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Posts Tagged ‘reporters’

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?

One woman’s life reporting on Syria — for $70 per story

In behavior, journalism, Media, news, photography, politics, travel, women, work on July 18, 2013 at 12:12 am

By Caitlin Kelly

English: Bastion of the Citadel of Aleppo, Syr...

English: Bastion of the Citadel of Aleppo, Syria Français : Bastion de la citadelle d’Alep, Syrie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This story, from the Columbia Journalism Review, is going viral among my journalist/writer/foreign correspondent friends.

It is written by Francesca Borri, an Italian woman who has been reporting from Syria as a freelancer:

People have this romantic image of the freelancer as a journalist who’s
exchanged the certainty of a regular salary for the freedom to cover the
stories she is most fascinated by. But we aren’t free at all; it’s just
the opposite. The truth is that the only job opportunity I have today
is staying in Syria, where nobody else wants to stay. And it’s not even
Aleppo, to be precise; it’s the frontline. Because the editors back in
Italy only ask us for the blood, the bang-bang. I write about the
Islamists and their network of social services, the roots of their
power—a piece that is definitely more complex to build than a frontline
piece. I strive to explain, not just to move, to touch, and I am
answered with: “What’s this? Six thousand words and nobody died?”

….

But whether you’re writing from Aleppo or Gaza or Rome, the editors
see no difference. You are paid the same: $70 per piece. Even in places
like Syria, where prices triple because of rampant speculation. So, for
example, sleeping in this rebel base, under mortar fire, on a mattress
on the ground, with yellow water that gave me typhoid, costs $50 per
night; a car costs $250 per day. So you end up maximizing, rather than
minimizing, the risks. Not only can you not afford insurance—it’s
almost $1,000 a month—but you cannot afford a fixer or a translator.
You find yourself alone in the unknown. The editors are well aware that
$70 a piece pushes you to save on everything…But they buy your
article anyway, even if they would never buy the Nike soccer ball
handmade by a Pakistani child.

With new communication technologies there is this temptation to
believe that speed is information. But it is based on a self-destructive
logic: The content is now standardized, and your newspaper, your
magazine, no longer has any distinctiveness, and so there is no reason
to pay for the reporter. I mean, for the news, I have the Internet—and
for free. The crisis today is of the media, not of the readership.
Readers are still there, and contrary to what many editors believe, they
are bright readers who ask for simplicity without simplification. They
want to understand, not simply to know. Every time I publish an
eyewitness account from the war, I get a dozen emails from people who
say, “Okay, great piece, great tableaux, but I want to understand what’s going on in Syria.”

Many kinds of reporting, especially war reporting, (and photography and video and audio) — must be done firsthand.

It can’t be done, contrary to the fantasies of some journalism students who have to be shoved out of their classrooms into the world to talk to real people face to face, by Googling everything!

It’s often terrifying and exhausting. It often leaves the journalists (and their fixers and translators) who do it with PTSD; the terrific Dart Center helps them heal after such work.

Great reporting, of the sort Borri is doing and describing, is damn dangerous. It killed legendary American reporter Marie Colvin. It killed legendary New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid, who died — of all things — of an asthma attack in reaction to the dander of the horses he needed to ride to get into Syria.

The photographer with him, Tyler Hicks, as soldiers expect to do and reporters do not, carried his dead body back to civilization.

We cannot, must not ever accept, only the official/sanitized/biased reports offered up by the military or rebels or the government or corporate flacks.

Everyone, everywhere has an agenda.

The reporter’s primary job is to witness, describe, analyze, explain. They/we are more essential than ever in a world of spin , sound bites and soi-disant journalists who “publish” their point of view without an ounce of training or ethics.

But risking your life for $70 a story? It’s a fucking obscenity. Her editors and publishers should be ashamed of their cheapness — I bet they blow that much money each week on their morning espressos.

I do admire her spirit and her dedication.

Would you do it?

What do you think of her choice?

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?

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?

The terrible cost of reporting real news — Anthony Shadid, 43, dies at Syrian border

In books, journalism, Media, men, news, politics, religion, war, work on February 17, 2012 at 7:21 pm
DSC_9789.JPG

DSC_9789.JPG (Photo credit: Terissa Schor)

It is with terrible shock and sadness that journalists of all ages, working in all media worldwide, are today mourning the sudden and awful death of veteran foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid, working for The New York Times, who died of an asthma attack while trying to move secretly into Syria with Times photographer Tyler Hicks.

From today’s New York Times front page story:

Mr. Shadid, 43, had been reporting inside Syria for a week, gathering information on the Free Syrian Army and other armed elements of the resistance to the government of President Bashar al-Assad, whose military forces have been engaged in a harsh repression of the political opposition in a conflict that is now nearly a year old.

The Syrian government, which tightly controls foreign journalists’ activities in the country, had not been informed of his assignment by The Times.

The exact circumstances of Mr. Shadid’s death and his precise location inside Syria when it happened were not immediately clear.

But Mr. Hicks said that Mr. Shadid, who had asthma and had carried medication with him, began to show symptoms as both of them were preparing to leave Syria on Thursday, and the symptoms escalated into what became a fatal attack. Mr. Hicks telephoned his editors at The Times, and a few hours later he was able to take Mr. Shadid’s body into Turkey.

