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Posts Tagged ‘Media’

Letter to a young journalist

In behavior, blogging, books, culture, education, journalism, Media, work on December 10, 2013 at 12:07 am
This is what we do.

This is what we do.

By Caitlin Kelly

Inspired by a post on Small Dog Syndrome; a great anonymous letter from a nurse with 12 years’ experience to one studying for the exam to nursing school.

Here — H/T to Amber Hargroder — is a terrific 8:45 video of artist Marina Abramovic with her advice to young artists, much of which can equally apply to any ambitious writer.

The original is a series of letters between a young military student, Franz Kappus and the poet Rainer Maria Rilke between 1902 and 1908, when Kappus was deciding whether or not to become a poet.

I’ve been writing journalism and non-fiction books for a living since my third year of university, when I began selling stories to national newspapers and magazines in my native Canada. I’ve since written for dozens of publications in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, with staff reporting jobs at three major dailies. Freelance, I write frequently for The New York Times.

I’ve never studied journalism, but have taught it at several colleges; my class, “Legal and Ethical Issues in Journalism”, which I created in 1995, is still being offered by New York University to its adult students.

Here’s what I think every young/new journalist really needs to know as they enter this chaotic industry:

Dear YJ:

You’ve decided to enter a profession that actually isn’t one — we like to think of ourselves as professionals, but we have no licensing exams or board certifications or CEU credits.

Today, thanks to the Internet, anyone, anywhere, can call themselves a “journalist” and hit publish.

This is both a great equalizer and a dangerous challenge. It’s great that anyone with ideas and passion and access to the Internet can share them with the world, allowing people with minimal political or economic power to tell their stories directly. It’s a dangerous challenge because the fundamental essentials of journalism, however naive and idealistic they sound, are accuracy and trust. Trust that the information being shared is accurate, has been checked and vetted and is not just some sexy promo for a new product or service disguised as “news.”

Don’t work without getting paid for it. Just don’t — unless it’s your choice, done for strategic reasons and/or a cause you deeply believe in. People still value most what they have to pay for.

There’s no clear career path anymore. Be fun under stress, optimistic, well-groomed, 150 percent reliable, polite and super-helpful. Your emotional inteligence will go a lot further in creating and sustaining the essential professional contacts you’ll need for decades to come than the fanciest degree from the fanciest school(s.) Very few people you’ll work with care much where you went to school. We care what you can do (really well) for us today.

Ask so many questions you risk being annoying. Your job is not to be liked or admired or welcomed at the dinner parties of the powerful but to hold them to account. Your readers expect and deserve it. Journalists, however badly paid and professionally insecure, still hold tremendous power to shape public opinion, a responsibility to take seriously.

Don’t be seduced by your job title or that of your employer. You can lose both tomorrow — 24,000 journalists were canned in 2008. Never assume it makes you better than anyone without it, since you have no idea where they’ve been or what they’ve accomplished.

This is a team sport. You’ll be working with fellow journo’s and editors, some decades older, who bring tremendous knowledge of this game and how it’s played. Don’t dismiss those with gray hair, assuming we have no clue about technology or how to communicate stories effectively in the 21st century. It’s called experience.

Don’t be a diva. See above.

Don’t privilege one medium (OK, on-line/digital) over another (snoozy old print.) The point of what we all do is finding and telling compelling stories, regardless of the way they’re offered to readers. Freelancers who still focus primarily on print are focused on earning a living, something digital journalism has yet to offer anyone without a salary within its ranks.

Break social rules and ignore polite expectations. Women are often socialized to be nice, to get along, to make everyone feel happy and welcome. That’s not your job! Many of the questions you’ll need to ask are going to piss someone off. You’ll get yelled at, thrown out of meetings, receive angry phone calls and emails. People might call you names. None of this matters. It’s part of the territory. Your job is to tell a story well.

And yet, your job is not to be a robotic bulldozer. Interviewing well demands the kind of combined listening skills, empathy, sensitivity and compassion of the best nurse/minister/teacher/bartender. It’s one of our greatest challenges — knowing (and no one teaches you this; it’s an instinct) — when to be ruthlessly tough and when to be gentle and present as someone shares the brutal facts of their story, a rape or their child’s murder or their loss of employment.

You are not the story. Your subject is. Let them tell it in their words, at their speed. Whenever necessary, find a translator or interpreter to make sure you are able to get that story accurately.

The story isn’t only what the PR people tell you it is. Their job is to put their clients in the very best light, whether they’re a PIO for a government agency, head of corporate communications for a Fortune 500 multinational or the spokesman for an NGO. They’ll sit beside you and tape you and limit how much time you get. They might ask to see your story before it appears. Never allow their agenda to intimidate you.

Some assignments will make you cry.  Don’t let your emotions rule you on the job or during the interview, but never be ashamed of your feelings. Some assignments will provoke powerful emotions. If they don’t, take a vacation or get a different job. The day you fail to feel compassion for those who struggle is the day you’re headed for burnout.

