Tending Bar Is Good Training for Journalism—and May Get You a Job

A post last week quoted Maggie Haberman, a star reporter at the New York Times, as saying her early life as a bartender made her a better journalist: “That was the best training that I had for learning how to approach people.”  Having also worked as a bartender before going into journalism, I expanded on Haberman’s quote with more wisdom you might pick up behind the bar, along with a lot of tip money.

Al McGuire, a great basketball coach who won a national championship coaching at Marquette University, said it this way:

“I think everyone should go to college and get a degree and then spend six months as a bartender and six months as a cabdriver. Then they would really be educated.”

During five years of occasionally attending classes at the University of Wisconsin, I tended bar on nights and weekends, serving drinks at places from country clubs to shot-and-a-beer bars. I made good money and ended up agreeing with Al McGuire that you can learn more behind the bar than sitting in a classroom.

It also can find you a job. After Wisconsin, I went to law school, learning only that being a lawyer wasn’t for me. The bartending work—in particular, serving a few drinks to the president of United Press International news service—got me into journalism, first with UPI and a couple of newspapers and then at the Washingtonian magazine.

Working as a bartender makes you realize that people come with a wonderful variety of charms and flaws. Dealing with drinkers also helps you develop a pretty good B.S. detector, something ever more needed in journalism.
Along with Haberman, another bartender who turned out to be a great journalist was Steve Daley. From a previous post:

The ability to carbonate words is a rare gift and the writer best at it who I worked with was Steve Daley, a bartender turned writer who died too young six years ago. Steve wrote mostly for the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers but also did Washingtonian pieces that sparkled. Having lunch with Steve was the most fun an editor could have.

Steve was a protege of another wonderful character, Dave Burgin, an editor who made three different bartenders into journalists. Dave died three years ago after trying to save the Dallas Times Herald, San Francisco Examiner, and variety of other newspapers.
From a 9/19/17 Washington Post story announcing the appointment of Steven Ginsberg as national editor:

Steven has been at The Post since 1994, when he joined the newsroom as a nightside copy aide following an ill-fated attempt to launch a career in bartending at The American Café.


  1. Elaine Povich says

    Fans (and new fans) of Daley might get some insight into that sparkling writing through his blog, which, mercifully, still exists in cyberspace. http://failedtalkers.blogspot.com/
    It’s called “Failed Talkers,” from the Irish expression that writers are just failed talkers.
    Daley was an accomplished talker. And writer.

    • Doris Geenen Graf says

      Didn’t know you tried Law School and worked as a bartender. Brother Dave, did both and was fond of using the expression “BALDERDASH”, when it was appropriate. When you sent a Blog at Don Rickles death, you showed that you had a few ideas about how to work a room. Missing Mary, who left us 10 years ago.

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