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Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

Is working at home your Holy Grail?

In behavior, books, business, children, culture, domestic life, family, life, news, parenting, women, work on July 10, 2013 at 2:22 am

By Caitlin Kelly

For millions of weary workers, the notion of being able to work from home — in comfy clothes, saving the time, money and energy of a long commute to the office — remains a fever dream.

In a recent front-page New York Times story, one mid-western mother describes how terrified she was to ask to work from home — one day a week — which she was granted:

Ms. Uttech, like many working mothers, is a married college graduate, and her job running member communications for an agricultural association helps put her family near the middle of the nation’s income curve. And like dozens of other middle-class working mothers interviewed about their work and family lives, she finds climbing a career ladder less of a concern than finding a position that offers paid sick leave, flexible scheduling or even the opportunity to work fewer hours. The ultimate luxury for some of them, in fact (though not for Ms. Uttech), would be the option to be a stay-at-home mother.

“I never miss a baseball game,” said Ms. Uttech, uttering a statement that is a fantasy for millions of working mothers (and fathers) nationwide. (This attendance record is even more impressive when you realize that her children play in upward of six a week.)

Ms. Uttech wants a rewarding career, but more than that she wants a flexible one. That ranking of priorities is not necessarily the one underlying best-selling books like Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” which advises women to seek out leadership positions, throw themselves at their careers, find a partner who helps with child care and supports their ambition, and negotiate for raises and promotions.

It’s a sad fact that many educated American workers are incredibly cowed. Few get more than two weeks’ vacation a year, if that. Many do not get paid sick days.

Image representing Sheryl Sandberg as depicted...

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. Image via CrunchBase

Because the country is ruled by a corporate mindset, because most employers hire you, legally, “at will” and can fire you the next day with no warning or severance or even a reason, because unions are at their lowest membership — 11 percent — since the Depression, few workers dare ask their boss for much of anything.

I’ve been working alone at home, as a freelance writer, since 2006, when I lost my last job, at 3pm on  Wednesday, at the New York Daily News, the country’s sixth-largest newspaper.

I’d had the “wood” — the entire front page of the newspaper — only two weeks earlier with a national exclusive. No matter. I was out the door and into a recession — in 2008, 24,000 journalists lost their jobs, too.

English: New York, New York. Newsroom of the N...

English: 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)

I decided, having worked freelance for many years at several points in my career, to just stay home and once more make my living that way. I would probably earn 30 to 50 percent more, possibly double, my income if I went to work for someone else. But we do not have children or other huge costs to manage, so this arrangement suits me and my husband.

I’d rather set my own hours and schedule, find my own work and do it without a manager or several breathing down my neck. I’ve had many full-time office jobs, some of which I enjoyed and several of which paid me close to six figures, which was indeed pleasant!

Working alone at home all day is, for many people, a dream come true. While it can get lonely and isolating, it is, in many ways. I play music if or when I wish. I wear shorts and a T-shirt when I’m not meeting someone. I set my own hours — not much different from those in an office — typically 9 or 10:00 a.m. to 4 or 5:00 p.m.

The two+ hours I save every day by not traveling to someone else’s office to do the same quality work at the same speed I produce alone at home? I can go to a movie or take a long walk or make soup at noon.

The Times piece — catnip for comments — quickly gathered 470 answers from readers, many of whom found the story’s focus on a woman and a mother misguided.

A few key issues are rarely addressed in these stories about the unabated lust for working at home:

1) We all — parents or not — juggle other people’s needs against those of our employer(s). Including our own needs, for rest, study, exercise. Endlessly focusing on parents’ needs wilfully ignores the industrial mindset that still rules many workplaces,

2) Others people’s needs are rarely neatly scheduled. The dog/baby/husband is projectile vomiting just as you’re expected to make a meeting or attend a conference. Your father/brother/son has a heart attack or stroke just when you’re gearing up for a new client meeting. So even if you get every Friday to work at home, shit will probably happen on every other day instead.

3) Given the insane amount of time we all waste spend every day on social media or communicating on-line, why can’t more employers allow more work to be done remotely, i.e. from home? Yes, some people are total slackers, but you know who they are already. Conference calls and Skype make meetings easy.

4) The Times story also gathered 439 comments within hours of publication, (many of them scathing), like:

a) mothers are not solely or exclusively responsible for their children’s care and house-chores; b) men are equally hungry for flex-time; c) children will not wither and die if their parents fail to attend and cheer every possible sports match or event.

In my case, I wondered why this woman is unable or unwilling to delegate at least some of the housework? She has sons 8 and 10 and a 15-year-old step-daughter. Teaching them to share responsibility seems a lot more essential to me than watching them play six baseball games a week.

5) If the United States (insert long loud bitter laugh) actually make it a legal requirement to offer subsidize/affordable daycare, flex-time, paid sick days or paid maternity leave, some of these concerns would abate.