It’s not “just a story” — often we are hearing and then publicly sharing the most intimate and unforgettable (to them) details of someone’s life. This is a privilege and an honor. Never forget that.

Pulitzer

Pulitzer

You may experience “secondary trauma” if you do a lot of this kind of work; listening to and witnessing traumatic material can cause a sort of PTSD that is very real. Check into the programs of the Dart Center for help and guidance.

Run away from the pack whenever possible. This is much easier if you’re freelance and not facing hourly or daily deadline pressure to match whatever’s on Twitter. But pack journalism will easily consume your days, and your life, until or unless you can carve out a beat or a way to work that allows you the freedom to (also) pursue deeper, more thoughtful stories.

You will probably burn out. The pace, the stress, the competition, the crummy pay, the job insecurity. It adds up. There are six major components to burnout: work overload; lack of control over the work; insufficient rewards; rude or unhelpful co-workers; unfair treatment and a conflict between your values and the job requirements.

Which is why veterans keep a f**k-you fund, enough savings to allow you to quit a position that’s toxic and unworkable, take a breath and take some time to find a better fit somewhere else.

Will these doors still lead you into a long or lucrative career?

Will these doors still lead you into a long or lucrative career?

You may choose instead to freelance, for a while or forever. If you’re in a position to assign them work, treat freelancers as the hard-working small business-owners (and colleagues) they are. Don’t abuse them with no/low pay or endless rewrites or delayed or “forgotten” invoices. It may well be your turn one day.

A few of the challenges you may face along the way, (from an earlier post of mine):

Missing a deadline, getting someone’s name wrong (or several), getting the name of the company you’re covering wrong, losing your press credential, “forgetting” to turn in your official credential(s) after you’re canned or quit because you can’t bear to lose it, missing the bus or train or plane that will get you to the place you need(ed) to be to cover the story, not having enough money to get the next one.

Misunderstanding a foreign-language word or phrase, translating it, and mis-quoting. Having 10 minutes to file. Doing a stakeout, being scared to pee for hours — and being scared to drink anything because then you”ll really have to pee — and possibly missing the exact moment you’ve been waiting 15 hours for.

Have fun!

Fight for the weak and challenge the powerful.

Eschew dogma, (and remember karma).

Find and tell the truth.

Make us proud.

THIS WEEK’S WEBINAR — THE LAST OF THE SUPER-SUCCESSFUL FALL SERIES — IS “YOU, INC: THE BUSINESS OF FREELANCING”; 4:00 p.m. EST DEC. 14. (THE 8-PART SERIES REPEATS IN FEBRUARY.)

I HOPE YOU’LL JOIN US!

DETAILS AND SIGN-UP HERE.

As the 125-year-old IHT dies, what’s in your media diet?

In business, History, journalism, Media, news, travel on October 15, 2013 at 12:37 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Tonight marks the end of a 125-year-old newspaper, The International Herald Tribune.

Français : International Herald Tribune, rue d...

Français : International Herald Tribune, rue des Graviers, Neuilly-sur-Seine, Hauts-de-Seine, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As of tomorrow, it becomes the International New York Times:

Founded on October 4, 1887, by New York Herald publisher Gordon Bennett, the newspaper aimed to provide American expats living in Paris with news from home, from stock prices to the latest baseball scores.

Under several owners and different names, it became a link to home for the rising number of Americans traveling abroad, suspending publication only once for the Nazi occupation of Paris from 1940 to 1944.

It also became a symbol of US expatriates, with actress Jean Seberg playing an American who sells the paper on the streets of Paris in Jean-Luc Godard’s influential 1960 New Wave film “Breathless.”

It settled on its current name in 1967, after the New York Times and Washington Post took stakes in the paper following the collapse of the New York Herald Tribune.

It expanded globally and is now printed at 38 sites and distributed in more than 160 countries, with a circulation of about 226,000 in 2011.

Few news consumers today even read a newspaper in its printed version and journalists are feeling that pinch; in 2008, 24,000 of us lost our jobs and many of us never found another.

Here’s the NYT’s media columnist David Carr on how narrowly many of us now listen or read:

Data from Pew Research Center for the People and the Press on trends in news consumption released last year suggests people are assembling along separate media streams where they find mostly what they want to hear, and little else.

Fully 78 percent of Sean Hannity’s audience on Fox News identified as conservative, with most of the rest of the audience identifying as moderate and just 5 present as liberal. Over on MSNBC, conservatives make up just 7 percent of Rachel Maddow’s audience.

It isn’t just politicians that are feeding their bases, it is the media outlets, as well. The village common — you know, that place where we all meet to discuss our problems, relying on the same set of facts — has shrunk to the size of a postage stamp, surrounded by the huge gated communities of like minds who never venture into the great beyond. …Another layer of self-reinforcing messages may be having an impact.

As Eli Pariser described in “The Filter Bubble,” search companies rely on algorithms to predict what users want to see based on past clicks, meaning that users are moved farther away from information streams that don’t fit their ideological bent….The skillful custodians of search can produce what Mr. Pariser describes as “personal ecosystems of information.”

