Last summer in L.A. I meet a great guy who was driving an Uber, a freelance photographer, Mallury Patrick Pollard — who has created this really interesting podcast about creativity and how creatives live.
My wedding day (first one!) in 1992…still very close pals with Marion, who I met in our freshman English class at
University of Toronto
By Caitlin Kelly
It’s now deemed so large a problem that U.S. Surgeon-General Vivek Murthy says it’s as damaging as smoking for our health:
From his recent essay in The New York Times, (my boldface added):
At any moment, about one out of every two Americans is experiencing measurable levels of loneliness. This includes introverts and extroverts, rich and poor, and younger and older Americans. Sometimes loneliness is set off by the loss of a loved one or a job, a move to a new city, or health or financial difficulties — or a once-in-a-century pandemic.
Other times, it’s hard to know how it arose but it’s simply there. One thing is clear: Nearly everyone experiences it at some point. But its invisibility is part of what makes it so insidious. We need to acknowledge the loneliness and isolation that millions are experiencing and the grave consequences for our mental health, physical health and collective well-being.
This week I am proposing a national framework to rebuild social connection and community in America. Loneliness is more than just a bad feeling. When people are socially disconnected, their risk of anxiety and depression increases. So does their risk of heart disease (29 percent), dementia (50 percent), and stroke (32 percent). The increased risk of premature death associated with social disconnection is comparable to smoking daily — and may be even greater than the risk associated with obesity.
I’ve blogged about this many times, but clearly it’s not just me!
I lived in Canada ages 5 to 30, with a year in Paris at 25 with 27 fellow journalists, ages 25 to 35; I was the youngest, at 25.
I never had a problem elsewhere making or keeping friends.
While I’m only in touch with three people from my Toronto high school and a few from university, I later made friends through my work, neighbors, friends of friends…
The photo above is testament to this…as Marion lives very far away from us in British Columbia but made the long journey to New York to join me then. We still email often and schedule long phone calls. Our lives have been very different (she has three daughters and two grandchildren) but also have some very deep issues in common.
In Paris, we all vaulted between English and French, our fish-out-of-water-ness much tougher for people from North America, India, Africa, South America and Japan than for the multi-lingual Europeans. Having had to leave behind home, friends, family, work, pets — everything! — for eight months, meant we became our own support group. There were some very awkward moments when our cultural differences — especially our haste — caused offense and we needed to apologize and explain. But some of the friendships we forged then remain so deep that decades later we’re still delighted to visit one another and stay in touch.
At 31, I moved from Montreal — where I had very quickly made two close female friends, both single, as I was then, who lived in the same apartment building — to small town New Hampshire. It was a nightmare socially: my then boyfriend (later husband) was a medical resident so he was gone a lot of the time and exhausted when home. There were no jobs and no ways I could detect to meet friendly people. There was no Internet then. The only people in our social circle were all married, pregnant or joggers….none of which applied nor appealed to me. I tried hosting a few people for meals, but only one reciprocated in my miserable 18 months living there.
I had never ever been so lonely and it very much damaged my mental health, which is one reason I insisted we move to New York.
Why does friendship feel so low-value in the U.S. ?
— precarious jobs force many people to prioritize work and income over everything else
— low-paid, non union jobs do the same
— a culture where so many people feel guilty if they’re not constantly being “productive”. Sitting for an afternoon with a friend, or several, over a glass of wine — as I’ve done joyfully in Paris, Croatia, Toronto and Montreal (and once in Manhattan!) — is seen as weirdly slothful
— a culture that fetishizes individual needs over everything else; few friendships seem to have the ability to weather/resolve conflict and move on
— people move around and lose touch
— the social triage of wanting to avoid COVID
— having Long COVID
— being exhausted by caregiving
— especially in a time of high inflation, few places exist that don’t cost money (like cafes, bars, clubs, restaurants) where people can just relax for a few hours in a quiet, attractive and welcoming environment and maybe strike up a friendly conversation with someone new
— if you didn’t attend any sort of schooling with someone, you seem not to exist. I find this so weird, especially since I arrived in New York at 31
— family takes precedence over everything after work, from feeding newborns to moving far away from old friends to live closer to grandchildren. Friends? An afterthought once all the usual ceremonies (weddings, christenings, graduations, etc) are done
— wealth is a huge dividing line. People with a lot of money seem to think the rest of us aren’t worth knowing. Whatevs
— politics, especially since 2016
— transactional “friendships” where, once they’ve gotten what they need from you, you’re dropped
— lack of curiosity. Without fail, my closest friends have lived outside their home countries and have traveled widely, whether for work or pleasure, people who, like me, have had a range of life experiences and faced the challenges of adapting to (and enjoying!) other cultures.