Do you work from home right now?

Have you?

Do you wish you could?

Journalist or activist — who speaks (more) truth to power?

In behavior, blogging, books, journalism, Media, news, politics on July 4, 2013 at 3:18 am

By Caitlin Kelly

The ongoing firestorm surrounding the leaks by NSA contractor Edward Snowden to activist/journalist Glen Greenwald prompted New York Times media columnist David Carr this week to ask the question — who should we (most) believe?:

In a refracted media world where information comes from everywhere, the line between two “isms” — journalism and activism — is becoming difficult to discern. As American news media have pulled back from international coverage, nongovernmental organizations have filled in the gaps with on-the-scene reports and Web sites. State houses have lost reporters who used to provide accountability, so citizens have turned to digital enterprises, some of which have partisan agendas.

The question of who is a journalist and who is an activist and whether they can be one and the same continues to roar along, most recently in the instance of Glenn Greenwald’s reporting for The Guardian on the secrets revealed by Edward J. Snowden.

Sometimes, a writer’s motives or leanings emerge between the lines over time, but you need only to read a few sentences of Mr. Greenwald’s blog to know exactly where he stands. Mr. Greenwald is an activist who is deeply suspicious of government and the national security apparatus, and he is a zealous defender of privacy and civil rights.

He is also a journalist.

In some countries, the question is less pressing, perhaps, but in the United States, “objectivity” is professionally expected, and demanded, of anyone who purports to be a news journalist.

English: Globe and Mail newspaper staff wait f...

English: Globe and Mail newspaper staff wait for news of the D-Day invasion. Toronto, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been writing freelance for The New York Times since 1990 — an organization ferociously guarding its reputation. Every freelancer who writes for the Times is sent a long and detailed ethics code we’re all expected to abide by; this includes not accepting free trips, writing about people we know personally or covering a firm or product in which we have a financial interest.

The word “journalist” is, though has many different variations, sort of like the word “antique” — someone who rewrites press releases and hits “publish” or who trills about mascara and shoes is, in some eyes, as much a journalist  as someone with the respect and stature of Pulitzer Prize winners, like Katherine Boo or the late David Halberstam.

One of the reasons this matters more now is that many younger readers don’t look to standard media outlets, like newspapers, radio or television, to find out what’s happening in the world.

They only want to know what’s happening in their world, or to their friends or political allies.

Now some bloggers are doing what journalists traditionally have done — bearing witness firsthand — like this one, whose powerful account of the violence against women in Tahrir Square in Cairo is deeply depressing, but essential to know.

English: Tahrir Square, with the Egyptian Muse...

English: Tahrir Square, with the Egyptian Museum on left, circa 1940s Cairo (over 70 years ago). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She’s both a journalist, (by reporting this) and an activist; Opantish is a group fighting sexual assault on women:

Yesterday, June 30th, some friends and I joined a march
from Saray el Kobba to the presidential palace calling for Morsy’s
departure and also rejecting military rule. The atmosphere was largely
festive, with singing, chanting, banners and flags. After we joined
other marches congregating at the palace we stood around drinking iced
coffee in the shade, disoriented by the safe, upbeat atmosphere after
days of anxiety and with the knowledge that things would surely be
violent elsewhere in the country. I left to go to Tahrir and work with
Opantish, which was operating that evening.

Like many, I was stunned by how Tahrir and the surrounding streets
were carpeted by people protesting, mostly chanting against Morsy. I had
not seen so many people out around Tahrir before, not in the 18 days
that unseated Mubarak in 2011 or at any other time. Military helicopters
frequently circled the square, at one point bizarrely dropping Egyptian
flags onto the crowd in a blatant gesture of political partiality.

The atmosphere felt more threatening to me immediately after getting
out of the taxi near Tahrir, at which point it was still daylight. I
don’t understand what kind of subliminal group psychology contributes to
this, but it seems like there is some consensus that Tahrir and
downtown are areas where it is particularly ok to harass women. I don’t
know if geographic locations develop  certain reputations, and therefore
bring this behavior out in people.

I started my shift with Opantish at around 7 30 last night. We did
not wrap up until after 3 in the morning. We received 46 reports of
cases of mob sexual assault in and around Tahrir.

I’ve been making my living as a journalist since university, and have been a reporter for three major dailies, The Globe and Mail and Montreal Gazette, in Canada and the New York Daily News, the U.S.’s sixth-largest daily. In those jobs, I was expected to be fair to both sides, giving, whenever possible, both versions of whatever story I was covering. Although some stories — like this one about mobs of men attacking and raping women — really don’t have a defensible or rational “other side” to seek and share.

A Dutch female journalist was raped by five men, in return for trying to do her job. Should she, as some comments suggest here at Jezebel, an American feminist website, not have gone to Tahrir Square at all?