To take that one step further, think of your Facebook feed or your Twitter account, if you have either. When you pick people to follow, do you select from all over the map, or mostly from among those whose views
on culture and politics tend to align with your own? Thought so.

I read The New York Times daily; the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times on weekends. I watch almost no television talk shows — I find endless argumentation, punditry, opinionating and spin a waste of my time.

I’d rather (and do) read a really smart, incisive, insightful book — like the three studies of the American economy I recently read: The Price of Inequality by Paul Stiglitz; The New Geography of Jobs by Enrico Moretti and The Price of Civilization by Jeffrey Sachs.

When I want to try and understand a complex issue, and I often do, I don’t want partisan BS. I want as many useful, quantifiable, objective facts and data points as possible. Yes, I want some analysis and context. But I don’t want a worldview tilted so far to the right or left that I feel misled.

The Rachel Maddow Show (TV series)

The Rachel Maddow Show (TV series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I read, and enjoy WSJ columnist Peggy Noonan, even though her politics differ from mine. She’s just damn smart.

I sometimes read The Guardian (more to the left than I am), and admire its righteous zeal. I listen to National Public Radio and the BBC (both leaning left, I realize) and sometimes watch BBC News. But only on BBC do I hear “news” about corners of the U.S. long before any mainstream media lumber over.

English: Newspaper Rack outside Newsagents, Po...

English: Newspaper Rack outside Newsagents, Porchester Road Newspapers are available in numerous different languages here. English language papers include USA Today and International Herald Tribune. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What media sources do you rely on for your understanding of the world?

Radio, television, blogs, newspapers (online? in print?), magazines, books?

Do you consume media from beyond your nation’s borders? What and why?

Where stories come from

In blogging, books, business, journalism, Media, work on January 13, 2013 at 12:26 am
Cover of "The Namesake"

Cover of The Namesake

Unless you’re a journalist — or fairly thoughtful consumer of media — you probably don’t think much about where “the news” comes from. Some of it, like elections, natural disasters and mass shootings, are fairly obvious subjects.

But many of the stories you read or hear or see come about through a fairly wide variety of ways, like multiple tributaries feeding into a river.

Here’s my latest New York Times story, out today, one which I suggested — as I do with about 90 percent of my work. The idea came to me because I was getting weary of hearing the usual tales of woe and misery, that being out of work over the age of 50 means you are essentially utterly screwed.

Having watched my own income almost double in the past two years, and I’m 55, working freelance in a lousy economy in a dying industry, I thought, “Nah. There’s more to it than that.”

I decided to flip the script and go find people over 50 who had indeed seen their jobs disappear — often several times — or their incomes plummet, but who had figured out a way to survive, even thrive.

I like solutions!

So my idea made the paper because I’ve got a year-old relationship with an editor there who likes my stuff — this is my fourth major business story for the Times, and I’m working on my fifth. And, clearly, my work is accurate and reliable and well-read. My last one, about college-age men and women being paid $50,000 a year not to attend university, was the third most emailed story of the entire Sunday paper.

Newspapers traditionally run on a “beat” system; like a policeman’s beat, the area each reporter is individually expected to understand and explain in depth after creating a broad network of sources and acquiring a deep knowledge of the issues. These include cops, courts, city hall, statehouse, health care policy, environment, medicine, etc. Many stories come from beat reporters who hear good stuff from their sources.

Some stories also result from press releases or aggressive courting of reporters by well-paid flacks, i.e. PR experts. Personally, I find much of that “reporting” pretty lazy. You’d be amazed (or not!) to learn how many front-page stories start this way.

As a full-time freelancer, I survive financially by coming up with a steady stream of stories I can sell quickly for decent prices.

Here are some of the ways I find and develop my ideas for blog posts, articles, essays and books:

Conversation

Bright, knowledgeable sources passionate  about their topic may make time for a long (45-60 minute) conversation, and digressions from the interview-at-hand often lead down interesting paths. I find some great story ideas this way. It’s an investment on my part, (unpaid time, since the story might not sell), and theirs (am I credible? worth their energy? have the contacts I say I do?)

Other print media

I read fairly widely, in print and on-line, but rarely find much there for me to work on. By the time the national press is on it, what’s new to add? So local or regional outlets are good, as are sources within others’ stories who might have only rated a mention or a few quotes. One of the best sources is letters to the editor — often written by experts in their field who know a topic but may not have a national platform for their insights or views.

Broadcast media

I listen to NPR fairly consistently, to political, arts and business programs, all of which offer good stuff. When I have time, BBC World News (an hour) always covers stories that rarely show up in American coverage.  Ditto for Canada.

Films

On of my most fun stories came about because I sit through the very end of almost every film’s closing credits. At the end of “The Namesake,” I noticed that the film was shot in a town near where I live, which made for a great little story for my regional edition of the Times when I visited the house and interviewed the production designer and homeowner.

Pattern recognition

This demands a lot of consistent reading/attention/linking/clipping. Old school journalists call it “saving string”, as we accumulate verything we think useful to future stories on a specific subject. Only when you pay sustained attention to an issue and read/listen widely to sources about it can you begin to see distinct and interesting patters or trends  — often overlooked by other journo’s constrained by their beats and/ or by daily or even hourly deadlines.

