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Posts Tagged ‘newspapers’

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.

Today’s journalism — plagiarism, scandal and other forms of editorial mayhem

In aging, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, Media, Technology, work on August 1, 2012 at 12:44 am
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 recently spent a few hours with a rising senior at a top American university who thinks he might want to become a journalist. I agreed, because he’s been interning for a good friend of mine.

He will graduate with $68,000 in debt.

But what, really, can I tell him?

I wonder if my field is still worth entering or committing to: financially terribly insecure, often poorly paid and sadly formulaic in its thinking.

The web’s ruthless drive to get news first destroys, at worst, the larger goal of being accurate. Of telling us why a story matters, not simply that it exists.

And, please God, not just telling us what another sad sack “celebrity” wore to buy a latte.

Here’s a heartening little tale, that of 31-year-old Jonah Lehrer, whose enviable trajectory of best-selling books and, (most coveted of all), a staff job at the New Yorker, recently ended with his admission of making shit up.

Dude, seriously?

If there is anything more annoying than the latest tyro being glorified, it’s finding out, (which keeps happening), they’re a lying plagiarist. Typical of these sorts of debacles is the statement from New Yorker editor David Remnick that this discovery is “terrifically sad.”

No, it’s not. When I Facebooked my feelings about this, several of my veteran journalism colleagues chimed in, agreeing with my disgust.

What it is is someone who’s gotten the sort of opportunities most of will never even get near treating them carelessly. Sort of like the Yale grad who was fired this summer from her reporting job at The Wall Street Journal.

It’s like being given the keys to a shiny new Escalade and dinging the doors because…you can.

For those of you living outside the U.S., perhaps less familiar with the narrow and slippery rungs of privilege here — getting into an Ivy League school, (Lehrer attended one as well, Columbia), is extremely difficult. Every year there costs about $40,000+. Then gilded doors swing open to you, at places like the New Yorker, many of whose staffers also attended prep schools and Ivies.

An article in the June Vanity Fair was a name-drop-fest of elite privilege and Ivy log-rolling:

Ben Bradlee, the managing editor of The Washington Post from 1968 to 1991…hired me fresh out of college as a night police reporter the year he took the paper’s helm—we had been members of the same undergraduate club at Harvard…Harvard has been a big feeder of The New Yorker over the years, particularly the Lampoon, where I was the jester, dancing on the table in a multicolored jingling outfit at Thursday-night black-tie dinners, from 1965 to 1968.

Charm and connections offer these folks rare and much-coveted opportunities to publish in the most respected and influential of outlets, while, almost daily, dozens more journalists are being fired, their odds of getting back in at their previous level of skill or wages, slim to none; 24,000 of us lost our jobs in 2008.

Many of us, and many over 45, are now working at home for a fraction of our former incomes.

Freelance pay rates today are often as low as they were 30 years ago, (while the cost of living has risen tremendously), typically paying $1/word.

If you’re writing 3,500 to 5,000 words, you’re cool. But very few publications still assign at that length; more typically 500 to 1,200 words. You do the math on the volume we now need to pump out to simply get the bills paid. Pre-recession, the big mags were paying $3/word; now you’re lucky to get $2/word.

Yet the way journalists think and behave editorially hasn’t changed much, or enough.

Here’s a recent New York Times piece by their media columnist David Carr, writing on the Murdoch phone-hacking scandals:

Now would seem to be journalism’s big moment to turn that light on itself, with deeply reported investigative articles about how things went so wrong: the failures of leadership, the skewed values and the willingness of an industry to treat the public with such contempt. The Guardian correctly suggested that the arrests were unprecedented in the history of newspapers.

But because it is the news business and the company in the sights is News Corporation, the offenders are seen as outliers. The hacking scandal has mostly been treated as a malady confined to an island, rather than a signature event in a rugged stretch for journalism worldwide. Collectively, the press in the United States put more time and effort into pulling back the blankets on the indiscretions of Herman Cain.