I am very aware these are generalizations and maybe too personal to me as someone who has never had one job here for more than a few years and made work-pals. Nor do we have kids, the way most people seem to make friends. My closest friends here I made through freelancing, two from church and one from spin class.
Canadians don’t fling themselves across the country the way Americans do, for work or education, and our social and professional circles are smaller, so maybe we just retain closer relationships for other reasons.
This has also been an issue for me because, as I’ve written here many times, I don’t come from a close or loving family, quite the opposite. We don’t do birthdays or holidays together or get together for special occasions. My late stepmother was clear she didn’t want me around much and my uncle and aunt, both long dead, lived in London and were busy with highly successful entertainment careers. My friends are my family.
Many of you might have very deep ongoing American friendships.
If so, I envy you!
I am really looking forward, in late June, to seeing old and dear friends in Toronto, my hometown I left in 1986, that I have known since my late teens — at university, through my work, friends of friends. I haven’t been back in a year. I even reconnected with one woman from Grade Five (!) a few years ago as she became a neighbor and friend of one of my good friends.
I’ll have lunch with four pals from high school there as well.
Life can feel so grim these days — an endless war in Ukraine. grocery and housing costs so high they leave you gasping in dismay, climate change…
We all need respite and comfort!
Three films I recently watched — two of them Oscar nominated for 2023 and one that won in its category — were such balm for the soul.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
sounds impossibly twee and saccharine and I studiously avoided it when it was in our local theater. I saw it on TV and was blown away with its low-key charm and humor and — how unlikely! — the presence of broadcaster Leslie Stahl of 60 Minutes as one of its characters.
The plot is simple enough — a very small shell with (!?) one eye and shoes (!) and a very big heart finds his family suddenly all gone after the owners of the house they live in turn it into an Air B and B. The new resident, who is a real person and who is the maker of the film but also a main character in the film, gets to know Marcel and his grandmother Connie, whose bed (of course) is a powder compact and (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) speaks with a husky French accent. I won’t give it away but here’s a six minute clip.
The Elephant Whisperers
is a documentary about a married Indian couple and the two elephants they care for. It won the 2023 Oscar for Best Documentary Short Film and became the first Indian film to win an Oscar in that category. It is beautiful to watch. In Thailand I rode on an elephant’s neck , as the mahouts do, and it was one of my life’s happiest moments. Here’s the 2:40 trailer.
The Quiet Girl
is an Irish film mostly in Gaelic with subtitles, about a nine-year-old girl shipped off for the summer to live with a middle-aged distant cousin. It’s set in 1981, but feels like the 1960s, as Cait settles into her new life on a dairy farm, a quiet and lovely break from her abusive family and the latest screaming baby. Anyone who’s ever felt ignored by their family, or worse, and longed for an escape — and some true love — will recognize what a gift this long visit offers the girl.
In their own way, each film also addresses grief and the loss of a loved one.
So many people want to be known as a writer, preferably one with multiple best-selling books, maybe a movie or TV deal on top of that.
Hope is charming.
But the reality of writing for income is simply not that, for the vast majority.
If you want to produce freelance journalism, you need a steady supply of sale-able ideas, smart editors ready to reply to you quickly, pay you well, edit you intelligently and promote the work. That’s a lot to hope for in one person!
Despite the lone-wolf perception of freelancers like me, having a wide and supportive network of smart, generous peers is essential — we steer one another away from lousy clients, share pay rates, send work to others when it’s not one of our specialties (and vice versa.) We meet at conferences, join online communities like ASJA and Study Hall.