Random encounters

You never know where you’ll find a story. Two of my best came to me out of the blue. My story about Google’s class in mindfulness, a heavily-read national exclusive for the Times, was a tip I got in July 2011 from someone teaching those classes, and for which I negotiated for six months to ensure it was mine alone.

As I buckled my seatbelt for the descent into Atlanta on my way to speak at the Decatur Literary Festival, I casually asked my seatmate, a woman my age, what she does does for a living. Cha-ching! Great business story.

Books

Sometimes a well-written book sparks an idea or helps me better understand an issue.

Blogs and websites

I don’t carve out a lot of time to roam around on-line, even if I should.

Newsletters/trade magazines/conferences

I’m spending tomorrow and Tuesday attending The Big Show, the annual trade show of the National Retail Federation. I know there are all sorts of stories there for me to find.

Observation

I sat in a trendy Lower East Side restaurant this week and saw, several hours apart, two young men wearing almost identical outfits — bare-armed (in 40-degree weather!), thick, furry vests and jeans. One more sighting and I have a trend story!

Walk around your neighborhood and look closely at bulletin boards and signs. Watch what people are wearing and eating and buying. Eavesdrop! When you visit your hair stylist/vet/doctor/dentist/accountant/bike repair shop, ask them what’s going on in their world.

Pay close attention and start asking questions. You’ll soon find great stories all around you.

My own life

Too many new writers moan they have “nothing” to write about. When it comes to selling journalism, at least, you likely have plenty! I recently won an award (details to come) from writing about my injured left hip, which became a magazine cover story. I later sold several stories about the injury and surgery as well. Over my writing career, I’ve sold stories and essays about professors having affairs with students (not me!), getting married, getting divorced, my dog’s death, physical therapy, trying to rest in a noisy hospital room, why retail work is better than journalism.

Much as we are all special little snowflakes, our lives do tend to follow fairly regular paths — so if it’s happened to you, it’s likely happened to thousands or millions of others as well. Find them, talk to them and write it up!

Related articles

Interviewing “virgins” — how to do it right

In behavior, blogging, books, business, film, History, journalism, Media, work on September 4, 2012 at 10:58 pm
New York, New York. Newsroom of the New York T...

New York, New York. Newsroom of the New York Times newspaper. Reporters and rewrite men writing stories, and waiting to be sent out. Rewrite man in background gets the story on the phone from reporter outside. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not the kind you think!

For those who haven’t yet read my Welcome or About pages, I’m Caitlin Kelly, a journalist since my sophomore year of college, more than 30 years. Like every journalist, it’s my ongoing challenge  to make total strangers feel comfortable talking to me within minutes.

The journalist’s job, contrary to popular current belief, is not to yammer on breathlessly about celebrities and their pets/kids/shopping  — like a walking press release — but to get out into the world and find people with compelling stories to share.

And many of the best stories haven’t been told before, at least not to a stranger wielding a notebook, camera or tape recorder. Unlike public figures, like politicians or celebrities, trained and skilled at media manipulation, these people don’t even know the rules.

I’ve recently been writing features for The New York Times business section, like this one about Google. Many of the people I’m interviewing for these have never spoken to a reporter before. They’re “virgins.”

Several admitted to me beforehand how nervous they were at speaking “on the record” , knowing their words might end up in The New York Times; for those of you living outside the U.S., it’s hard to to overstate its power and prestige. I’ve been writing freelance for the Times since 1990.

There’s such an imbalance between how I feel walking into those rooms — excited, curious — and how they feel — often wary, anxious, unsure, wondering what will happen next.

It boils down to trust. How much can they trust me to get it right? To tease out what they might not be able to fully articulate? Will they, as they fear, end up sounding stupid?

These “virgins” sometimes forget, or don’t know, that my every word is read and re-read by several editors who can question or challenge what I’ve written.

During my visit to Google, which lasted two days, two public relations reps tapped away madly on their computers and Blackberries, noisily noting everything I asked and what their staff said. Typically, only very senior executives and officials receive this much protectiveness.

It might have reassured the people I spoke to. But once you’re “on the record” that’s it. Two people — days after the interviews were finished — emailed to tell me “You can’t use that” about a few comments. Technically, I can. (But I didn’t, a judgment call on my part.)

I’ve been interviewed a lot, for both of my books, and it is stressful!

I’ve felt that visceral oh shit moment when you create an official and frighteningly permanent representation of how (at that moment, perhaps) you think.

And none of us really knows what will happen to your story after you’ve shared it. The reporter might be stupid, lazy, disorganized, deceptive — or get it absolutely right.