New York Daily News front page on August 9

New York Daily News front page on August 9 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The one place I can take the gloves off, intellectually speaking, is in my books — and I have. In them, I’m able to ferociously and unapologetically state my personal opinion, and advocate for or against anything I want.

My first book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” includes interviews with 104 men, women and teens, some who love guns and others traumatized by their use. A few critics cringed at my graphic descriptions of what a bullet does when it hits flesh.

My second book — published this month in China — describes my experience, and that of many others nationwide, working for low wages in a store, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.” I took my employer to the woodshed in its final chapter, fed up with terrible pay and escalating demands, rude customers and an ongoing lack of corporate support for front-line workers everywhere, not just our suburban New York mall.

I later received dozens of private emails, from retail workers past and present, thanking me for speaking out, telling the ugly truths behind the bright lights and costly ad campaigns. I was glad to be able to tell their stories.

Someone has to.

Where are you getting your information about the world?

Are you out there actively fighting for or against a cause — and writing about it?

Who — if anyone — do you believe?

Can you save more than $5.09/day? You’d better start!

In aging, behavior, domestic life, life, Money, seniors, US, women, work on June 17, 2013 at 12:05 am

By Caitlin Kelly

If you want to scare the shit out of almost any American — those who don’t have a defined-benefit pension guaranteed to them — which knocks out most workers, ask them how much money they have saved for their retirement.

retirement

retirement (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

The median figure, among those aged 55 to 64, (i.e. an age group, traditionally, potentially planning/hoping to retire within a decade or less), is a mere $63,100.

The median among all Americans is a staggeringly low $10,890, (minus the value of a home and/or vehicle.)

When New York Times writer Jeff Sommer recently wrote that $1 million wouldn’t do much, more than 600 readers weighed in with comments, prompting him to tackle the subject again the following week.

My math works like this — if, when (if) you graduate from college at 22 and start working immediately, you begin saving $5.09 every day, some $36.00 every week, or $144 every month, every year without a break — and with no accrued or compound interest from investing that money — you’d end up with the $63,100 median figure.

Surely we can do better?

For some people, right now, saving $5.09 every day, all seven days of every week, is impossible. Their living costs cannot be trimmed in any way, and/or their wages are too low.

Many fresh graduates, and older workers, are unable to find paid work in this economy. They are stalled, frustrated, broke, angry. Some carry enormous debt burdens of homes underwater or student loans they cannot discharge through bankruptcy. Some people are very ill, or have very ill family members for whom they must add the cost of care and the time it takes — i.e. unpaid labor — to do this as well.

But…for the rest of you, snap that wallet shut!

The culture that most Americans live in is one that continues to glorify and fetishize spending lots of cash, (or credit, mostly), acquiring tons of shit that’s new and shiny and cooler than everyone else’s — whether an Ipad or Ipod, phone, car, house, vacation, clothing, whatever. You can blow easily thousands of dollars on a freaking baby stroller, if that somehow seems essential to you.

Television and social media and the internet bring very rich peoples’ lives into our own. We can press our greasy little noses against the impenetrable glass wall of their luxuries and whine: “Why not me?”

You can go broke even trying to keep up.

saving and spending

saving and spending (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

I’ve been lucky. I grew up in Canada, a nation that still chooses — with much higher rates of taxation — to heavily subsidize college education. My annual tuition, from 1975 to 1979, (yes, really) was $660 a year. I was able to put myself through university and graduate debt-free.

I’ve also been able, since my second year of university, to sell my writing, photography, editing and translating skills to others — and had the developed skills, delivered on or before deadline every time, to make them want more of my work.

I’ve been fortunate, since the age of 22, to be able to share housing on four occasions, which helped cut my living costs in two expensive places — suburban New York and Toronto.

I’ve been grateful for good health, so I have never lost months or years to debilitating illness(es) and treatments that would have prevented me from working.

But that’s one side of the ledger — the getting side.

I’m also cheap as hell, when necessary, and it was necessary for years on end, especially when single paying $500 a month for health insurance, and facing three recessions in my industry.

I’ve chosen to stay in a one-bedroom apartment for 25 years. Would I prefer a second or third bedroom or bathroom? A backyard and fireplace and verandah? Hell, yes. But did I want to assume a much larger mortgage payment and longer repayment term? No. Nor the stress of fearing potential homelessness. Ever.

I’ve been saving 15 to 25 percent of my income every single year for years.

Our ironing board recently broke. I paid $4.30 at our local thrift shop for another one. Score!

When my income bottomed out to a terrifying degree in 2007 to 2009, I took a part-time retail job ($11/hour no commission) and bought my clothes and shoes from consignment shops.