But journalism’s ills don’t live exclusively on Fleet Street or stop at British shores. While American newspapers don’t publish in the hypercompetitive landscape that played a role in the tabloid excesses in Britain, the growing ecosystem of Web and cable news shares many of the same characteristics and, all too often, its failings. Economic pressures have increased the urgency to make news and drive traffic, even as budgets have been cut and experienced news professionals tossed overboard.

Here’s an excerpt from a new autobiography by a top American editor, describing how print fell prey to digital media.

Do you write for a living — or hope to?

What do you think of media these days?

You Call That Hard Work?

In behavior, books, business, journalism, life, Money, photography, television, the military, work on June 20, 2011 at 12:42 pm
“]Cover of "Gorky Park [Region 2]"

We watched the terrific 1983 movie “Gorky Park” on the weekend.

In it, a young and handsome William Hurt, playing a Moscow cop, decides to reconstruct the facial features of two murder victims. In order to do so, he has the coroner (of course!) saw off their heads, which he then transports in two plain cardboard boxes tied with string.

Hm.

Carting about severed heads strikes me as a fairly tough day at the office….

Journalists’ jobs often throw them into bizarre and dangerous situations. You never really know what to expect when you work at a newspaper or wire service: might be a plane crash, the aftermath of a hurricane or another lying politician weeping to the cameras about his mistakes.

You learn to keep a fresh shirt and tie in your desk drawer and women, depending what sort of stories they’re covering, learn to wear flats and clothing you can run, squat and even climb in comfortably. (Yes, that would rule out pencil skirts and stilettos.) You discover that ink freezes taking notes in sub-zero temperatures.

The sweetie faced a much tougher gig than I — six weeks in Bosnia at Christmas, alone, shooting photos for The New York Times. He slept in an unheated cargo container, almost died in a snowdrift at dusk and ate a cup of dried chicken soup as his holiday meal. Like a soldier, he slept in his long underwear for weeks. Showers were rare.

My toughest? I’ve had a few, more emotionally draining than physically demanding or frightening. Sent on a midtown stake-out, I had to stalk a Quebecoise tourist who’d been stabbed in the ass (welcome to New York) — because I was the only Daily News reporter who spoke French. I hated chasing her around a local deli asking questions as much as she resented the intrusion on her privacy.

In Montreal, the night before I took my driving test, I had to cover a horrific car-bus head-on collision, the car’s windows sheeted with blood.

In Winnipeg, interviewing a woman whose life had been turned upside down by a terrible drug side effect meant watching her shake and cry, her Parkinsons’ disease aggravated by the very stress of talking to me about her nightmare. I felt like a demon. It was the only way to get the story.

Here’s the classic whine, “Money for Nothing” from Dire Straits:

Now look at them yo-yo’s that’s the way you do it
You play the guitar on the MTV
That ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
Money for nothin’ and chicks for free
Now that ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
Lemme tell ya them guys ain’t dumb
Maybe get a blister on your little finger
Maybe get a blister on your thumb

What’s the hardest thing you ever did and got paid for?

On Assignment!

In blogging, books, business, journalism, Media, travel, work on March 18, 2011 at 12:19 pm
The offices of The Gazette newspaper on Saint ...

One of my former newspaper employers...Image via Wikipedia

Are there any sweeter words?

Not for me.

I’ve been writing for a living since I was 18 and almost every story gets me excited, still.

Last week, barely off the plane from Vancouver after three weeks away from home, I drove three hours each way deep into the Catskills to visit a maple syrup producer in Harpersfield, NY.

I grew up in Canada so the stuff flows in my veins. I so love maple syrup I carry a container of it whenever we go to a diner for pancakes.

Here’s the story, in today’s New York Times.

These are a few of the stories from my 30-year career I remember most:

Best

Crewing aboard The Endeavour, a replica of Captain Cook’s ship, for a week between Norwalk, CT and Newport, RI. Slept in a hammock every night, climbed the rigging dozens of times a day to 100 feet in the air to work enormous square canvas sails while standing on (shriek!) a swaying narrow footrope. A paid journey into the 18th. century.

