi non carborundum. The carborundum can be better be used for grinding chisels.

  22. davevaness says:

    Chris
    I used to be an Guest Editor and Author for a electronics magazine. I also had a web show (PSoC Today.) I became well know among Electrical Engineers. (I had fan clubs in some Universities in India)
    When traveling when people recognized me they would either say.
    “Wow! is is so cool to really meet you!” and want to hang around maybe buy me a beer. We would discuss circuits and doodle some ideas. Then they would ask if I would sign these doodles.
    Or
    “Your not so smart! I’m better than you”

    I found University Grad students to be the worst that would publicly ask questions guaranteed to prove they were smarter than me.

    I am certain its the same with you. People in the second group group are intimidated.

  23. occasionalww says:

    Hey Chris,
    I would just like to say that because of you, I have learned more about woodworking (and how to do it) from a journalist than I have from professional woodworkers.
    Thanks,
    Tom

  24. leeboyz86 says:

    I enjoy and learn from your words – even the ones with which I don’t really agree. But even if you didn’t share any of your words, the fact that you and Lost Art Press have shared the words of so many others by publishing their books makes you a hero to me. I am constantly amazed at the scope of your intellect and curiousity. The woodworking world, and, for that matter, the world in general, is a better place because of your work.

  25. mrogen says:

    Chris, strangely enough, people who I don’t know but meet one way or another, usually ask, what’s wrong with me? What are you talking about, I’d say. You can’t walk right, you use a cane or Walker, your hands look like a skeleton, what’s up? I usually don’t discuss my health on public blogs but yours is different so I’ll continue. I’ll tell them I have ALS and explain to what it means, as well as the normal life span, which is 2-5 until death arrives. Plus why and how one dies. I’ll say, I’ve been very, very lucky, until now.
    But my point is that when I tell people that I’ve had ALS for 12 years, they either don’t believe my diagnosis where I’ll say, are you a doctor? Do you know anything about neuromuscular diseases? Do you have a friend who has the disease? Do you even know what MDA is? Muscular Dystrophy Association just as an FYI.
    The responses are too insulting to repeat here, but having to “defend the fact that I’m alive, for whatever reason, pisses me off to point where, if I still had the ability to stand on my own and not worry about falling and hurting myself over some douche bag, I’d give him a Brooklyn Beating he’d never forget that would make him think before he ever speaks about certain issues again.
    Yes, I did grow up with violence all around me, but never did I have to resort to violence since my diagnosis. Not that I haven’t wanted to, but it’s not worth it at this time in my life. There will always be people who live in their own little fantasy world, where they must be negative in order to satisfy, falsely, their egos. And there are a whole lot of plain old fashioned stupid people out there. I’ve always believed that you become who and what you are by the choices you make in your life.
    I’m personally glad that you’ve made the choices you have.

    • bsrlee says:

      I’d just ask who your doctor was and what treatment you were getting. Then again, I’m sometimes considered odd, and I have friends who are Professors of Molecular Biology doing cancer and auto immune research.

  26. 61chrysler says:

    If someone dislikes journalists, they have forgotten or never understood the difference between journalism and entertainment.
    Live long and prosper…..

  27. Yup, you’re talking about me. I too have a small stack of press badges and my life as a photojournalist shaped how I think today. Long live the free press…

  28. drjohn1963 says:

    Just a journalist, not a woodworker? I never knew they were mutually exclusive…
    I am glad you are both, as I have learned a lot that I would not have learned from either alone.

  29. mcqacp says:

    If “they’re” not complaining you’re probably not doing anything that makes a difference. You’ve made a huge difference in this “40 year professional contractors” life. Thank you.

  30. cricklebee says:

    That was good. I have a couple interesting wooden vises that you may be interested in seeing. Can I send you a picture. Thanks, Steve

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

  31. What’s really sad about the conversation between Beard 1 and Beard 2 is that neither had an opinion based on their own personal bench using experience. Professional or not.

  32. Dan Roper says:

    Christopher what a small world. I lived and worked in Greenville for 35 years before coming back home to Texas. I am so very familiar with your former employer.

    Cheers, Dan Roper

    Dan L Roper, * Southern Star Woodsmith *

    .

    On Sat, May 13, 2017 at 5:01 AM, Lost Art Press wrote:

    > Lost Art Press posted: ” At the first Handworks in 2013, I overheard a > funny conversation about my credentials. I was standing in the Lost Art > Press booth with my back to a bunch of bearded fellows who were debating > the fine points of workbenches. Beard No. 1: Chris Schwartz s” >

  33. You decided that in the 8th grade? Holy crap.

  34. jeeperjeff says:

    Chris, I’ve never loved you more.

    Other than that whole “pins first vs tails first Civil War of 2012” (which was just business… not personal), I also admit I’ve never loved you any less.

    However, reading this lostartpress entry I believe… no, I know: I’ve never loved you more than I do right now.

  35. Eric R says:

    Your ability to put thought to paper makes you one of my favorites.
    Thanks Chris.

  36. pommedownunder says:

    I did and I do
    Change nothing I will keep reading and making very badly

  37. gdblake00 says:

    Chris:
    You are one of the most productive people I know plus you have displayed an above average ability to analyze, think, problem solve, and communicate. There are very few people on the planet who are able to put their preconceived notions aside, look at a problem, and solve it through the power of common sense. These are the ones who have brought us electricity, cell phones, computers, flush toilets, and a host of other practical solutions to everyday problems. In college I learned that it is not enough to have a good idea. To be able to act on it and gain support for the good idea, you have to be able to communicate, both verbally and in writing in a way that will cause others to open there minds and consider the possibilities. So what if some closed minded jerk doesn’t get it. It’s his loss. Those of us who do get it have benefited greatly from your life’s work.