Until my ex-husband moved in, I had no television. Until my second husband moved in — when I was in my early 40s — I did not have cable or a cellphone ($200/month saved right there.) I drove a used, paid-for car, as we still do.

A friend of mine runs her own company, an investment fund, literally managing millions of other people’s money. She drives a Mini Cooper, not a Mercedes or Lexus or Range Rover, the vehicle people expect.

“That’s how I got a million dollars,” she says, with a knowing smile.

We plan to be mortgage-free by 65. We have no children. We will have multiple income streams, one of which is our savings. Adding to them is a non-negotiable part of our life, as automatic, necessary (and boring!) as brushing our teeth.

Here’s an interesting, helpful and smart post from Dailyworth.com about how to face up to the reality that we all need to save (more!) money and invest it as wisely as possible.

Are you saving for retirement?

If not, why not?

If not, how do you plan to pay for your living costs in your 70s, 80s and beyond? (People insist they will keep working. Find me the employer willing to hire a 75-year-old.)

I miss our “kids”

In aging, behavior, education, journalism, life, Media, US, work on June 8, 2013 at 12:03 am

By Caitlin Kelly

NYTSI2013_2clowres

They’re not really kids, of course, and they’re not ours.

They were, briefly, ours to teach and mentor and work with.

A week ago, Jose, I, and other veteran journalists, working as editors and web specialists,  from Tucson, Boston and New York, said a reluctant farewell to the 24 young men and women starting to work in journalism — scattered this summer to internships at CNN in Atlanta, the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Oregonian in Portland to name a few — that we met during The New York Times Student Journalism Institute in Tucson.

The Times has been offering the Institute for a few years now, alternating between Hispanic and African-American students, in Tucson and in New Orleans. It’s a terrific chance for students to come and be mentored, one-on-one, by veterans of our business.

It’s also, for Jose and I — who don’t have kids, or even nieces or nephews close at hand — a lovely chance to meet, mentor and get to know the next generation of journalists. Their passion, energy, smarts and excitement are invigorating. It’s so fun to watch them jumping headlong into difficult and challenging projects, helping their skills develop and their confidence grow.

We’re also deeply touched when, as happens every year, we’re each pulled aside and asked some tough personal questions by young people we have barely met, but who are hungry for candid answers from veterans a few decades into their chosen field:

How do you define success? Can I be a good journalist and have a thriving marriage? How? What about kids?

Can I get ahead and not be a total jerk about it?

How will I be able to handle the pressure? What if I can’t?

We offer them our insights, and hope they’re helpful.

Jose and I admit, though, that we would have breezed right past one another in our gogogogogogogo 20s, even 30s, desperate to carve out our niches within this hyper-competitive industry.

We were lucky enough to meet in our early 40s, too late to have kids of our own, but have remained close with several Institute alumni and hope to do so with several of this year’s group as well. Marie de Jesus, an Institute alum now working at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, even shot our wedding in Toronto in 2011.

English: Star Tribune Assembly Process. Kiswah...

English: Star Tribune Assembly Process. Kiswahili: Star Tribune Mchakato wa uchapishaji. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But it’s hard to offer truly useful advice to newcomers to journalism these days, whether employed or not, intern or freelance. The euphemism used to describe our industry these days is “disrupted” — aka chaos, guessing and hoping for the best.

One of the Institute students, hired as a summer intern by the Sun-Times, was flabbergasted as we all learned that the paper had suddenly and abruptly fired all 28 of its staff shooters and is now teaching its reporters, instead, to take photos with their I-phones.

That seemed to suggest that Alex, our student, would be the only trained news photographer on staff, suddenly responsible for covering — you know — the entire city of Chicago single-handed.

Are you fucking kidding me?

Here’s what Fortune magazine had to say about that:

Reporters, it should be noted, are in general terrible at taking pictures. Photographs snapped on iPhones by photographically inept reporters who are also trying to gather information at an accident scene, for example, are not going to impress anyone, digitally savvy or not. Journalism schools (again, often working from the addled theories of certain tech pundits and consultants) have been pushing the idea of “multimedia journalism” — that is, having reporters take photos and shoot video. Many of them offer training in this area. Most often, this results in nothing more than one person doing three jobs poorly rather than doing one job well. It also tends to sabotage the notion that all of these are professional endeavors and to strengthen the false notion that anybody could perform any of them equally well. This reveals a shocking level of disrespect for both journalists and readers.

It’s as if your local hospital fired every staff surgeon — handing kitchen knives to the orderlies, with which to cut us all open.

Not.

What do we tell our “kids”, then, in the face of such naked greed and stupidity? That this is the quality of senior management of the profession they have chosen? Sometimes, sadly, yes it is.