A day in the Arctic village of Salluit, while a reporter for the Montreal Gazette. We landed in a tiny prop plane on an airstrip of ice, greeted by members of the village of 500, including the mayor on his snowmobile. The story we’d been sent, at $5,000 expense to report, so pissed off the village that I had to go on the radio (a particle-board shack) to be interviewed in English, translated into Inuktitut, to placate everyone enough to even talk to me. No pressure!

Interviewing Patty Varone, the female NYPD veteran who was the bodyguard for former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani for nine years, and who helped to keep him alive on 9/11, for my book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns.” Everyone thinks he was the hero, while it was her job — while dodging falling bodies — to protect him and find somewhere safe to run to.

Bird-dogging Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip for two weeks as they toured New Brunswick, Ontario and Manitoba. Such pomp! In the back of her car, a suitcase with one large red tag, with two imitable words: “The Queen.” Equerries, everywhere! A group of reporters were invited for cocktails aboard her (then) yacht Britannia and the engraved invitation, gold-edged, from the Master of the Household, still graces my kitchen wall. Her jewelry is gob-smackingly huge. Those are real emeralds and diamonds, kids!

Performing in “Sleeping Beauty” at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center with Rudolf Nureyev. I was a “super” (short for supernumerary, i.e. an extra), playing a Lady in Black, one of the retinue of Carabosse, the evil witch who casts the spell on the princess at her 16th. birthday party. Not being a dancer, not knowing the score (literally), not having had the benefit of a dress rehearsal (!?), I descended the set’s huge staircase about 10 bars too early on opening night. On another evening,  my costly, one-of-kind costume skirt got caught on a soldier’s sword as I was trying to exit. A traffic jam of pissed-off professional dancers behind me hissed “Hurry up!” behind me. Stress? Moi?

Worst

Grilling women who had suffered a variety of tragedies, from losing a husband to a heart attack in front of them to having their home burn down.

– Being sent on a “stake-out” to the Edison Hotel in midtown Manhattan in 80 degree heat and humidity to stalk and interview two Quebec female tourists, one of whom had been stabbed while crossing the street. This meant standing for 6-8 hours at a stretch, surrounded by a dozen competing reporters, on the dirty pavement and hoping to grab the girls, alone and first, whenever they showed up.

– Covering a bloody and horrific head-on crash between a bus and a personal vehicle, in Montreal on a winter’s night. The car windows were sheeted with blood. I had to take my drivers’ test the very next day. (I passed.)

I love the adventure, intimacy, travel and astonishing variety of people I’ve met on assignment — everyone from Prime Ministers to Billy Joel, convicted felons, Olympic athletes, politicians, physical therapists, Boy Scouts. I love stuffing a notebook and a few pens into my jacket pocket or bag and setting off to hear some new stories. I love the challenge of having to decide, on the fly with no direction from a boss, what’s important and what to leave out (knowing they can alway challenge me later!)

I love coming home with my head and my notebook filled with great details and quotes and sifting through them all to make sense of them.

Too bad that print journalism is a dying industry (and on-line writing pays much less.)

Have you ever read a story and wished you’d covered it?

Or — like Japan’s radiation crisis or the four missing Times journos in Libya, thanked your stars you weren’t there?

Women, Speak Up! I Can’t Hear You

In behavior, blogging, books, culture, journalism, Media, news, politics, Technology, US, women on February 24, 2011 at 7:43 pm
Mug shot of Paris Hilton.

No, sweetie, Not you ! Image via Wikipedia

Why do most women — certainly educated Western women with unimpeded access to telephones, the Internet and media outlets — still remain so invisible and inaudible?

I don’t mean the images or inanities of women like Paris Hilton or the Kardashians.

Quick! Name ten well-known and highly-respected women whose opinions carry national or international weight: Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel and…the list quickly dwindles when it comes to females currently known in the media as an expert on much of anything.