Journalism pay rates have dropped enormously to a “competitive” $1/word — banal in the 80s when $2/word was standard at every glossy magazine. Today that’s a wildly elusive rate and we’re all struggling with inflation.
I still write occasionally for The New York Times, at a pay rate unchanged since the 90s. But if I can do the story efficiently and have an impact, there’s value in that for me.
I became an editor by volunteering for an Asian American magazine, a nonprofit mission-driven labor of love where no one drew a salary. Ten to fifteen hours of unpaid labor a week in exchange for the editorial experience I wanted was, to me, an acceptable trade—nearly all my labor then was unpaid. I cared for my infant and toddler during the day, then went to writing class at night. I spent every spare moment I had and some that I didn’t pitching freelance pieces and working on my first book proposal.
Then one of my favorite indie websites hired me to edit on a part-time basis. The job started at thirteen dollars an hour, twenty hours a week, and after a couple of months I was brought on full-time and granted a salary in the mid-30s. I loved that role, the tiny team I worked with, our community of readers. I was responsible for editing and publishing two to three freelance pieces a day, reading and responding to hundreds of pitches a week, and handling social media. I found my confidence as an editor, as the volume of work meant I had no time for imposter syndrome. By the time that website shuttered two years later, my salary had risen to the mid-40s. My agent and I had finally managed to sell my first book for a small advance. The independent publisher that acquired it later offered me a job as managing editor of its digital publications, starting at a few thousand more than I’d made in my previous role. Again, I felt lucky, working and collaborating with fellow writers every day—it felt like a dream job.
People who want to sell their books — certainly fiction — face multiple challenges, from finding an agent to represent their work (or self-publishing) to finding a reputable publisher. There are scammers out there preying on the naive.
Even those of us who have been multiply published may have to find a new agent — a slog — and a publisher, another slog. Obstacles appear you could only dream of, like a friend whose new book has not gotten the publicity boost she very much needs due to a strike by workers at that publishing company — this, after a decade of her hard work on the book.
Then you face another serious challenge — getting the word out as far and fast and wide as humanly possible — to boost your book sales. This is where a wide network with some serious social capital can offer a real help; I called the host of a TV show I appeared on many years before to tell them about a friend’s new book. It may now get a second look.
As I wrote here earlier, my husband and I co-authored a book proposal and found an agent, but 30 publishers rejected it. We offer tremendous credentials and a huge potential audience…but no luck. I may try again, but have been too discouraged since January by this failure.
An interesting recent story finds that later-life journalists in their 60s, 70s and beyond, are now working as mentors and editors, still passionate about the essential value of journalism.
From Neiman Reports:
These retirees include everyone from a onetime local sportswriter in Washington state to former top editors at The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Reuters, a retired senior editorial director at CNN, familiar names from NPR, the ex-editors of the San Diego Union-Tribune and Miami Herald, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalists, a retired AP bureau chief and a former top executive at Hearst. Many are in their 70s or 80s.
Many also share a collective frustration with the decline of the profession in which they spent careers that date back to a time when media organizations were flush with resources and influence.
“If you can do something to help reverse that tide, you do it,” says Walter Robinson, the former editor of The Boston Globe Spotlight Team, who has taken on a second career helping set up nonprofit community news sites, mentoring younger journalists, and serving on the board of a government accountability and First Amendment coalition.
“I had a great run and a lot of good fortune, and I just feel I have an obligation to give something back,” says Robinson, who is 77, of his continued involvement in the cause of journalism. “A lot of people I know who are my age have the same impulse.”
I recently signed up to become a mentor with Report for America and am very much heartened that others want to keep our industry thriving in whatever way we can.
Two lovely signs of ongoing life for my two books…524 libraries hold a copy of Blown Away, according to Worldcat., arguably the coolest website in the world for authors — as it lists every library in the world with a copy of your book, beginning with those physically closest.