Chicago Sun-Times Building

Chicago Sun-Times Building (Photo credit: MA1216)

So our “kids” — now connected to one another, and to some of us, through every possible iteration of social media — are off on their own. We’ve called our pals in every city they’ve landed to make sure someone local and helpful, usually a fellow journo or photographer, is offering them a meal and a welcome.

We look forward to seeing their photos and stories, to hearing their tales of woe and joy.

We miss them!

Trivia time! Are you smarter than a NYC reporter?

In culture, entertainment, journalism, Media, US on May 18, 2013 at 10:07 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

English: New York, New York. Newsroom of the N...

English: 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)

Last week I went back to defend our title in the Asian American Journalists Association annual trivia contest, which The New York Times won last year, beating The Wall Street Journal, Fox News and others.

Each company can bring a team of ten, and the goal is to raise funds for scholarships and other AAJA programs. Being a trivia fiend who once qualified for Jeopardy, this is my kind of night!

It was held in a beautiful ballroom on Broad Street, at very southern end of Manhattan, a half a block from the New York Stock Exchange. It’s a part of the city I never visit, where all you can see are thin slices of sky barely visible above the narrow, steep canyon walls of skyscrapers. Guys with gelled hair in costly suits stride past, weary from a day of moving millions, or billions, of dollars.

It also reminded me, sadly, how terrifying 9/11 must have been down there as thousands of people ran as fast and far as they could from the huge dark cloud of dust and debris that chased them through those narrow streets.

The event brought out a combined team from CBS/ABC, from General Motors (the main sponsor) and others, including AARP, who were nothing if not consistent — dead-last in 8th. place the whole evening.

We were tied for fourth through the first four rounds, suddenly ascending after the fifth round to second place — but losing by (shriek) three points. But we had a blast, got to know some new people and are even more determined to re-claim the Tea Cup next year.

The raffle prizes must have been bid on by our table alone as we kept winning them. I scored a $450 three-month health club membership for my $20 worth of tickets. Cool!

So, my dears, here are some of the 60 questions lobbed at us.

No Googling!

Which actor has won the most Academy Awards?

What is the best-selling album of all time?

What is the longest-running scripted show on American television?

From which novel did the company Starbucks get its name?

How many oceans are there?

What is the capital of West Virginia?

Pluto was re-classified as a planet to….?

Which dinosaur turned out not to be real after all?

What is the name of the spacecraft that landed on the moon?

Which two lawyers argued the Scopes monkey trial?

Which designer currently heads the Fashion Designers Council of America?

What was the 48th. state?

What is the only even prime number?

What country lies directly north of Germany?

Who is the founder of Standard Oil?

Which President is the only one to have held a patent?

Which American athlete has won the most Winter Olympics medals?

Which fashion designer took over after the death of Alexander McQueen?

Go!

The writer’s week: two conferences, new headshot, juggling five stories at once

In behavior, blogging, books, business, entertainment, journalism, life, Media, work on April 28, 2013 at 12:10 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Time Selector

Time Selector. Never enough!!! (Photo credit: Telstar Logistics)

This was the week I thought my head — like the watermelon in The Day of The Jackal — would simply explode.

Too many people needed too many things from me, all done without delay and without error, handled with grace and aplomb, all at once.

Last Saturday, Jose and I attended a fantastic day-long conference in Manhattan, oddly enough in the same building he works in daily, at the New York Times’ Center, a bright, airy auditorium that faces an inner courtyard filled with tall birch trees. It was a social media summit, and included speakers from BBC, the Times, ad agencies and even reporters from Russia and Iran.

I found the whole day fascinating — rare for any conference.

It was also the perfect time to chew over the ethics and issues of crowd-sourced reporting after the bombing in Boston. A young student, Sunil Trapathi, had been mistakenly identified on social media as a possible culprit — his body was found in the Providence, RI Harbor last week.

The conference audience was a mix of students, working journalists from such legacy media outlets as The Atlantic and the popular NPR radio show Fresh Air, think-tank types and social media experts. There was much hand-wringing about how to do better reporting faster and better. Is social media helping or hurting?

Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian with the Reddit ...

Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian with the Reddit Alien (Photo credit: Anirudh Koul)

Here’s an analysis of why this went so terribly wrong so quickly, from the atlantic.com:

the names that went out over first social networks and then news blogs and websites were not Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, which the Federal Bureau of Investigation released early this morning. Instead, two other people wholly unconnected to the case, became, for a while, two of America’s most notorious alleged criminals.

This is the story, as best as I can puzzle it out, about how such bad information about this case became widely shared and accepted within the space of a couple of hours before NBC’s Pete Williams’ sources began telling the real story about the alleged bombers’ identities.

The story begins with speculation on Twitter and Reddit that a missing Brown student, Sunil Tripathi, was one of the bombers. One person who went to high school with him thought she recognized him in the surveillance photographs. People compared photos they could findof him to the surveillance photos released by the FBI. It was a leading theory on the subreddit devoted to investigating the bombing that Tripathi was one of the terrorists responsible for the crime.

