Candid Chat with Journalists: John Sciacca
We spend so much time asking our press to get to know our clients and the products that they manufacture, we thought it was time to turn the tables and pick the brains of some of the most respected journalists in our field.
The first journalist we’ll be featuring is the deeply-knowledgeable and always-hilarious John Sciacca: a California native, devoted dad and husband, installation expert at Custom Theater & Audio, and writer of the aptly-titled John Sciacca Writes. John’s website runs the gamut of just about everything you can think of: from product reviews to random rants, from music to the hysterical things his four-year-old daughter, Lauryn, says (here’s my personal favorite). There’s something for everyone. I personally learn a lot about CE from John’s perspective as a great writer, who also happens to be an installer—and often find myself clapping my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing like a lunatic at my desk at entries like this one. John was nice enough to take time out of his day to answer my questions and help out a rookie. Enjoy—I know I did!
1. What publications have you written for?
Print based: Sound + Vision, Residential Systems, Golf World, Diversion and Luxury Home Quarterly.
Web based: Sound + Vision, Residential Systems, Systems Contractor News, Men’s Health, Electronic Design Group (EDG)
2. Where did you go to college/grad school? Did you know you wanted to be a journalist when you went into school, or did it happen later?
I didn’t! No college for me. (Though I have written some college papers for friends a long time ago. My “will work for beer” banner has long been retired.) As one of my favorite editors – Jeremy Glowacki – is quick to point out “I’m not a journalist.” (Sad face…I laugh to keep the tears at bay.) I’ve always loved writing, and took every creative writing class that was offered throughout school. I was on my high-school’s (Acalanes) journalism staff, The Blueprint. (I recently posted a blog thanking my high-school journalism teacher for the encouragement: http://johnsciacca.webs.com/apps/blog/show/6787534-thank-you-mrs-russi-) Then after school I continued writing short stories. Then when I became a golf professional, I wrote a regular monthly tips column called “The Assistant’s Alley.” I guess I never figured that I could make a living out of something I enjoyed doing so much. When I found out that people would actually pay me to write, well, it was a no-brainer.
3. How has your experience as an installer contributed to your writing style and history?
I’m not sure that it has contributed much to my writing style which is what it is, but it has certainly contributed a TON of material and experiences for writing. Though perhaps spending time in 130-degree attics has contributed to the anger. I think that it offers me a unique perspective on this industry. I get to experience every facet of the A/V world: from loving it on the user side, to specifying it on the design side, to managing projects on the business side, to installing it on the, uh, installing side, to writing about it. I think that I’m one of a small handful of journalists that actually REALLY knows how this stuff works. When I get a review system, I’m installing it, programming it, integrating it, whatever. For a lot of components – at least many that I test – those are hugely important elements to the review beyond just “it looked/sounded good.” So I’m able to talk about those aspects of the system which others might sum up in “So-and-so sent out an installer that…” I think this gives me a much better ability to speak directly to other installers and say, “Hey! This is why this is good or bad…” Or some credibility with manufacturers when I say, “Hey, this doesn’t work or could work better and here’s why…”
4. What’s the most rewarding part of your job, and what’s the most frustrating?
My install job or my writing job?
Install: It is incredibly rewarding when you complete a large project and you turn the system over to the client and they just *get* everything that you did for them and they totally love this system that you installed. The most rewarding from that standpoint for me is a home theater install. Home theater – specifically front projection – will always be my first love in this industry, and completing those jobs is always the best. Most frustrating: Fighting the eroding market due to Internet sales and a general trend towards people buying lower-end gear and the laissez-faire attitude towards audio.
Writing: Most rewarding is definitely when someone comes up to me and says that they loved or really learned something from something I wrote. Most frustrating is trying to come up with a clever intro to a story. That’s always the hardest part for me.