Forgive a rant here from a writer who has worked at three major daily newspapers and whose husband covered the end of the Bosnian war.

There is a very real cost to reporting very real news.

And this is it, the terrible death — with his colleague trying CPR for 30 minutes to revive him, then carrying his dead body over the border into Turkey — of a writer many of us have revered for decades for his brilliant Mideast reporting.

Soldiers expect to see their comrades killed, instantly. They often have a medic or Medevac copter to evacuate a wounded soldier…Journalists and photographers working independently, working with local fixers in dangerous territory, do not.

The next time you gulp down what Facebook — risibly — calls a “news feed” or scan the headlines of yet another celebrity scandal, perhaps mistaking that for journalism, please say a prayer for Shadid and Hicks and all the men and women, armed only with bravery, street smarts, cameras, microphones and notebooks, committed passionately to bringing us the real stuff.

This is what news is.

This is what it can truly cost.

If you want to know more about journalists and how they are treated for trauma, visit this website, for the Dart Center, which has helped several of my colleagues heal from such work.

Celebrating Four Brave Journalists (Who Happen To Be Women)

In business, journalism, Media, news, politics, television, women on October 29, 2011 at 12:04 am
Kate Adie Lecture at CIMARC Launch

A not-very-good pic of Kate Adie...Image by Peter J Dean via Flickr

It’s such an honor for me to sit in the same room as women whose work exemplifies the very best of what we try to do as journalists — uncover and tell important stories, telling truth to power, sometimes in the face of absolutely terrifying pressures.

This year, so far, 36 journalists have been killed worldwide just for trying to do their jobs, and many others have been kidnapped, tortured, beaten, shot at and surveilled, their husbands and wives and children threatened with harm by government agents and others.

On October 27, I sat in the balcony of the oh-so-elegant Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan watching three fantastic female journalists win the Courage in Journalism Award from the 11-year-old International Women’s Media Foundation and one, Kate Adie, receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The four came from Thailand, Iran, Mexico and England — the latter a legend, Kate Adie, the BBC’s first chief news correspondent, an astonishing woman I met on the same Canadian story in 1984. (More on that later.)

The three CIJ award-winners are:

Adela Navarro Bello, 44, who edits Zeta, a Mexican newsmagazine. She told the room that 68 journalists have been killed and 12 have gone missing since 2006 in Mexico, a nation plagued with drug cartels and narco-terrorism, stories she keep covering despite the incredible danger in so doing. Journalists have been decapitated for doing this work. “The stakes have never been higher and 95 percent of these crimes have not been solved,” she told the audience. “If you commit a crime like this, no one will track you down, no one will accuse you and no one will arrest you.”

Parisa Hafezi, 41, bureau chief for Reuters in Tehran. “In Iran, life is tough enough for a woman, let alone a female journalist working for foreign media.” Hafezi, a single mother of two girls, has had her home raided by police. “The little one still has nightmares,” she said. “I’ve cried in secret after long interrogations. But this is not my job. This is my life. How can I quit my life?” The November issue of Glamour includes a photo of her, with her daughters, in editor Cindi Lieve’s editor’s note; Lieve sits on the IWMF board.

Chiranuch Premchaiporn, 43, who runs a Thai website, Prachatai, (“Free People”) which posted others’ negative comments about the King of Thailand. For this, a crime in Thailand, she faces a possible 20-year prison sentence; she is currently out on bail.

Adie, 65, has been covering every major story worldwide for more than 40 years, from Tianamen Square to the genocide in Rwanda. She still has shrapnel in one foot as a result of one attack.

Funny, warm, down-to-earth, Adie whispered in my ear in 1984 after we met while covering the Royal Tour of Queen Elizabeth to three Canadian provinces. I was then 26, on my first huge assignment for The Globe and Mail, writing front page stories several times every day for two weeks. I had no prior newspaper experience before being hired to write for the Globe, still Canada’s most respected national newspaper.

I was terrified much of the time, knowing what sort of pressure I faced to come up with news — on a story that everyone knows offers none. When I did some reporting that other reporters missed, I quickly became the target of much gossip and backbiting among the international press corps. Demoralized and isolated, I had no idea how to handle it, when Adie, a total stranger and already a very famous journalist in her own right, came over to me as we ate dinner en masse one night.

“The higher your profile, the better target you make,” she said quietly.

I never forgot her kindness, and her wisdom. And so, in June 2007, when I got to London for the first time in years, I asked her to lunch. We sat down, chatting away like old friends.

Adie paid me one of the greatest compliments of my life, mentioning me admiringly (and that 1984 incident, the price of my speaking out) in her autobiography.

Typical of her modesty and sense of history, she paid tribute in her acceptance speech to the greatest female foreign reporter of an earlier era, American-born Martha Gellhorn — a woman she termed “both wise and stylish.” I like that combo!

“I never planned to be a journalist or studied it. I learned my journalism haphazardly without female role models,” she told the audience, which included executives from major media companies based in New York like Bloomberg News, CBS, Conde Nast, Hearst and others.