I am so honored to see it in the libraries, and law libraries, of major American universities like Harvard, Yale, Brown, George Washington University, Johns Hopkins, and many smaller colleges, including community colleges. This, not making a best-seller list, was always my goal. I wanted my intensive national research to help inform and guide possible policy decisions.
It’s held by libraries in New Zealand, Germany, Viet Nam, the Philippines and the Netherlands, to name only a few.
The other joy, annually, is a small check I get thanks to Canada’s Public Lending Rights program — which pays authors for the public use of their books in libraries.
It means a great deal to me to know my hard work has had some lasting value.
If I haven’t fled the computer and apartment and town every three or four months, I get restless!
So a quick and easy choice was the 3-4 hour drive northeast to Newport, RI, a town I hadn’t been to in decades, since a friend in a town near it loaned us her house while she was away for a week. She has long since moved away, but at a writing conference last year I met a fun young woman, a fellow writer, who spoke on a panel and with whom I later had coffee when she came to NY from Newport.
I found a very cheap and funky B and B right in town, and she and I hung out. Perfect weekend!
I was also very lucky to be there in the off season so I was able to park my car for three full days, at no cost, a block away on the street and enjoyed uncrowded tourism as the place is truly mobbed in the summer, especially with the jazz festival and folk festival.
Friday night we splurged on dinner at The White Horse, the oldest restaurant (1673) continuously operating in the U.S., and a building of tremendous history. The meal was great and the surroundings lovely.
This interactive game was amazing! It even uses a real wooden tiller to “steer.”
It can happen!
Saturday I went to the new sailing museum, which — as a sailor from childhood — I loved! It has fantastic interactive exhibits I completely enjoyed, a cut-open J24, a classic boat, examples of sail materials, great action videos, trophies, fab photos. I had a great pizza across the street and wandered Thames Street, (there pronounced to rhyme with James), lined with all sorts of shops. I bought two small lovely vases by a local potter and that evening sat at the bar at the Red Parrot, watching the busiest bartender ever manage his job with grace and calm.
Newport, as some of you know, has some extraordinary mansions — known as “cottages”, built by the country’s wealthiest. People love to tour them, but I was more intrigued, literally walking around the block from my lodgings, by row after row of elegant 18th c houses. I love history and architecture and the late 1700s is one of my favorite periods of design, so this was heaven!
I’m usually not easily moved emotionally by many official sights and monuments, but I was so struck by the humanity and intimacy of seeing the church where her new life began — and gave her barely a decade of joy and marriage and young children before being brutally widowed in 1963. Like everyone who has married in a church (as I have twice), there’s such a moment of excitement and nerves and anticipation as you stand at that front door and walk down the aisle to take your vows and begin a wholly new life. I could really feel it there.
That’s the spire of St. Mary’s in the background
Sunday morning I loved breakfast, again, around the corner, at Franklin Spa — opening hours 6 am to 1pm — and watched it filling up with locals and regulars. My friend picked me up and we drove to Tiverton Four Corners, to see a glamorous new cafe and two adjacent shops, Groundswell. So fun! On offer were glorious teas from French maker Mariage Freres and some of the yummiest pastries ever — including this astounding thing we had never seen before and LOVED. Basically a brioche full of whipped cream, called a maritozzi.
The spring sun was warm but the wind bitter; my friend very thoughtfully brought two thick blankets which we wrapped around our legs as we sat in Adirondack chairs around a propane firepit.
We looked at the gorgeous tableware and aprons and condiments for sale but I only bought some tea and a jar of ginger and jam.
We dined at The Clark Cooke House, which was wonderful — more oysters! My friends were very generous and used a gift certificate so it was free. I was so grateful to be so welcomed and hosted and shown around.
Monday morning was a visit to a place I’ve been buying from for many years, Fabric Connection, mostly to say hello to the staff. They have an amazing array of gorgeous fabrics and pillows.
I made a final quick stop at the beach — to sniff the ocean and grab a shell! — but the wind was sooooo bitterly cold.
I think the popular notion of “living with art” means being a bazillionaire in a mansion, the person bidding millions at auctions for Monet and Picasso paintings.
So not true!