5. Any funny/memorable stories, secrets, etc. that you may have from working with Caster or in the media?
I’ve already written about this in the Caster contest that I DIDN’T win! (Stupid Facebook technicality! If I had my gun…) Here’s the memories:
My memory #1:
What shall forever be known as “The Microsoft Trip”
Ashley met us at the airport in perhaps the biggest vehicle I have ever been in besides the aircraft carrier, USS Harry Truman. This was the land yacht of land yachts. So, she is driving around, and even with GPS manages to get us lost AND drives us the wrong way down a one way street AND jumps the center median. I was fortunate enough to hang out with Ashley all day, and we had the best of times in the Microsoft House of the Future, where it turns out that in a few short years we will all be drunk, naked and Asian. Next we head over to the Microsoft exec’s house where he shows us what SHOULD be a killer theater. Except the only thing killing about the theater is the heat; the temperature is seriously just shy of causing paper to spontaneously burst into flame. And there is absolutely zero ventilation. And this demo is droning on and on and Ashley and I are sitting on the riser in the back closer to the sun’s core. And to top it off, the Exec is choosing the LAMEST demo material. Like ever. This was the dialog going on inside his head. “Hmmmm. A bunch of A/V journalists want to see my theater. What should I demo? Something awesome with a lot of explosions and dynamics? No, that’s just what they’ll be expecting. I’ll go with a lame Mariah Carey concert video. Yeah, that’s the right choice!” Then off to dinner, where I — OK, all of Ashley’s people, but I like to think it was especially I; it was closer to the future and I was closer to drunk on the red wine — look SO much more awesome because we didn’t pull any douchery like posting about something M’soft clearly implied that they didn’t want posted!
My memory #2:
Caster Dinner following Kim’s house launch
This is one of my favorite memories because it involved all of the Casters. I sat next to Ashley, and begged her not to “eat my babies” (miniature, fully formed Calamari fetuses), and across from Lauren, Becca and “new girl.” This wasn’t too long after the Microsoft trip, so of course there was much reminiscing about getting drunk, naked and Asian, and I expressed to Ashley my fully hetero, totally not weird or gay Man Love for John Mayer. (She reciprocated, but didn’t need to make any arguments about her sexuality in the process.) I’ve spent a good bit of time with Lauren at various events (endless — and I do mean ENDLESS — Media Center things and the CEDIA ball game), but it was really the first time to chat it up with Becca in person and, of course, new girl (AKA – PR Buddha, AKA – Amanda). So our end of the table was AWESOME, with much suckling from the never-ending Caster teat/vine. Not even (name removed for my own good) random/awkward non-sequitors — “You know, I found something interesting on vinyl the other day…” — could stop our van from a rockin’. Found out that new girl is WAY more than just “new Pam”—way quicker and way funnier (and way cuter) and her hire just cements that Caster only cherry-picks the cutest and best. Sadly, Lisa Maughn, my dear-dear Lisa, was all the way at the other end of the table, but, surrounded by the company I was, I didn’t even notice.
Most recent memory would probably be standing at the SurgeX booth with Lauren as she is giantly, over-ripe pregnant and they are BLASTING this surge protector over-and-over-and-over with 6000 volts of energy and I pondered on what super-human mutant baby powers it was giving to the unborn fetus. I’m sure they will start to manifest themselves soon…
6. Why did you create a blog, and has it changed your perspective?
I was driving on a family vacation and I got a call from someone saying they wanted to link to my blog, and what was the address. When I told her that I didn’t have a blog, she said I should definitely start one to promote myself. So, that’s why I originally started it.
I love doing the blog for a few reasons; 1) To quote Stephen King, “Nobody likes a clown at midnight.” But, to quote him again, “A writer writes.” And the blog has given me that outlet and motivation to continue writing. As much as I want and as often as I want. 2) I can talk about whatever I want. Many – MANY – of my blog posts would never see the light of day in a regular outlet. So, if I want to reminisce about a girl I crushed on in high school, I can. And in the next post I might talk about a client that walked into our showroom. And that might be followed by talking about Survivor. It can be all over the map, but people seem to enjoy reading about it. 3) There is a HUGE amount of satisfaction in knowing that I built it from the ground up. From like 10 visitors a month – all friends and family — I now get around 2000. And many of these people I don’t know and have never met. They found me, they like my stuff, and they keep coming back. And that is awesome.
7. What would be your advice for PR people who want to work with you, or any journalist for that matter?
I guess, try to get to know me – or them – on a personal level if possible. For me, that can be about reading the blog. If you want me to always listen to what YOU have to say, maybe it would be nice if you took an interest in what I have to say once in a while. Don’t let it always be about pitching. With some people, they only reach out to you when they want something. The PR teams that I have the best relationship with – Caster certainly among them – might send an e-mail or call about something completely unrelated to “I have a client that…” Understand the particular beat that we cover and bring us things that pertain to that. Buy us obscenely expensive red wine and single malt scotch. Yeah, that last one.
Posted by: Cassidy | Twitter