Until or unless women claim the same intellectual space, jostling elbow to sharpened elbow with all the men who feel utterly confident speaking their minds, we will remain unheard, our deepest concerns unheeded.

I loved, loved, reading an op-ed this week in Canada’s national daily newspaper of record, The Globe and Mail, arguing for the retention of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan by Alaina Podmorow, a 14-year-old Canadian girl who founded a charity for Afghan woman and girls.

She did so after hearing, and being inspired, by Sally Armstrong, a fellow Canadian — albeit a few decades older — a journalist whose passion for women and world affairs lit the fuse of activism in a little girl. That’s my kind of girl power!

And how often do you read, in a national newspaper with the stature of The New York Times or the Globe, an op-ed or letter to the editor written by a woman? Let alone a young girl?

How about….never?

Here’s a great, angry piece published this week in Canada, in a national chain of newspapers, by Katherine Govier, a Canadian author and former journalist:

We were treated to the news last week, via the New York Times, that Wikipedia, increasingly the go-to reference for historical and contemporary general knowledge, has a dark secret. It is chiefly written by 25-year-old males.

Help us and save us.

It’s true. A study has shown that only 13 per cent of the hundreds of thousands of contributors to the “collaborative” online encyclopedia are female. Of the 87 per cent who remain, and are male, the average age is mid-twenties. Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation (a woman, oddly enough), says this came about because of Wikipedia’s nature. It is skewed toward aggressive hackertypes who are obsessed with facts and reflect the male-dominated computer culture. They are, furthermore, imbued with a sense that it is really important for everyone to know about Niko Bellic, a character who is a former soldier in the video game Grand Theft Auto IV. He gets an article five times as long as does Pat Barker, a (female) British novelist in her late 60s. That is, he did until Gardner herself added background to Pat Barker’s entry.

So this is how it works. Women have to step up and become Wikipedia contributors.

This isn’t a new problem. Sigh.

Women, still, are so often socialized from earliest childhood to be “nice”. How many of us, still, are raised with the appalling and powerful imprecation: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything.”

I like Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s version: “If you can’t say anything nice, come sit by me!”

Women are so often told to be quiet, be nice, calm down, sit back. We need to be shouting!

Whether in print, television, radio, in blogs, letters to the editor, anywhere that makes clear we have strong opinions and they deserve serious attention. And yet, and yet, depending what sort of culture and community you live in, there are often strong imperatives, religious or political or economic or familial, that stay our hands and still our tongues.

Enough already.

Here’s a quick tip on getting your voice heard, fast, in a letter to the editor, from a terrific blog on women’s voices and how to make them heard loud and clear through traditional media.

Have you spoken out — whether at a town or city council meeting? Letters to the editor? An op-ed?

Do you think we’re being heard?

Deep Dives, Heaves And TickTocks: A Journo’s Lexicon

In business, journalism, Media, work on February 4, 2011 at 1:42 pm
Fortune December 1941 issue

Image via Wikipedia

It was once called reporting, the idea of spending days, weeks or maybe even months researching a story in depth. It didn’t mean a quick Google search and a few emails.

It always involved the acronym GOYA — Get Off Your Ass! — as in, yes you actually have to leave the newsroom and the building.

But today such a story — like this recent, excellent one in Fortune about the collapse of the Deepwater Horizon — is called a “deep dive”.

Having been a print journalist for a few decades, one of the things I enjoy is our own little lexicon, the shorthand many of us use as we roam from newspaper to magazine to television to radio to blogging. Just as doctors have their words (GOMER = Get Out Of My Emergency Room), we too have a vocabulary of our own.

My sweetie, a career photographer and now a photo editor for The New York Times, speaks this language as well. We can have conversations that might be pretty unintelligible to a non-journo!

For your amusement:

Lede The opening paragraph of a story

Kicker The final paragraph of a story

Nut Graf The central argument for why this story matters

TickTock A recounting of how a major story unfolded

Deck In magazines, the short abstract that tells you what the piece will be about

Hed The headline

Coverlines The teasers that are meant to make you pick up a magazine: “Ten Days To Thinner Thighs!”