But it may be an acquired taste if you didn’t grow up around art, which I did, and it has profoundly shaped my eye, my life, my homes and how I see things.
My father was a renowned maker/director of documentaries and television shows, so we had enough disposable income for him to buy art. His eye and taste — like mine and my mother — is eclectic, so this included Inuit prints and soapstone sculptures, a wooden antique Japanese mask, a Chinese scroll, 19th century Japanese prints, a Picasso lithograph. He is a skilled artist in his own right, so he made etchings, engravings, lithographs and oils. He even worked in silver.
I love Japanese prints, so this is an area I know something about; I saw an amazing show of Hokusai, whose Great Wave, is very familiar, at the British Museum in London in July 2017, and learned that he — like so many famous and legendary artists over the millennia — suffered some very lean years, and was much helped by his daughter, a fellow artist.
I was lucky to inherit some family money, even in my 20s, so I spent time in art galleries and acquired a few photos and prints, some of which I still own and enjoy. Photography is very much an art form and there are so many extraordinary images out there. I treasure this image, which hangs beside our bed, by Finnish photographer Pentti Sammallahti.
His photos, bought from the gallery I bought from, are $1600. Not cheap! But not hopelessly out of reach if this is a priority and you have the means…Here are more of his. I want at least 3 more!
What hangs on our walls is a wide array — photos by legends like Steichen and Lartigue, 16th century tapestry fragments left to me by my mother, a huge Inuit print of a polar bear (over our bed), a Vlaminck litho I bought at auction for $600, which seemed like a hell of a bargain.
The Vlaminck litho, 1929
Unlike wealthy folk, I don’t buy art for investment, although we have sold a few photos at auction when we just needed cash.
We also have three framed posters — one of a Japanese artist and two of Paris. Art doesn’t have to be expensive. You just have to love it and enjoy looking at it.
I feel really lucky to wake up to beauty every morning on our walls. We live in a basic red brick 1960s apartment building with no inherent charm and in a one bedroom, which severely curtails how much wall space we even have!
I think our favorite image (it hangs over Jose’s desk), is an original, signed by the photographer who Jose worked with at The New York Tines, and is an image many Americans know — of John F. Kennedy standing at the window of the Oval Office — by the late George Thames. You can buy a copy of it from the Times for $50 and up.
Re-watching comfort films and TV shows for the umpteenth time. Of course, we know the dialogue by heart — half the fun! Life is so chaotic and unpredictable, knowing for sure what will happen next is a lovely thing. Mine include The Devil Wears Prada, All The President’s Men, Spotlight, Dr. Zhivago, Billy Elliott, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, Casablanca, The English Patient and Good Will Hunting.
A pot of tea and maybe a little something sweet to go with it. I recently made this date/nut bread and it’s soooo good! I skipped the icing.
An afternoon spent in the company of a dear friend.
Looking at art.
Savoring a great novel.
Snoozing under a blanket on a cold, gray afternoon.
A kiss from your dog.
A kiss from your sweetie!
A late afternoon game of gin rummy, possibly with a nip of single malt.
Fresh flowers in every room.
A scented candle by the bed.
The eternally glorious music of Bach, Handel, Erik Satie.
Trying a terrific new restaurant.
A long lunch with old friends visiting from Toronto. We went to my favorite Manhattan spot, Keen’s, in business since 1885. Push through its front doors, and you’ve stepped back in time: white tablecloths, a ceiling covered in antique clay pipes, a tank with live lobsters (their lobster bisque is so good!) There’s a pub room with its own bar and a fireplace and the bar, of course, has a huge painting of a nude woman above the bar.
Trying a new, fresh fragrance from my favorite perfumer, Penhaligon’s…This one, Castile, smells deliciously of orange blossoms, a memory from when I was 21 and traveling alone through Europe for four months. I was in Seville in orange blossom season. Amazing!
A day spent with a young pal visiting from Montreal. We had Chinese food for lunch, then I drove her around Manhattan to its southern edge, spotting Lady Liberty and the orange Staten Island ferry. We parked in the South Street Seaport and walked around a bit, enjoying its history and architecture.
I love quirky windows. This was in the Seaport, a private home.