It’s rare to hear a journalist admit how they feel when dealing with civilians….Here’s a blog interview with New York Times freelancer Devan Sipher:

The brides and grooms I talk to confide in me, and I take extraordinary time and effort to make sure what what goes in my articles doesn’t violate that trust.  It’s not always easy, because the best quotes are often things they would regret having said if they saw them in print.  One could argue that if they said it, I can use it. But the people I’m writing about aren’t running for public office (usually) and they didn’t steal anyone’s retirement funds.  They don’t deserve to be embarrassed by an article celebrating their marriage.  I feel I have a responsibility to protect them in addition to my responsibility as a journalist to write the best and most accurate story for my editor and readers. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously.

Here are a few tips, if you’re facing a first-time media interview:

– Find out the reporter’s name and media outlet as far in advance as possible. Google them and carefully read check their LinkedIn page for any mutual connections, like the same hometown, college or people in common. Find out as much about them, and how they write, as you can.

– Read a few of their stories and tell them you did. It’s both a compliment and a warning.

– Ideally, find out: which section of the paper or magazine it’s for, what the angle is and who else they’re speaking to. Some reporters are fine with this, others not. The more you know what they need from you, the better it’s likely to go.

– Try for more time, rather than less; i.e. 20-30 minutes instead of five or ten. Very few people with no media training are great at offering quick, pithy sound bites. But be ready to answer succinctly.

– Make notes of your three most essential talking points before the interview. Keep them in front of you, with all relevant facts and figures as necessary.

– If you’re not 100 percent sure of the accuracy of your answer, say so! Offer to get right back to them, (within minutes if possible), with the correct data, and a checkable source for them (like a report, study, poll or government statistic.) Never guess. Never lie!

– Get the interviewer’s name, phone numbers and email address so you can  follow up or add something later. Be sure they get yours as well.

– Be very clear, before you say a word, if you want the interview attributed to you by name, on background or off the record. Be sure you and the interviewer have both agreed, and that you both agree on what these terms mean.

– Do not monologue! Take a breath, for heaven’s sake. Let the reporter ask their questions as well. Some people do this out of nervousness, but it’s also (perceived as) a way to control the interaction, and therefore annoying.

– Give the interview your full and undivided attention. That means carving out some time to do it and placing yourself in a quiet, private room with no background noises (dogs, kids) or interruptions (cellphones, assistants, etc.) We can work around these, but unless it’s an emergency situation, why make things harder on both of us?

– You can ask to see their story before it appears, but most won’t do it. Magazines usually use fact-checkers, who will contact you before the story appears to make sure the basic facts are accurate.

Have you even been interviewed by a journalist?

How did it feel at the time?

How did it turn out?

Rejection hurts? Pshaw! Man up, ladies!

In behavior, Media, Money, photography, women, work, journalism, film, movies, blogging, books on June 5, 2012 at 3:36 am
Aggie pitcher Megan Gibson pitches A&M to a Bi...

Aggie pitcher Megan Gibson pitches A&M to a Big 12 sofball victory over Iowa State, March 25th, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week in Brooklyn, home to the hipster/indie/creative class, an event was held to help adult women better understand the most crucial element of their business.

Not their fancy MFA or Ivy degree(s). Not their raw talent or burning desire to Change The World.

How to pitch their ideas to those with the authority and budgets to hire them.

This is from the Poynter Institute website (which is a terrific resource for all journalists, if you don’t know of it):

Hundreds of women (and a few men) crammed into a standing-room only bar in Brooklyn to discuss ways to close the byline gap.

At “Throw Like A Girl: Pitching the Hell Out of Your Stories,” which was organized by women’s nonfiction storytelling organization Her Girl Friday, a panel of experienced journalists and editors rejected suggestions that sexism or gender bias is exclusively responsible for the gap. Instead, they emphasized the need for young female journalists to develop the confidence to let rejection roll off their backs.

“You can’t see rejection as a real reflection of your value,” said New York Times metro editor Carolyn Ryan. “Every day, seasoned reporters pitch and get told no. Practicing pitching makes you a better pitcher. Rejection is part of the process.”

New York Times reporter Amy O’Leary, who hosted the discussion, said that as a young reporter she was so afraid of rejection that she would often agonize over her pitches for weeks or even months at a time. Meanwhile, she said, her male counterparts would happily send off pitches they had written in a day.

I’m going to piss a few of you off here and I’m fine with that.

Grow a pair!

I grew up in a family of full-time freelancers. My father directed film and television documentaries and series. My step-mother wrote television drama. My mother wrote journalism. No one had a paycheck, pension, paid sick or vacation days or any form of back-up beyond our own gumption and savings.

We ate well, drank good wine, traveled widely and wore cashmere. We drove new-ish good cars.

And rejection — of our ideas and pitches and plans and goals, no matter how hard we’d worked on them — was as normal to all of us as breathing. Nor was it anything more noteworthy.

So I really don’t buy this notion of women being too afraid to pitch, pitch, pitch again.

I wrote an essay about how well and carefully my husband cared for me after my hip replacement this year. So far, it’s been rejected by The New York Times, More and O magazine. I’ll sell it, or some version of it, to someone. Just not yet.

What makes me so sure?

Well, the essay I wrote about my divorce and pitched to Woman’s Day, which soundly rejected it, was bought by another women’s magazine — and won me a Canadian National Magazine Award for humor. Sweet!