I spent all week fine-tuning this story in today’s New York Times’ business section, the fifth published there in a year, my best run anywhere, ever. It’s a story I proposed many months ago, reported in the frigid depths of February in Montreal, followed up with many phone and email interviews along the way.

English: The New York Times building in New Yo...

English: The New York Times building in New York, NY across from the Port Authority. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a profile of Ubisoft, the fourth-largest video game maker in the world, with 7,540 employees worldwide and 2,500 in their Montreal studio — 82 percent of them male.

I had never played a video game when I pitched the story, really more interested in a French company operating in 26 countries and how they manage creativity.

Tuesday, my editor at Ladies Home Journal rejected six of the 12 (!) sources I’d found for my story. I had no time to handle this, and she’s quitting next week. I threw it to my poor overloaded assistant, with an email whose subject line started with the sincere word URGENT.

Wednesday evening at 6:30, an editor I’d pitched a day earlier said yes to a story — as long as it was delivered by Monday. Sure, no problem.

Jose, my husband who is a photo editor there, met me at the Times and took this new headshot. (Thanks, honey!)

caiti blog image 2

I went down to Bizday and said hello to the people I’ve worked with there.

Thursday was an entire day at the ASJA annual conference, listening to a wide array of editors, (hoping to find new markets), and catching up with friends from all over the country, many with new books to promote and one waiting to hear if he’s won a big fellowship, with only 12 awards to be made among 36 applicants.

The young man sitting at the next table during one session was a winner of the fellowship for which, last December, I was one of 14 finalists (of 278 applicants.) Gah.

Friday morning was an almost impossible juggling act of incoming and out-going emails and phone interviews, (with a lobbyist in D.C., then a Kentucky senator, then an interior designer), while the Times’ copy desk and my editor pelted me with last-minute questions, (necessitating more fact-checking calls and emails to sources in Montreal and Los Angeles.)

In an oddly fortunate coincidence, two of my current assignments focus on aging, so I learned a lot, some of it immensely helpful for my own future, and my readers. In conversation with the Kentucky senator, I learned of a possibly really interesting feature story, which is often where I get my ideas.

I emailed Stacy Zoern, about whom I wrote for the Times last week, and asked if I can come out to Austin, Texas to do a much longer and more detailed story about her. She said yes.

Now I just need to find another editor with a travel budget and some serious money to spend!

My tribe

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, life, Media, work on April 26, 2013 at 4:51 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I spent yesterday at the annual conference in New York City of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, a 1,400-member group founded in 1947. There were writers there with Pulitzer prizes and best-selling books and HBO series and made-for-TV movies and options and…

A girl could feel mighty small in that crowd!

The New Yorker

The New Yorker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not to mention editors from publications like The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, New Republic and the New Yorker, four of the — arguably — most desirable markets for magazine writers in the U.S. (Only one of whom, from VF, was female.)

Instead, it was a terrific day of fierce hugs and nostalgia and excited shrieks over new books, and books currently being looked at by Major Publishers, and awards and pregnancies and a friend’s daughter accepted to a good (if costly!) college.

English: proportion of MRSA human blood isolat...

English: proportion of MRSA human blood isolates from participating countries in 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was Greg, who writes great stuff about nature and the outdoors, and Maryn, whose book Superbug, about MRSA (flesh eating bacteria) is absolutely riveting and terrifying, and Dan, with his new book about endangered wildlife of Vietnam.

In the hallway, I bumped into a woman with a suitcase and recognized Helaine Olen, whose fantastic book about how we’ve all been conned by the financial services industry I gave a rave review a few months ago in The New York Times.

Helaine Olen

Helaine Olen (Photo credit: New America Foundation)

I served on the ASJA board for six years and still volunteer as a trustee of the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund, which can write a check of up to $4,000 — a grant — to a needy non-fiction writer within a week. (If you can ever spare even $20 for the cause of decent journalism and the freelancers who produce so much of it, I’d be thrilled if you’d donate to WEAF.)

So I know lots of people through that, and have given back some of my time and talents to the industry I’ve been working in since 1978.

I went out for dinner that night with Maryn and three new-to-me women writers, all crazy accomplished and of course the conversation quickly turned to — female serial killers. That’s what happens when you get a bunch of newshounds at the same table; four of us had worked for major dailies and all miss the adrenaline rush of working a Big Story. So we do it now for magazines and books and newspapers and websites.

It was, in the most satisfying and nurturing way, a gathering of the tribe — people who had come from Geneva and Paris and San Diego and Toronto and Atlanta and Minneapolis and Vermont and New Hampshire and Maine, all hungry to be in some small, crowded stuffy meeting rooms to talk about what it is we do and how to do it better.