A catch-up call with my bestie from university.
Longer brighter days as spring sloooooowly approaches.
A cozy new winter jacket, on sale.
The brief moment when the rising sun behind us hits the windows on the western hillside of the Hudson River. I call it the ruby moment.
Finding a surprise bit of money in a coat or jacket pocket.
Discovering a surprising and lovely find — recently a terrific dive bar a block from New York harbor and this amazing cut-metal mural on the side of the Peck Slip School, honoring a Dutch ferryman of the 1630s.
It’s a place I would guess few tourists venture to, a few blocks in the Bronx, but a place that on our recent weekday holiday visit was bustling. The people sitting next to us at lunch had come in, as we did, from Westchester County (30 minutes’ drive north) and as far away as Stratford, Connecticut, on the coast.
It’s best known as Little Italy, not to be confused with the other Little Italy, in Manhattan.
This stretch of just a few streets offers unique pleasures — like a bar outside the fish market where you can slurp down fresh oysters and clams as you stand in the sunshine. There are several bakeries and we bought a sourdough baguette and a round loaf studded with meat.
Teitel’s is a legend, tiny and crowded, with walnuts and olives and cheese and meat and dried cod and almost anything edible you can think of; we bought walnuts, achovies and cold cuts.
We started the day with a bite and cappuccinos at Egidio’s, an old school pastry shop with plenty of seating and acres of yummy treats and admired a small dog named Anchovy.
So many cannolis!
Slurping fresh clams and oysters on the sidewalk
We bought branzino, my favorite fish, and shrimp, and settled in for lunch at Enzo’s, each with a glass of Montepulciano.
Then it was time to cross the street to the indoor retail market where — of course! — you can watch experts roll and cut and trim huge bags of tobacco into cigars.
Having lived in Toronto, with its huge and amazing St. Lawrence Market, and Montreal, with its Atwater Market, and Paris with Rue Cler and many other food markets, I really miss this lively and interesting European way of food shopping — the butcher, the fishmonger, the baker, the fresh pasta store, the cheese store, the liquor store. It’s bustling and social and fun, the absolute opposite of the huge and booooooring suburban supermarkets all owned by multi-national conglomerates, not by the grandchildren of immigrants who founded these individual stores, some more than a century old.
I hadn’t been back there in probably five years and it was happily, very little changed.
You can enjoy a great afternoon in only a few blocks, increasingly laden with food and drink and savoring it all with joy.
Typical of such summits, the people speaking were largely white, upper middle class and already perched high in the industry…not necessarily the best place from which to enact meaningful change. By the time you’ve hit the heights, so to speak — like any industry, really — you’ve climbed the greasy pole and know how many ways you can slip back to the bottom: pissing off your advertisers or publisher, to start with. I’ve been working in journalism since I was 19, freelance and staff — a senior editor at three national magazines and a reporter and feature writer for three big dailies. I enjoyed my career, but I’m mostly out of it now, and not subject to the exhausting chase for clicks and views. The Washington Post recently hired a social media coach (!) to work with their reporters. This is, for me, a fresh hell. Not enough any longer to produce terrific stories…
An excerpt from that conference, as reported by The New York Times:
“The media” pops up on your smartphone and is thrown onto your front porch. It is transmitted on television sets and is featured in glossy magazines. It’s so varied in so many ways but is similar in one respect: Many Americans don’t trust it.
According to a recent Gallup poll, trust in mass media has hit a near record low: Only 34 percent of Americans have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence in the media, while 38 percent of Americans have none at all...
“We do need some level of news, but there are so many people that just need basic information,” argued Sarah Alvarez of Outlier Media, a news organization focused on low-income Detroiters.…
“You can’t do a big investigation if you are not covering the city council every day,” said Sara Just of “PBS NewsHour.” You can’t find out who the corrupt mayor is if you are not there every day.” The disappearance of that kind of local journalism, she said, is what “worries me the most. That’s not going to be the for-profit center, but it is how we find out what’s going on.”