But what if I’d curled up in a little sad ball, held a pity party — and never pitched it again? Rejection to a writer (any artist likely) is like blood to a surgeon — a messy and inevitable part of every workday.

If you can’t handle rejection, you’re not ready to make a living as a creative/independent person. Even people with cube jobs — especially people with cube jobs — have to pich their ideas, (if not for their day-to-day living) for buy-in to get their projects approved, funded or green-lighted, to their colleagues and bosses.

Do you find it difficult or terrifying to sell your ideas?

What are you doing to get over it?

Honoring brave journalists with the annual Dart Center Awards

In behavior, blogging, books, business, Crime, culture, education, film, Health, journalism, Media, news, photography, science, sports, the military on May 3, 2012 at 12:22 am
journalists_guide_to_firearms_ak47_glock1

journalists_guide_to_firearms_ak47_glock1 (Photo credit: gnotalex)

It’s a fact easily overlooked — the news we read and hear and watch is brought to us by human beings with hearts.

Some of the stories they gather, and some of the very best in my view, are the ones we skip over because they’re dark, disturbing and deeply painful.

Journalists who gather this material often end up suffering from a condition known as “secondary trauma” which can cause insomnia, nightmares, anxiety and depression. It’s a form of PTSD, which soldiers experience after the violence and brutality of war. I experienced it myself after writing my first book about American women and guns, after steeping myself in reports and interviews of violence, suicide and homicide for months.

A female friend who returned from Haiti after reporting there for weeks began telling her Facebook friends she couldn’t sleep, night after night. I suggested her insomnia was quite likely the result of secondary trauma. Another female friend wrote a searing book about MRSA, the flesh-eating infection, and she too experienced the aftereffects of recounting terrible stories, receiving a Dart Center fellowship to deal with it.

Most journalists aren’t trained in any way to know that this even exists. They work in, or return to, newsrooms filled with colleagues who have no experience or understanding of the horrors they may have seen, smelled, heard or survived, and few bosses with training to recognize or handle it either.

The very compassion and empathy that leads journalists into this tough work can also leave them shattered by it.

The Dart Center is an American non-profit organization whose focus is helping journalists prepare for, and recover from, reporting stories of this nature. I admire them and the men and women who do this work.

A panel discussion is being held tonight from 6 to 8pm at the Columbia School of Journalism in New York City honoring this year’s winners.

From the Dart Center website:

The New York Times received the Dart Award for “Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer.” (John Branch, reporter; Marcus Yam, photographer; Shayla Harris, videojournalist; Josh Williams, multimedia producer.) This searing three-part investigative series tells the story of Derek Boogaard, one of the N.H.L.’s most feared “enforcers,” who died with massive brain injuries at age 28. The series reveals the consequences – physical, psychological and social – of the adulation of violence surrounding the sport.

Judges called “Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer” a “groundbreaking” and “exemplary piece of accountability journalism.” They praised Branch for his “masterful storytelling” and “tender objectivity,” and for focusing on “human beings, science and anguish instead of thrill, agony and defeat.” They commended the series for “taking on the sports page” and “drawing attention to sanctioned violence of fans.” Judges also recognized the far-reaching, and wide-ranging impact of the series that has made it nearly impossible for those most vested in hockey to turn a blind eye to its cruel reality and disastrous impact.

WNYC received the Dart Award for “Living 9/11,” which was presented by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange (Marianne McCune, reporter and producer; Emily Botein, producer; Karen Frillman, editor; Fred Mogul and Beth Fertig, reporters; Eric Leinung, Jillian Suarez, Erin Reeg, Norhan Basuni, Radio Rookies; Courtney Stein, Sanda Htyte, Radio Rookies producers; Kaari Pitkin, Radio Rookies senior producer; Chris Bannon, executive producer; Andy Lanset, original 9/11 recordings; John Ellis, composer; Paul Schneider and Jim Briggs III, mix engineers.) This hour-long documentary guides listeners through the stories of people who were deeply affected by the September 11, 2001 attacks and who are still struggling to make sense of the events.  The documentary is built around a diverse range of viewpoints, capturing visceral and immediate emotional reactions to the attacks while also illuminating universal truths about 9/11’s lasting impact.

Judges called “Living 9/11” “insightful,” “hard-hitting” and “deeply sensitive,” going far beyond more conventional anniversary programs in its integration of history, science and narrative.

Why, yes, the stack of unread magazines is now 30 inches high

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, domestic life, journalism, life, Media on April 22, 2012 at 12:24 am

And here’s the photo to prove it.

And, today, three more — another 1.5 inches’ worth — arrived in the mail: Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire and Fortune.

What on earth, you may be wondering, is my problem?

Well, let’s see:

I write for a living so I need to see what everyone else is writing, reading, thinking and talking about. (Yes, I could just read tweets and blogs, but not my style.) I have a Big Story coming out next weekend in The New York Times (I’ll post and link to it), and thanks to this diligence know that a competing publication recently tread on some of the same territory. I’m not fussed about it, but I need to know this.