We write. We tell stories. We wake up bursting to share the cool, moving, sad, powerful, holy-shit-can-you-believe-it? richness of the world, all the untold tales that surround us every day, just there, waiting for us to capture, pitch, sell and tell them.

That’s my tribe.

What’s yours?

Are you over — or under-confident?

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, domestic life, education, journalism, life, Media, men, news, women, work on April 23, 2013 at 2:58 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Have you seen the Dove ad everyone is talking about?

David Brooks, a conservative columnist in the liberal New York Times, asks four related questions in today’s column:

My perception in college was that more men were seminar baboons — dominating the discussions whether they had done the reading or not. But now, when I visit college classes, the women seem just as assertive as the men.

But I’m not sure that this classroom assertiveness carries out into the world of work, or today’s family and friendship roles. And I’m not sure we’ve achieved parity when it comes to elemental confidence. When you read diaries of women born a century or centuries ago, you sometimes see
them harboring doubts about their own essential importance, assumptions that they are to play a secondary role on earth, and feelings that their identity is dependent on someone else. How much does that mind-set linger?

….how do you combine the self-critical ability to recognize your limitations with the majestic confidence required to struggle against them? I guess I’m asking how to marry self-criticism and self-assertion, a blend our society is inarticulate about. I guess I’m wondering, as we make this blend, whether most of us need more of the stereotypically female trait of self-doubt or the stereotypically male trait of self-promotion.

I’ve blogged about this issue many times — here, here and here, on why men seem happier to blog more than women.

Brooks is not a stupid man, but, dude seriously?

Women harbor doubts about their own essential importance, single or not, child-free or not, because so much of our value is placed on other people’s firm and fixed beliefs that we are still at our best when:

-- safely neutered/married

– mothers

– silent

– earning less

– far from corporate power (like C-suites and boards of directors)

– absent from political seats of power

– polite, quiet, obedient, quick to defer to male authority

Women’s putative (or real) lack of self-confidence also fuels billion-dollar industries: fashion, cosmetics, plastic surgery, diet foods and methods, many of which focus on our external appearance, not the intelligence, drive, ambition and people skills we also need consistently and in abundance to succeed, certainly in any competitive professional setting.

It's not that hard to say no

It’s not that hard to say no (Photo credit: cheerfulmonk)

I recently saw a perfect example of this difference. I met a man, a bit younger than I, when we were both honored with the task of judging a journalism award. Within minutes of meeting me, he felt the urge to tell me he had earned more than $100,000 in his last magazine job and now had two $8,000 writing assignments at the same time.

Really? I needed to know this?

More like he really felt the need to fan his gleaming little peacock tail before me.

The Pulitzer Prize gold medal award 한국어: 퓰리처상 ...

The Pulitzer Prize gold medal award 한국어: 퓰리처상 공공 보도 부문 상인 금메달 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My husband has a Pulitzer prize, a fact I am too happy to tell people, while he (bless him) never mentions it. I have a National Magazine award and two well-reviewed non-fiction books, and hundreds of published articles, to my name. Whatev!

And yet…..and yet…In the United States, modesty is a career-threatening approach. Blowhards like Mr. $$$$$$ above seem to be the ones winning the brass rings.

If I choose to keep my mouth shut about my many accomplishments, it’s a choice of being modest — not a lack of self-confidence!

And women who peacock are often treated as pariahs, by men who find them threatening and women who often loathe them for proudly speaking out when they’re too damn scared to do the same.

I’ve lived this issue since my teens, when I sold a photo of mine to my high school and began writing for national publications at 19, neither of which could have happened without a shitload of self-confidence.

How about you?

How do you balance these two things in your own life?

Here’s how to sell your writing (and stay sane in the process)

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, Media, US, work on April 4, 2013 at 1:45 am

Here’s an interesting post, recently featured on Freshly Pressed, about the importance of luck to a writer’s success:

I don’t mean to sound defeatist or to say it’s all about chance. This isn’t sour grapes (I don’t have a bestseller because I never got lucky, etc.). No, talent and marketing and skill and savvy all help put the writer in a position where the odds are better. But it really does seem to me that, at least in some cases, luck is as much a factor as talent.

And in some cases, more.

No one seems to talk about it, though. Maybe because it’s something that can’t be taught–or sold–on a website.

I’ve been writing for a living — my sole income — since my second year of university. I was an undergrad studying English literature at the University of Toronto and all I wanted to do was become a journalist. I decided not to study journalism because I knew I needed a broader education and wanted that instead. (I’ve never formally studied journalism or writing.)

Victoria University at University of Toronto

Victoria University at University of Toronto (Photo credit: MKImagery (Toronto))

Here are some of the ways, since 1978, that I have found editors and agents to whom I’ve sold my work, and/or gotten staff writing jobs:

— While at college I worked at the weekly college newspaper. I wrote long, complex features so I would have clips (samples) to show to paying editors of what I could produce. Moral: What’s your goal? Start accumulating the skills you need and the visible proof you have them.

