Tell us about your background - was it always in journalism?
I originally studied history and archaeology at my hometown University in Arizona, but late in my academic career I decided I would rather pursue journalism. But it was a while before I began working in the field full-time. I spent most of my teens and 20s working for my father in his gas station back home.
What was your first taste of journalism?
I pitched a story to a small archaeology magazine about the Syrian civil war; not about the human cost, but the cultural cost of the Islamic State's quest to destroy or sell antiquities of the area and professors tasked by the State Department to save ancient relics.
What brought you to NYC?
At the risk of sounding trite, I think I really needed to get out of northern Arizona. I lived in the biggest small town for hundreds of miles and just wanted to find more in life. I was well-read and well-travelled enough to know what was out there, I just wanted to live it. So one day, I packed a duffle bag and hopped on a plane. What I expected to be a short trip followed by failure turned into something else entirely.
Tell us AMNY Metro and the types of stories you cover.
amNewYork Metro is a commuter paper, so I like to think I have the most important job in the newsroom (though that can and should be written off as grandiose thinking). I write about what the government is doing or not doing for the people of New York in facilitating the most basic economic necessity: getting to work, and getting there on time.
I also have a love for local politics, especially in New York City where everything has a profound political bent to it. When I first started working for TimesLedger in Queens, four years ago, I covered one local political race and my editor just kept assigning me to other campaigns.
Where do you get your ideas and what interests you?
I like to observe how people's interests guide their action and how that action often creates friction with other groups. I think the issues that spur change and the ensuing conflict is fundamental in a good story.
Amid this pandemic, coverage has changed a lot. What stories do you look for now?
I'm only half joking when I say I'm an outdoor cat. I just prefer to be in the field. I feel as though COVID-19 has not changed the types of stories I look for so much as how I communicate with people.
What is your typical day like now?
Whereas my typical day usually revolves around getting to where the story is happening and taking photos (which is another love of mine), it's evolved into getting up, making breakfast, and then trying to rub two sticks together to start a fire in my living room.
What are your pet peeves about pitches that come your way?
I wouldn't say I have any real pet peeves about story pitches. I always appreciate when someone wants to test my interest in something that matters to them. But I do get a lot of emails from PR folks who don't really do their homework on what beats I cover. I try to politely let them know that I'm not the droid they're looking.
What are your hobbies?
Photography and music are two things I find essential to my emotional well-being. I still use my grandpa's old Canon FTb from the early 70s and play an old Gibson guitar. But I also love reading, especially books on different historical themes as well as fiction. I'm also a huge cinephile.
How can people get in touch with you?
I'm also embarrassingly active on Instagram and Twitter: makusan_hallum or @markuusan respectively.