  38. Chris, we are blessed to have you. When the dust settles on this period in time, you will be considered one of the greats, as you have done more to preserve and expand knowledge and appreciation for woodworking than many of the rest of us. Your passion has struck a deep cord within many a woodworker, giving new life to near-forgotten ways. Thanks for taking the time to communicate your research and package it in classy fashion. I am glad I discovered your work–it inspires my own!

  39. mysticcarver says:

    Well Sir… I got to that point in your story. I have been and always shall be….your fan. Met you once(my memory and most likely not yours lol) I put you and your woodworking skills (both actual and literary) on a very high pedestal.

  40. Thanks for the link to Chomsky Chris. I did not know of his beliefs, nor to my shame his writing. Reading about him it would seem that, on a quick skim his views closely match my own.

    It is my belief that most professional woodworkers have forgotten how to work wood although they may know very well how to machine wood that is altogether a less important and knowledge-less activity.

    I believe that you and a handful of others have resurrected hand woodworking. This was one of the hopes of the Arts & Crafts movement, as you know. I believe that hand craftsmanship is part of our humanity and perhaps the only part we do not share with other animals.

    I have loved seeing the tools I knew at five years old come back into use and I am still using some of them at 74. I have taught my just teen twin grand daughters a little and they are very proud of their skills and the small collection of hand tools each has. When the first flush of interest in boys has worn off a little they will come back to learn more.

  41. smkindem says:

    I will continue to listen. I started woodworking after watching Norm for years, and it finally dawned on me that I might be able to make some of those things if I had all of those power tools. So I had a what-the-@#%! moment and bought them and got started. Norm’s New Yankee site had a link to Popular Woodworking, and through that connection I became intrigued with hand tools. Woodworking Magazine was my favorite. I then again had a what-the-@#!% moment, and bought “The Works” from Lie-Nielsen, and promptly sliced my hand open with a chisel. I decided I’d better get a workbench. I made my Roubo style bench from your first Workbench book. I was also into ordering the latest woodworking books coming out, and came across Jim Tolpin’s The New Traditional Woodworker, and when searching for someplace to learn how to properly use my new set of hand tools, I was stunned to see that Jim was teaching a “Hand Tool Heaven” course in my own backyard; Port Townsend, WA. I immediately signed up for his class, and have taken a series of classes since, one of the most useful and entertaining being “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.” Thanks for the tips on dovetailing (e.g., “Steve, you’re on the wrong side of the workbench.”), and for sharing other woodworking wit and wisdom (is beesdicks one word or two?). I haven’t made it through all of the Lost Art Press books that currently reside at my home, but I’m still at it, and looking forward to whatever might come next. Thanks for being a journalist. I owe you a beer, at least.

  42. Thanks for LAP and your contributions. Your writing style is informative, easy to understand, fun to read, and “on the mark”. I have a collection of most of your books and have taken a hand tools class from you.

  43. franktiger says:

    I had something simular happen I was at a store that sells woodworking supplies. While checking out the clerk seen i only had hand tools and said you know this is anglican work. I forked over the cash and said its ok im episcopalian and my uncle is from saxoni, he looked puzzled and handed me a reciept.

  44. Bob Adams says:

    as a hobby woodworker I’ve learned Much from you. The stool leg without the math with Roy Underhill was special. I especially enjoy your ability to make it simple for people like me who need that. Your abilities as a journalist make data understandable. I was a public speaker for 39 years and learned communication is very difficult. Thanks for being who you are.

  45. adumbiam says:

    Happy Noam Chomsky Day!!!

  46. Simon Stucki says:

    Well if Beard No. 2 doesn’t like you, whatever… I have always been very grateful, that you know how to write as well as know how to do research, since that obviously makes your books (and blogposts) that much more valuable and enjoyable.

    Anyway, what I really wanted to say is, that reading in the comments here what other people think of you and how they feel about you, I no longer feel weird for thinking and feeling the same! Maybe I’m not crazy and at least I’m certainly not alone…
    Looking forward to having the honor to be attending your 2nd workshop at Niederalteich next month!
    simon

  47. Rich says:

    Go Cats!

  48. charlie says:

    If you ask me, Schwarz is just a woodworker. He doesn’t know anything about the written word.

  49. studioffm says:

    Chris
    The sad beardie No2 clearly upset you and got you mad enough to write this cogent and well argued response. However the correct reply to conserve your time, energy, and creative brain space, is the short two word reply suggested above.

    have a happy day

    david savage

  50. Neels Compion says:

    Absolutely brilliant!!!

    Neels & Céleste Compion Elora – ON Canada

    Envoyé de mon iPhone

    >

  51. Thanks for all you do to advance the craft and I do enjoy you writing !!!! Please carry on the good work.

  52. daviemacblog says:

    Rock on with your bad self.

  53. Right on, Chris. I was indoctrinated with Chomsky in my linguistics class at Ohio State back in the early 60s. Go Bucks!

  54. Eric Myers says:

    You are not one or the other, you are both — plus a lot of other things. You, and we, are better off for it. Thank you.

  55. klhwriting says:

    Thank for sharing this. I’m currently studying Journalism at university and reading what you have posted is sadly correct. We are perceived negatively by the public. Lets hope things change for the better. We can, and will be, the better change in the world.

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