Masthead The listing of the publication’s senior staff; sometimes all of them

Above the fold Where the most important stories land in a newspaper, above where it’s folded in half in a broadsheet

Broadsheet A newspaper that unfolds, like The New York Times

Tabloid A smaller paper like the New York Post; tabs are usually more downmarket in tone and content than broadhseets

Berliner A paper whose dimensions lie between a broadsheet and tabloid, like Le Monde

The wood The entire front page of a tabloid, given to the biggest stories

Agate The tiny credit at the edge of a photograph naming the photographer and/or agency

The budget The daily list of every story planned for the day’s paper, which may change as the news does, delineating how much space each will get

Dress page The front page of a section

Byline The reporter’s name…i.e. By….

Dateline The location from which the story was filed (confusing, no?)

Curtain-raiser A story that leads into an event and previews it

Puff piece An uncritical story

Hatchet job The opposite of a puff piece!

TK Short for “to come” — I don’t have that information yet but will fill it in later

Phoner A phone interview

Presser A press conference

Flack A public relations representative

Hack/Hackette In the U.K., a journalist, male or female

Sub-editor In the U.K., a copy editor who fixes errors and grammar after the story is written by the   reporter

Bulldog The earliest edition of a daily paper, which may have five editions a day

Slug What a story is named, in one word or two, as it moves through the news system

Heave A story that goes on and on and on and on…

Thumbsucker Often, a Time cover story, like “Does God Exist”

FOB In magazines, the front of the book, where smaller items run

The well In magazines, the main part of the publication, where longer features run

What’s some of the jargon your profession or industry uses?



Women Too Busy To Die?

In behavior, business, culture, Media, news, women, work, world on September 5, 2010 at 1:05 pm
New York, New York. Newsroom of the New York T...
Image via Wikipedia

If you read The New York Times obituary page — which I do daily as it’s my hometown paper — you’ll soon notice (maybe) an odd detail.

Women never die!

Here’s a post from nytpick.com, which delights in poking at the Gray Lady:

And for the year 2010 to date, the NYT has chronicled the deaths of 606 men, and only 92 women.

Bear in mind that the population of women in the U.S. exceeds that of men, and is nearly neck and neck worldwide.

This disparity in coverage has gone on for years, virtually unnoticed in a society that decades ago granted full equality to women, and has seen huge strides in the prominence of women in virtually all fields of endeavor.

And not only does it show no signs of getting better — it’s actually getting worse.

In a September 2006 “Talk To The Newsroom” interview, NYT obituaries editor Bill McDonald (pictured above) was asked about the lack of what a concerned reader referred to as “gender parity” in the section. His stunning response somehow slipped by unnoticed.

“Ask me in another generation,” McDonald replied. “Really. The people whose obits are appearing in our pages now largely shaped the world of the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s, and the movers and shakers in those eras were predominantly white men.”

If you’re  a Lithuanian lute-maker (no offense meant, specifically, to either category) — and male — hang in there. Your time for posthumous glory will come. Men doing the most unlikely and obscure things end up in the Times obit pages every day.

I know for a fact that women do die, women who have achieved extraordinary success and influence in business, the arts, science, medicine, public service, education. But you’ll never hear about them in the Times. (Or The Wall Street Journal or USA Today or The Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times. You know the “papers of record.”)

I think it’s a toxic combination of two issues: male editors who don’t see women’s achievements as worth this level of honor  — and women, and their families, colleagues and employers who don’t make a (big enough) fuss about them and their value to the larger world, either when they’re alive or after they have died.

Women who vaunt themselves and seek public attention are often derided for their egos and glory-seeking, while men who do so are considered…normal.

Every single obits column that ignores women ignores half the nation’s population.

And newspapers wonder why they’re dying?

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I'm Just Missing Her — Queen Elizabeth Lands In New York Today: How We Met And How It Went

In world on July 6, 2010 at 5:32 am
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - APRIL 21:  Former crew m...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

She arrives in New York City for one day.