-- I love design, cooking and all things related to creating and maintaining a pretty home. Thus I read House Beautiful, Country Living (both US and UK editions, which are very different indeed), Marie Claire Maison, World of Interiors, Elle Decor.

– I love fashion and want to know what’s on-trend, even if I choose to ignore it. Again, living and working in New York City means you can’t risk looking like a hayseed. So I read Vogue, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar. (I’ve written for Marie Claire and would like to write for Vogue. You have to read them to pitch them.)

I have to know what’s happening in the economy. I hope to retire, which means paying very careful attention to our savings and investments, keeping an eye on trends and developments. I also write on business, so need to know what’s going on out there. Thus: Forbes, Fortune, Barron’s, Bloomberg BusinessWeek (by far the best of the lot.) My husband also works in a newspaper business section. Do you know what BRIC stands for? Too easy? How about CIVET? Welcome to our world!

– I’m swamped! I blog three times every week. I sit on two volunteer boards. I write for a living, so am constantly cranking out copy, which leaves little time to read others’. I’m just way, way behind in my reading. Given limited time, and my addiction to news/analysis on radio, something’s gotta give! I try to read books as often as magazines. Given a choice, a book needs to win.

– I need story ideas.

– I seek good material and sources for my next book(s.)

– I need to see what my competitors are peers are producing, how well and how often. Now that I’ve become Facebook friends with some cool writers I admire, I want to be able to shoot them a letter of congratulations on their latest.

– I need inspiration. I need to read great reporting and writing to see how it’s done.

– Pleasure! I just love flipping through the pages. I find magazines fun, sensual and enjoyable, much more than reading on-line. (Yes, I know, this is very generational of me.) So for pleasure, I read The New Yorker and Wired. (I also occasionally read GQ and Esquire for this reason.) I do not, as you can see, read magazines focused on celebrities, shopping or entertainment. Just not my thing, especially with such limited time and attention already.

How about you?

Do you have unread stacks of magazines?

Which ones do you love most, and why?

(Or books and/or newspapers? I read two papers every day, The New York Times and the Financial Times, adding The Wall Street Journal on weekends. I didn’t even show you those piles!)

The death of an ordinary woman — justly celebrated

In aging, behavior, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, women on March 19, 2012 at 12:09 am

One of my close friends works at The Toronto Star, and tipped me off to this extraordinary piece of journalism, about a single, childless, non-celebrity 55-year-old Toronto woman named Shelagh Gordon.

The story came about the way the very best stories often do, when a reporter’s curiosity was piqued by an obituary privately submitted to the newspaper.

Shelagh was quirky, generous, fun, clumsy. She was not rich or well-known or politically powerful. Her husband and children — she had neither — had not carved out fame and fortune in the world.

Yet The Star decided to devote some of its most experienced career writers to chronicle this woman’s life.

She was, like many of us, simply a private citizen whose love for, and devotion to, the people in her private world brightened many lives for decades.

I’ve included a short excerpt here from this exceptional story.

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The Star dedicated unprecedented coverage to the funeral of 55-year-old Shelagh Gordon – interviewing more than 100 of her friends and family – to show how a modest life can have a huge impact.

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By Catherine Porter Columnist

I met Shelagh Gordon at her funeral.

She was soap-and-water beautiful, vital, unassuming and funny without trying to be. I could feel her spirit tripping over a purse in the funeral hall and then laughing from the floor.

She was both alone and crowded by love. In another era, she’d have been considered a spinster — no husband, no kids. But her home teemed with dogs, sisters, nieces, nephews and her “life partner” —a gay man — who would pass summer nights reading books in bed beside her wearing matching reading glasses.

Her relationships were as rich as the chocolate pudding pies she’d whip together.

She raced through ravines, airports and wine glasses (breaking them, that is). She dashed off dozens of text messages and emails and Facebook postings a day, usually mistyping words in her rush to connect.

Then, every afternoon, she’d soak for an hour in the bath while eating cut-up oranges and carrots and flipping the damp pages of a novel.

She called herself a “freak,” at first self-consciously and, later, proudly.

But my sharpest impression of Shelagh that day, as mourners in black pressed around me, was of her breathtaking kindness. Shelagh was freshly-in-love thoughtful.

I love this article and the rare journalistic commitment — in an era of celebrity fawning and faux fame — to celebrating an ordinary woman. I love its depth, detail, intimacy and humanity.

I hope you’ll make the time to read it in full, and share it through your own blogs and other social media.

Even better, please email or write to The Star, (whose editor in chief I’ve worked with twice before), to let him know how great this is. His name is Michael Cooke, 1 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5E 1E5,Canada.

Without trust, we’re toast. Guess what? We’re toast.

In behavior, blogging, books, business, journalism, Media, news on March 17, 2012 at 1:14 am
Česky: Foxconn Pardubice, GPS: 50°1'28.591&quo...

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There are few moments more nausea-inducing than realizing you have placed your trust and faith in the wrong person/place/institution.

