Mary McNamara, senior culture editor and television critic at the
Los Angeles Times
, is a Westminster native.
She moved to Carroll County from Baltimore in the fourth grade and considers Westminster her hometown. McNamara attended East Middle and Westminster High School and remembers when the library was housed in the old church on Main Street and the treat shop was across from the Carroll Theater.
McNamara was named a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2013 in the category of criticism along with Manohla Dargis, of
The New York Times
, and Philip Kennicott, of
The Washington Post
, the eventual winner of the award.
Carroll County Times
caught up with McNamara and talked about her decision to become a journalist, her initial thought on being named a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and her thoughts on the last episode of "The Sopranos."
Q: When did you first decide you wanted to become a journalist?
When I got a C in Mr. Olive's chemistry class. I had wanted to be a veterinarian, well, mostly I wanted to be James Herriot, so when it became clear I had no head for math or hard science, I figured I'd stick with the writing part. My parents, who were very supportive of my writing but concerned, perhaps, about the employment prospects of a budding novelist, suggested I try journalism. I joined the Westminster High School newspaper and went to the University of Missouri journalism school.
Q: What was your initial thought when you found out you were named a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize?
I was totally surprised. The paper had nominated me before, but I had never been a finalist. There are only three named, and there are a lot of terrific critics out there -- our paper alone has quite a long list of people who could easily win each year. The editor of the paper, Davan Maharaj, had scheduled a meeting with me that I thought was about reinvigorating the calendar section and our push to go digital, so I pretty much sat gaping for a few seconds after he told me. He laughed; I'm not usually at a loss for words.
Q: What is something about the job that most people wouldn't know?
It involves a lot of thinking. It's not just about whether a certain show is good or not, it's about where it fits in the cultural conversation. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves say a lot about who we are, as individuals and a community. There was a time when the most important stories were being told on film, now it's television, and we need to pay attention to the things we are saying to each other. I like to think I help with that.
Also, being a TV critic makes it harder to be the mom who tells her kids that too much TV will rot their brain -- that would totally backfire. Though I have found that after three hours, you really do have to get up and do something else for a while. There's a special kind of headache that occurs after more than three hours watching television.
Q: What is one review you will never forget and why?
My first big review was of the finale of "The Sopranos" and I had to do it in real time -- they were holding the page -- which meant I had like 20 minutes from the time the episode ended to file the story. So I'm watching the Sopranos gather in the diner, Tony ordering onion rings for the table, and the seconds are ticking by and the music swells and then, of course, the screen goes blank. I, like a million other Americans, thought my cable had gone out but I figured I would now be losing my job. It nearly gave me a heart attack; I was literally screaming at the television. Then, mercifully, the credits started rolling and I had to write like a crazy person, all sweaty with gratitude that I wasn't going to lose the gig before I really had it.
Q: What are your thoughts of the United States Department of Justice searching Fox News reporter James Rosen's emails?
It frightens me. A democracy needs a free press to ensure it stays a democracy. President Obama recently said that reporters should not be prosecuted for doing their job and that these investigations would cause a dangerous chilling effect. So he needs to make it clear to his Justice Department that what happened to Rosen is unacceptable.