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

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

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!

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

  1. And here I am, she who is proud if she gets one thing accomplished per day. Never mind a great head shot. Although my assistant helped with a computer question and did the dishes today. Seriously, Caitlin, don’t you feel these so-called news outlets, social media commentators, etc. make your work more difficult because of the fact-checking necessitated by people who can’t be bothered to get it right? It’s like they can just go back and apologize without taking responsibility whereas your head would be on a pike in front of the Times.

  2. Love the new headshot! I think what happened this week with the inaccurate and viral ids is something we all need to stop and think about, and decide it is absolutely unacceptable to participate in this type of witch hunt. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure we’re only going to see more of these types of incidents.
    I hope you’re getting some well deserved rest this weekend!

    1. Thanks!

      I think we are only now even beginning to grapple with the implications of group id at warp speed.

      I rested yesterday and today but (ugh) have to do an interview at 5:30. We start 9 days’ break on Thursday and I am counting the minutes until I am able to just slow the hell down. I hate this pace.

      1. The way the internet impacts us all is huge and changes constantly. We must learn to adapt, and consider all of the implications, positive and negative.

        Hope the interview goes well, enjoy your break!

  3. It’s heartbreaking to hear of Sunil’s story. Depression is a horrible place and the heartbreak his family’s left with after the misinformed accusations of Sunil’s possible involvement in the bombings must be unbearable. It’s amazing how cruel and thoughtless people can be. Social media is only a mirror that displays the character of people and society in full force; the good and the bad. Small mob, or big mob… does it make a difference? I wonder.

    On a more positive note, Caitlin, your husband did a fabulous job of capturing you… I can see the brightness behind your eyes, a glimmer of your personality.

    1. I have grave concerns about the use of social media to convey “news” by people who have no clue (or care) for the ethical, moral and legal standards professional journalists are trained to apply. Like those car ads warn: “Closed course. Do not attempt.”

      Thanks! I thought my old one was a bit chilly. 🙂

    1. Thanks!

      I make a lot of lists, day by day. I also have an assistant now who is super-organized and it helps to be able to hand off some smaller stuff to her. But there are days it feels unmanageable.

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