We met in the 1980s when she did a tour of Canada. I keep the invitation to drinks aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia framed in my kitchen as an impossibly elegant reminder — “The Master Of The Household Is Commanded By Her Majesty to Invite…”

We were instructed to wear a “lounge suit” and had absolutely no idea what that meant. I wore something dressy and enjoyed the stiffest gins and tonics (not sure of that plural) ever, served by ggggorgeous male equerries, aka royal servants. Such a life!

The press corps, which was huge and international, was formed into small artificial semi-circles, into which HRH was gently steered for our introductions.

I’d written some pretty provocative stuff for The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national daily, about her visit and had just spent two grueling weeks of 14-hour days chronicling her every move, gesture and garment. (We were actually issued official clothing descripitions to use, like “eau de nil” [a pale celery green] which would have meant nothing to our readers.)

So, when I met her, she frostily barely acknowledged me — after a warm hello to the Brits she knew — “It’s a pity we haven’t had time to read the newspapers.”

Ba-boom! Talk about dissed. We all knew that of anything the Globe, with my front-page stories, would have been top of the list she was reading.

Spending time around the Queen is like entering a very strange world, especially for a Canadian or anyone living in a Commonwealth country where her face and name are on the coins and were, for years, on the stamps. It’s a little as though George Washington or Hamilton suddenly came to life and was standing right in front of you. And you had to report on him — reverence doesn’t work well on deadline.

The one cardinal rule — you never speak to her first and you never touch her. Which can be very confusing when she is friendly and charming to hordes of strangers who know no such boundaries.

A man accompanies her, unobtrusively, her bodyguard. I met him at the farewell party after our tour and had no idea he had even existed — a small, quiet un-noticeable sort of guy, yet a man who had taken a bullet to the chest while saving the life of Princess Anne.

It was an extraordinary experience to spend so much time around royalty. Her jewels are gob-smackingly large. She is surrounded, as royalty always has been, by a retinue.

My favorite detail, ever? I peeked into the back of the car she had been brought to an event in and saw a suitcase with a large red cardboard tag. It read simply: The Queen.

Jurassic Park Redux: The Wall Street Journal's New NYC Edition Debut

In business, Media on April 26, 2010 at 1:44 pm
T-Rex Dinosaur

Image by Scott Kinmartin via Flickr

Welcome to Jurassic Park. Daily print newspapers are supposed to be dead — watch the the T. Rex and the Brontosaurus claw at one another anyway!

I was underwhelmed by today’s first edition of the Journal’s new, much-anticipated Metro section.

The new section is called Greater New York, ( a sop to advertisers that they’ll also include the suburban hedge-fund wives of Scarsdale and Greenwich, CT and Short Hills, NJ) and the best story on front page today — albeit not a breaking news piece — was about a rat infestation on the tony Upper East Side. Chewed Manolos!

One front-page piece looked at the state deciding whether or not to borrow money to avoid a looming $1 billion shortfall and another focused on a commercial real estate story about a Fifth Avenue property. An inside page offered tips on how to swipe your Metrocard properly, a fairly basic urban skill. There were two food stories, two pieces about auction houses, a Tribeca penthouse at $28 million and the Mark Hotel, one of the city’s oldest and most elegant, now struggling for business.

If you’re rich — as most Journal readers are — this sort of thing matters. For the rest of us, who just live here, not so compelling.

Only sports columnist Jason Gay — as WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show admired this morning in their assessment of the new section — won plaudits for his self-deprecating sense of humor:

1. Goes without saying, but this column will be primarily dedicated to New York-area fox-hunting and squash. On occasion, it will cover fringe sports, like that science experiment with a basketball in Madison Square Garden.

2. We’ll do our best to devote equal attention to the Yankees and Mets. On occasions where there is a conflict, we will simply lavish praise on the Yankees. Just kidding, Mets—calm down! Stop being the Jan Brady of New York sports.

The tone of the new section feels stiff and tentative, sort of New York Observer light.