I recently blogged, favorably, about a performance artist named Mike Daisey, whose one-man show about malfeasance at Foxconn, a Chinese manufacturing giant that makes computers for Apple, Dell and many others, was a huge hit here in the U.S., and received national attention and acclaim on This American Life, a respected and smart radio show.

Now it seems he made some of it up:

“Numerous fabrications” have been found in “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” the much-heralded story by Mike Daisey about dangerous and exploitative conditions in the Apple company’s Chinese factories.

Recent fact-checking about the story, which was first presented on Jan. 6, 2012 over National Public Radio outlets as an episode on Ira Glass’ show, “This American Life,” and subsequently performed as a critically acclaimed monologue at the New York Public Theatre (where it is scheduled to close Sunday after a much-extended run), has turned up inaccuracies involving facts both large and small, including the fabrication of several characters.

“The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” was to be performed by Daisey at the Chicago Theatre on April 7. That performance has been cancelled. And tonight, NPR affiliate WBEZ, 91.5 FM, will air a segment about the Daisey controversy on “Marketplace” (which begins at 6:30 p.m.), followed by a full hourlong investigation of the issues on “This American Life” (beginning at 7 p.m.).

The show is set to complete its runs at New York’s Public Theatre this Sunday. The theater, which does not plan to cancel the final performances, issued this statement:

“In the theater, our job is to create fictions that reveal truth — that’s what a storyteller does, that’s what a dramatist does. ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs’ reveals, as Mike’s other monologues have, human truths in story form.

And….cue dominoes falling.

This is the nature of journalism, for better and for worse. I now feel stupid and gullible for believing his “story form” — (WTF is that?) — and promoting his work.

But I also loathe, and want to expose, crummy and exploitative labor practices, some of which I wrote about in Malled, my book about retail work — in which I also detailed the eleven Foxconn worker suicides of May 2010. There have since been more.

I’m writing this on an Apple computer. I use an Ipad and an Apple laptop. My hands, morally speaking, are dirty!

Here’s the problem.

We want to work with people whose opinions, education, work ethic and principles we share and trust. Without the basic underpinning of trust — “Why, yes, I do believe your story” -- we can’t function culturally, socially, politically or financially.

We also all need to remain awake, skeptical, critical and questioning.

But the media — and I’ve been a journalist since 1980 — are also prey to “pack journalism”, rushing headlong to embrace the trope-of-the-day lest they look slow, stupid, uncool or lazy in front of their peers and bosses and readers and listeners.

And there are stories we want to believe. There are stories that are virtually impossible to report firsthand and when someone brings home the goods, we sigh in relief and hand them a laurel wreath for doing what we could not or did not or never would do ourselves.

Here’s yet another cheerful story this week of deception and broken trust — an Amish man who took $17 million from his co-religionists in 29 states and invested it improperly.

And an op-ed in this week’s New York Times called out some pretty ugly behaviors (gasp!) behind the doors of Goldman Sachs, where fat cat bankers call their clients “muppets”.

Wrote Greg Smith, 33, a GS banker who thus burned his bridges to his former employer:

Today, many of these leaders display a Goldman Sachs culture quotient of exactly zero percent. I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.

Such a world we live in!

Do you trust what you read and hear?

From which source(s) and why?

There’s a President sitting at the corner table…

In journalism, politics, US on February 24, 2012 at 12:40 am
President Bill Clinton 2007

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If you live, as I do, near the suburban New York town of Chappaqua, and if you like the local French bistro, Jardin du Roi, the odds are good you will see former U.S. President Bill Clinton there.

It’s a little like seeing a UFO or a unicorn, something you’ve heard about for years but thought…nah…not in my lifetime.

On our last visit, a few weeks ago, he was sitting at the corner table of this quiet, unpretentious bistro, run by a mid-life career changer named Joe, with two delicious blondes, women somewhere near his age. Knowing the deal, I asked my husband — who spent eight years in the White House Press Corps as a New York Times photographer, and who has met Clinton in that capacity — where’s his security detail?

Are there Secret Service agents who look like models?

It’s the second time we’ve seen him there. The first was decidedly odd, as he stood in the very narrow doorway to the restaurant — a large, bulky agent standing visibly a few feet away that time — and held forth to a rapt audience for a long time. His zeal for conversation was legendary when he was in office, but you might expect that of a politician who, in some measure, is always campaigning.

In private life, not so much.

It is a strange, if interesting, moment when you encounter someone so iconic in the flesh. After seeing thousands of images for decades, there they are!

I followed Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip around Canada for two weeks on their 1984 Royal Tour, and the cognitive dissonance was even greater. As a Canadian, I grew up with her image on our coins and stamps and, suddenly, right in front of me, there she was.

Not only was she a living, breathing woman, she was surrounded by an eddying sea of equerries and ladies-in-waiting. Not to mention her security detail, which included a devastatingly handsome Glaswegian in tweed and her bodyguard, a quiet, small man people referred to only as The Detective.

We watched an excellent two-part documentary on Clinton this week, on PBS show, The American Experience; if you ever wanted to know more about this man, or how American politics shape a President once he’s in office, I highly recommend it.

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