Jeffrey Goldberg, whose publication, The Atlantic, put up a paywall shortly before the pandemic, argued for a subscriber-funded model: “Our industry made a mistake 20 years ago by giving away quality journalism for free — we trained readers to expect something that took work, time and energy and funding and we gave it away. And we have to stop doing that.”
As some of you may know, George Santos — a lying sack of garbage — not only recently got elected as a Republican Congressman from Long Island, despite a barrage of lies about his work, education, life and but now sits on two committees.
Only one small local newspaper noticed what a grifter he is but there was no other media interest in following up.
We live in a golden age of national media startups. Every week another group of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed media personalities launches another cleverly branded news site to solve all of American journalism’s problems.
So why do all these sites sound the same?
Why do political news sites, begun with lots of fanfare about how different and innovative and disruptive they plan to be, end up covering the same stories covered by every other established media source?
Why are they all obsessed with whatever Donald Trump spews onto his private social accounts? Why do they listen every time GQP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene speaks? Why do they report on what senators say on Tucker Carlson’s show, on each other’s podcasts, on Chuck Todd’s Status Quo Fetish Hour?
Why do they all move in a pack, chasing the same ball, like 5-year-olds playing soccer for the first time?
Because — as any honest journalist knows — the few who rise to a position of any power or influence, let alone a job with a liveable salary – has already been co-opted. When a year at one of the fancy journalism schools will cost more than a year’s salary and the industry is already highly insecure, only a brave (or trust-funded few) can even still afford to buy entree to the industry or stick around very long.
So those who become staff journalists can start to look and sound the same….as does their reporting.
Pack journalism dominates — one person chasing all the others to match a story (no matter how tedious!) for fear their managers (as as they will) ask why they aren’t covering it?
Not IF they should at all!
It’s lazy and easy to sneer “fake news” when you dislike what you hear or see.
I rarely see anyone ask…what’s the upside for this worldview?
It’s also pretty obvious that those sneering “fake news” have rarely, if ever, even met or spoken to anyone, anywhere, who actually works in journalism — bringing any genuine curiosity about what it’s like to produce news or features.
We all have some idea what doctors or lawyers or cops or teachers do all day but few of journalism’s most toxic and virulent critics really have a clue about the ecosystem of news production — which is why such attacks leave me unmoved.
I agree that mainstream American journalism needs to be a lot better, but few wake up in the morning determined to print or broadcast something they know to be false.
Believe it or not, like many journalists, I’m disappointed by too much of it every day.
Not because it’s “fake news” but because it’s:
overly focused on crime, violence, sentimentality and military
ignores most of the world beyond the U.S.
rarely addresses the roots of complex issues like poverty and homelessness
doing a lousy job covering and explaining the urgency of climate change
sucking up to corporate interests
I have no illusion all journalists are good guys! Some are inevitably lazy, unethical, rushed, underfunded, poorly trained and edited.
But it doesn’t mean journalism is unimportant to democracy, regardless of its flaws. If you can’t access basic, verifiable, mulitply sourced facts about corrupt politicians or dangerous medical issues, to name only two key issues affecting us all — good luck!
Untrue assertions make their way to mainstream news consumers in several ways. Common tactics sources use include false equivalence, whataboutism, bothsidesism and good old-fashioned lying. Well-meaning journalists play a role by allowing sources to give “their side” of an argument — true or not — out of a belief that fair, ethical journalism requires them to do so.
False equivalence refers broadly to situations where a source makes an assertion that two things that share some similarities are equal despite significant differences between them. Comparing Trump supporters’ Jan. 6, 2021, protest in Washington, D.C., to protests following the death of George Floyd is an example. The Floyd protests didn’t turn into a deadly riot that overtook the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn a presidential election.
Whataboutism is a form of false equivalence in which a source responds to an allegation by claiming that someone else did something similar or worse without addressing the substance of the allegation.
Two journalism films are worth your time no matter how much you want to dismiss my defense and protestations, the 2015 film Spotlight, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, about an investigation by the Boston Globe investigative team of three reporters that uncovered 249 abusive Catholic priests and 1,000 victims….many more exist worldwide, as evidenced by the long list in the film’s final credits, from Igloolik, Canada to Argentina.