On one of her many meetings with Queen Elizabeth, she was told, in regal tones: “I always associate you with ghastly things.”

That’s journalism — often covering dark, scary, dangerous and depressing stuff that many people prefer to avoid, both readers and other reporters.

That’s what these brave, smart, tough, inspiring women choose to do.

Congratulations to all of them!

Star-Struck!

In behavior, books, business, entertainment, journalism, Media, men, television, urban life, work on June 2, 2011 at 7:19 pm
Anderson Cooper marching on January 11, 2007 i...

Yup, that's the one! Image via Wikipedia

So, I just came out of a television studio in Toronto about 90 minutes ago, after a 30-minute live show hosted by business journalist Howard Green, where I talked about Malled, my new book, with two retail industry experts.

Winding down, I came down the stairs and headed for the exit. A slim handsome white-haired man in a very nice navy blue suit stood in the way.

No. Couldn’t be…here, in Toronto? Why?

Anderson Cooper.

Shriek!

I was hopelessly star-struck and introduced myself and the publicist for Penguin (why did I not have copy of my book to hand him?!) and said “Keep up the good work.”

Sigh. Doofus.

(What a thrill!)

Which Big Names have you encountered face to face like that?

What did you say or do?

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?

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.

Why McChrystal Sang Like A Bird To 'Rolling Stone'

In Media, the military on June 23, 2010 at 10:23 am
President Barack Obama meets with Army Lt. Gen...

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Right now, there is much rending of garments and gnashing of teeth over Gen. McChrystal’s overshare with Rolling Stone — written by (yay!) fellow True/Slant writer Michael Hastings. Among fellow journalists…

How on earth, did he — of all the journalists in the world — manage to get this extraordinary career-making (his), possibly career-ending (McChrystal’s) scoop?

A few reasons, all of them classics of the genre:

1) Frustration By all accounts, Gen. McChrystal was totally fed up of being ignored and over-ruled by politicians and policymakers who he felt barely knew who he was and whose reputations were riding on the backs of his men.

2) Use the media It’s a time-honored way to speak truth to power — using the conduit of a popular publication as your loudspeaker and a willing journalist, editor and publisher as your microphones. If the people in charge aren’t listening to you, take them out of the loop.

2) Access Michael Hastings has been reporting on war, on the ground, for years. As a result of that commitment and the widsom it helped him accumulate, he knew the right people and they allowed him into their circle. From today’s New York Times:

As a result, Mr. Hastings waited in Paris with the general and his staff as they tried to get to Berlin by bus. Mr. Hastings traveled to Berlin separately. He later rejoined the general’s inner circle at the Ritz-Carlton hotel there, where they all spent the week waiting for the ash cloud to clear so they could fly to Afghanistan.

“I was so amazed by it myself,” Mr. Hastings said in a telephone interview from Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he is now reporting on another story for Men’s Journal. “At times I asked myself that question: Why are they giving me all this access?”

Though Mr. Hastings said that most of the eyebrow-raising comments in the article came from the general during the first two days in Paris, he found him and his staff to be more welcoming as time went by.

Initially, Mr. Hastings was not scheduled to travel with General McChrystal to Afghanistan. Only after he arrived in Europe did Mr. Hastings learn that the general’s staff was eager to take him with them. “They suggested the idea,” Mr. Hastings said.

Mr. Hastings ended up spending about a month on and off with the general and his staff while they were in Afghanistan — most of the time in settings and interviews that the general allowed to be on the record. “The amazing thing to me was that no ground rules were set,” Mr. Hastings said.

3) Time One of the most crucial elements of getting a story of this magnitude, in its full-on candor, is having a lot of time to spend with your subject(s.) For once, being a freelancer — with no editor demanding he shift his attention to a blog or TV report or the next story in order to look productive or beat the competition – paid off.  Michael was able to spend a month with his subjects., almost unheard-of for anyone with a staff job.

No subject, even the most private and protective, can spend a month around a journalist and not, eventually, let their hair down — even a high and tight. You get tired, you (as his subjects did) get drunk, your tongue loosens, you repeat the same ideas in a dozen ways. Whatever’s really bugging you will show up on  regular basis and all a reporter has to do is have the time, energy and attention to get every scrap of it down. Thanks to the volcano eruption in Iceland, McChrystal had a lot more time to spend with Michael than is typical for either of them. Both men, in the normal course of events, would have been on tighter leashes with much more constrained schedules. No one can report a story like this after one 20-minute interview.

4) Trust Closely linked to time. It takes a lot of time, certainly between military or police and journalists, to build any sort of trust. I recently heard journalist Sebastian Junger, who has just made a war documentary, Restrepo, describe the months he spent in-country, including sustaining several severe injuries, over which the soldiers of the platoon in Afghanistan that was his focus began to include him in their circle.

5) Street cred Michael is young, but he’s written a well-reviewed book about the Iraq war and losing his fiance there. He’s smart, well-published, knows the players and the issues.

6) Luck. A volcano eruption? No J-school diploma can get you that lucky…

This is a story many talented and ambitious journos would have killed for.

Few had the magic combination.

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