It should be an interesting horse race. The Post is unrepentantly itself — today’s wood (front page) had Boobquake — and the Times will retain its own perspective. The Times and Journal will be duking it out for affluent readers, so their race for ad dollars is one to watch, reports today’s Post:

Shares of the Times Co. fell for a second day on Friday, dropping 68 cents, or 5.5 percent, to $11.61. On Thursday, the company reported first-quarter results that showed ad declines were easing but that the market had not yet hit bottom.

Despite the pressure on ad rates, media buyers don’t foresee advertisers abandoning the Times for the Journal’s Greater New York.

“It’s an attractive opportunity for advertisers looking to heavy up in the New York market,” said George Jansen, director of print at WPP’s GroupM media-buying unit. “Do I think they will pull out of the Times and put it all in the Journal? Absolutely not.”

The Times has some factors in its favor. Roughly half of the paper’s more than 900,000 daily print subscribers are in the New York market.

While the Journal has 1.6 million print subscribers, Greater New York is expected to reach about 300,000 readers. The paper also skews more heavily male than the Times, which makes it a tougher sell for retailers.

Still, Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf Goodman are advertising in the new section, according to Ad Age. Both also advertise in the Times and fall into the paper’s high-end, New York-centric retail base.

Feel the earth tremble. Let the newspaper war begin!

What's In Your Media Diet?

In Media on March 25, 2010 at 10:06 am
NBC Nightly News broadcast

Image via Wikipedia

In addition to Hoovering up as much information from the world at large — conversations, ads, overheard remarks, keeping my eyes open, looking for trends and patterns — here’s where I get my information. Not a total list, but:

Every morning at 9:00 a.m., I listen to a full hour of BBC World News, on radio; read The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and New York Post, may listening to the local NPR talk shows, The Brian Lehrer Show (call-in) and Leonard Lopate (culture), Soundcheck (music) and their national shows Fresh Air and All Things Considered. On weekends, I enjoy Studio 360 and This American Life, both on PRI. Yes, I am a radio junkie! (Blame it on growing up listening to the excellent programming of the CBC, in Canada; for a good taste of it, try their version of ATC, the nightly new show “As It Happens.”)

I watch much less news television: NBC Nightly News and BBC. I check in a few times a day with mediabistro.com. which has a lot of media-related news and may scan a few other websites I like, quirky, personal ones like Shakesville or huge ones like Arts & Letters Daily and Broadsheet.

I often read British and Canadian newspapers on-line, from The Guardian to The Globe and Mail. I speak French and Spanish, so sometimes read in those languages, in print or on-line, like Le Point or Liberation from France. I was reading the Washington Post on-line and in print for years – looks like my subscription has lapsed — and also sometimes read The Los Angeles Times.

I read a lot of non-fiction — just finished eight books as background for my own — and try to read fiction when I can squeeze it in. I just bought my first copy of Lapham’s Quarterly and look forward to reading it.

I read a lot of colleagues’ non-fiction to blog about it and support other writers. I think it’s important both to share ideas and great work, and to create a sense of community.

I read a ton of women’s magazines, mostly for amusement. I sometimes read Vanity Fair, rarely read The New Yorker (can’t stand its elitist tone and dominance of male writers, a problem for me with many magazines.)

I read all the (remaining) shelter magazines, for pleasure and inspiration. We have subscriptions to: National Geographic, Smithsonian, Fortune, Forbes, SmartMoney, Barron’s, PDN (a photography trade magazine), Bon Appetit (after Gourmet was killed). At the library, when I have time, I’ll add Maclean’s (Canadian newsweekly), New York, maybe Time or Newsweek, but only rarely.

We fight over the weekend Financial Times we love it so much.

Here’s 13 Big Name writers and their media diets, from The Atlantic.

As fellow True/Slant writer Sara Libby recently wrote:

There you have it: If you’re not, male, white and straight, you simply cannot judge things fairly. Or report on them.

Only two women made that list — which is one reason I rarely read The Atlantic. Get a grip!

How about you?

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