At its best, this is what journalists do.
Also, the 2022 film She Said, about two New York Times journalists who uncovered decades of abuse by former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein — now in prison for those crimes.
Both are slow moving and procedural but also show the internal hierarchies of power at each paper and how they impeded or helped the reporters and the emotional and physical toll that such reporting on difficult issues affects us.
Because it does.
How cynically — if you even consume news or journalism — do you view the industry?
This little bear used to sit deep in my uniform shirt pocket during my years at boarding school. Invisible comfort and companionship.
By Caitlin Kelly
I read very few newsletters — already inundated by Twitter, two daily newspapers, a dozen monthly magazines and, when I have an ounce of attention left, books.
But I really enjoyed the latest one from an American journalist, Anne Helen Peterson, on the boxes her mother kept for her from her teens — a time, she writes, so much more memorable to her than her 20s and 30s.
She writes beautifully about what it felt like to go through those boxes and reconnect with her much younger self; I’d guess she’s in her mid to late 30s.
That big plastic storage bin was allowed to sit undisturbed because my mom lives in a small town in Idaho with a basement approximately the size of my current house — as is the Idaho way. But now she is moving to a place with NO BASEMENT, and some tough decisions have to be made. By me.
I spent the day after Christmas pouring out the contents of these envelopes, taking pictures with my camera and, as an old friend of mine used to say, with my heart, and allowing that heart to be towed in so many unanticipated directions. Because turns out: I was an excellent archivist of my teen self.
The corsages, sure, but that’s classic memory book stuff. I’m talking about movie stubs and campaign pins, about 9th grade English notebooks and printed-out (and pencil-edited) drafts of college admissions essays.…
All archives are, to some extent, narratives: edited stories of the self or others. What I kept then was a story of myself that felt precious and still, at that point, untold. I wasn’t saving in the hopes of someone else discovering who I was. I think it was much more a case of ensuring my future self’s attention. The artifacts were the grammar that made the story readable.
I envy her terribly!
I lived with my father and his girlfriend (later wife) ages 14 to 19. I have very few artifacts of those years: my high school graduation yearbook, some photos. I struggle to think of much else.
My family of origin was never one to keep stuff for others…my father sold the house we lived in and went to live on a boat in the Mediterranean when I was 19 and in my second year of university. I took my wooden trundle bed and wooden desk to the studio apartment I moved it with me. And my stereo!
I really treasure the photo below.
I was maybe six or seven and sitting in the backyard of the last house I shared with my parents before they divorced. It was a big house on a beautiful, quiet street — Castlefrank — in one of Toronto’s nicest neighborhoods, Rosedale. I never lived anywhere like that again.
Luckily, my husband Jose (a photo archivist for the USGA) was able to take this one precious very faded color photo and bring it back for me.
My mother left behind several thick photo albums, but, typical of our relationship, I know very few of the people in them. She never spoke much about her life to me. I do have images of her — slim, gorgeous — modeling for the Vancouver Sun, and a spectacular photo of her that I love.
Cynthia being glamorous.
My stuff? Not much. I moved a few times and only years later found a set of excellent encyclopedias that had been in storage while I was boarding school and camp.
I still fondly remember some items from my teenage-dom — a thick caribou skin rug my father brought back from the Arctic which shed horribly, a poster and a fantastic embroidered sheepskin coat, wildly bohemian and wholly out of place in my white, suburban-ish high school. But I own none of these.
Oddly, a little embarrassedly, I still own and treasure a few stuffed animals from my childhood — like the elephant I found in my London hospital bed after my tonsils were removed. Faded but much beloved, she sits in our bedroom still.
Because I moved around a fair bit and neither parent even had a basement — let alone the willingness to store any of my stuff in it — I’ve definitely lost some very precious teenage things, like a green and white Marimekko notebook in which I wrote my prize-winning poetry and some songs. That one really hurts. I had a storage locker here in New York, but I lost track of the payments for it — and they sold everything in it.
Do you still own treasured items from your early years?
Who, if anyone, will want or value them later do you think?