— I cold-called editors at every major magazine and asked for meetings. I got them. Moral: Be bold! No one is going to hand you your success.

– When I had the meeting, I went in with a multi-page list of story ideas and would not leave the office until I had sold one of them and had a firm, paid assignment. Moral: Be prepared. Be way over-prepared.

— After I had amassed a larger pile of clips, I began aiming higher, for more prestigious or better-paying markets. Moral: Never stop moving. What’s your next step and what will get you there?

— I talked myself into a meeting with the editor of a local weekly section of our national newspaper, The Globe and Mail. I got a column to write about shopping, for anything, that paid me, then, $125 a week, $600 a month. (My annual tuition was $660. No, that’s not missing a zero.) Moral: Try for a regular gig.

Paris Exposition: Eiffel Tower, Paris, France,...

Paris Exposition: Eiffel Tower, Paris, France, 1900 (Photo credit: Brooklyn Museum)

— I won a journalism fellowship, at 25, for eight months in Europe, based in Paris, traveling on four 10-day reporting trips alone. It changed me, and my work, forever. Moral: Aim high. Start applying for rocket-boosting opportunities once you have the skills and resume to compete for them.

English: Globe and Mail newspaper staff wait f...

English: Globe and Mail newspaper staff wait for news of the D-Day invasion. Toronto, Canada. It looked a little different by the time I worked there! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

— I got my job at the Globe and Mail six months after returning from the fellowship. Moral: strike while the iron is hot and you have a significant point of difference from your many competitors.

— I got my job there after hearing that the sports editor was soon to become the managing editor; i.e. he was the one to impress, now. I knew nothing about sports! He sent me to cover several huge, high-profile sports stories, knowing that. I rocked it. Moral: Follow your targets closely to know when an opportunity exists. Then impress the hell out of the person with the budget and authority to hire you.

— I got my job at the Montreal Gazette when a Globe colleague who once worked there tipped them off I might be looking for a new opportunity. Moral: Find and make allies.

— I fell in love with an American who was moving to (!) a small, remote town in New Hampshire for the next four years. Because I had been stringing for Time for a few years already, while working in full-time jobs, I asked my Time editor if he knew of any jobs there. I got a well-paid contract job there — which is insanely improbable — through one of his former New York magazine colleagues. Moral: If you don’t ask for help, you never know what might happen.

— I found every agent I’ve had through personal contacts. The first came to me through one of my NYU journalism students, who knew someone at William Morris who knew three new agents hungry for clients. Moral: Put the word out and take the chance.

— I started writing for The New York Times in 1990 after I called someone from my Paris fellowship (eight years earlier), living in New Orleans. I called an editor at the Times Book Review who began giving me 300-word reviews to produce on topics that were really difficult and often boring. I did them, gratefully. It gave me a Times byline. Moral: Start wherever you have to. But be strategic.

The New York Times Book Review

The New York Times Book Review (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I won a National Magazine Award in Canada, for humor, for an essay about surviving my divorce. It’s a topic many would avoid writing about: painful, private, cliched. Instead, I turned it into something (darkly) funny. I tried to sell it to an American women’s magazine who quickly rejected it. I sold it to a Canadian women’s magazine, who submitted it for the award. Moral: Rejection is normal. Get over it! Move on. Find another market. Or ten.

— Once you find an editor who likes your work, hang on tight! Repeat business will save you a ton of wasted time and energy. Moral: Remember the 80/20 rule of business; 80 percent of your business likely comes from 20 percent of your clients.

– But, think like Caesar and keep on conquering. Never rest on your laurels, as editors can lose a job with scary speed and you can very quickly lose a nice little sinecure. Moral: ABC, Always Be Closing (i.e. making sales.)

– Last week I got an email from someone I have never met, a man who lives in Beirut, who is married to an NPR correspondent. He and I were both bloggers for True/Slant, in 2009. He asked me for a valuable editorial contact — while offering me one of his. Win-win! Moral: If you’re going to ask for help, offer something of value upfront in return. No one likes a taker.

– Remember that publishing remains a team sport. If you’re selling to print publications, think about the art or photos to go with your story. If you’re working on books, be polite and kind to everyone as no one is likely getting rich and most of them love this work as much as you do. Moral: If you plan to stay in this game, keep your nose clean.

Selling your writing is hard!

It’s tiring.

It can take a much longer time to “succeed” than you thought possible.

You may have to re-define what “success” looks like: Tons of money? Huge readership? A TV show or movie based on your work? Or…some appreciative readers and some people who will pay for your skills?

Sell, Sell, Sell

Sell, Sell, Sell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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