Twitter in free-fall…what I’ve loved, hope not to lose

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m not sure how many of you use Twitter or appreciate it or have been following the nightmare takeover by Elon Musk whose every move as its new owner reeks of weird desperation and feudal overlord vibes.

Here’s the latest on it from The New York Times:

A taste:

The order for immediate layoffs, the ensuing panic and the about-face reflect the chaos that has engulfed Twitter since Mr. Musk took over the company two weeks ago. The 51-year-old barreled in with ideas about how the social media service should operate, but with no comprehensive plan to execute them. Then he quickly ran into the business, legal and financial complexities of running a platform that has been called a global town square.

It’s really depressing!

OK, it’s really depressing for those of us — many of us writers and journalists — who have relied heavily on the site for years as a great place to promote our work and our skills.

I found two of my favorite assignments ever there, one a profile of a senior energy executive for a Finnish company (referred to an editor in Helsinki by a Twitter pal in London) and a time writing blog posts about, of all things, pancreatic cancer research, also for a woman who found me solely thanks to my posts there.

I’ve never blogged about either topic and would never have put my hand up for these assignments — but they were fascinating and well-paid and I’m grateful!

But my love for Twitter (which I know is a hellscape of trolls and bots if you end up in the wrong corners) is also based on the global connections and some new friendships I’ve made there, as have so many.

And, yes, I’ve blocked some truly obnoxious people, usually men who can’t tolerate the idea of a woman who dares to disagree, even politely, with them.

One of my dreams has been to get my first book back into print, revised and updated. Thanks to Twitter, I recently contacted an editor whose house might be a good fit — that just wouldn’t have happened for me otherwise. I wouldn’t have dared and I wouldn’t have known the etiquette.

What I like most about the platform is how real (or not) you can be. I post serious stuff about writing and travel and sometimes about politics. I retweet art and photos. I’m just me. I’m not there to be fake or hard sell although some are.

This week I got into a lovely and sentimental conversation with two other Canadian women (strangers!) about our much beloved childhood hamsters — one even shared a photo. I love this stuff.

Social media was designed to be social.

Some of my many treasured Twitter finds:

— an archeologist in Berlin whose main work is based in Turkey at Gobekli Tepe, a Neolithic site. I think we connected through a Twitterchat. When I finally visited Berlin in July 2017 we met for lunch.

— A prolific mudlarker in London, Laura Maiklem, who routinely posts images of treasures like a Tudor shoe. She’s gained more than 200,000 social media followers.

A fantastic daily stream of Canadian paintings, in every medium, from every era. It began in 2018. So cool!

— Photos of 18th century clothing from various historians.

— pictures of various ancient mosaics from several female archeologists.

— inside dope on aviation from professional and amateur pilots, a group of #avgeeks.

— a Dutch woman who (!) is knitting me an amazing hat

— Gorgeous landscape photography, much of it from Scotland and England.

— I also really enjoy two weekly Twitterchats, where I meet up with fellow enthusiasts from around the world; #TRLT, for The Road Less Traveled, which draws people from Vancouver to Malawi. And #FreelanceChat, which assembles freelancers for a lively conversation and which teaches each of us new tips and insights.

I know a lot of people have already left Twitter and fled to Mastodon.

I haven’t yet, It feels really unwieldy and not nearly as easy to find and spark this sort of cross-disciplinary conversation.

Have you been a Twitter fan?

Have you left?

Have you joined Mastodon?

Some very good news

By Caitlin Kelly

Last spring, Jose and I were chatting about doing a possible book, a sort of guide for fellow freelancers, as millions of people are now eager to try this way of living and working.

Over July and August we worked really hard and, writing it together, produced a full book proposal which we shared with a pal in Toronto who worked for years in book publishing and now teaches it. She liked it a lot but made some very specific suggestions to improve it.

We did that and started submitting it to agents, with a few rejections.

Then — yay! — we found an agent quickly, also in Toronto, my hometown I left decades ago. So we are now officially represented and very excited. She won’t be submitting it to editors until early November after we take a badly needed break, (Jose’s first for 2022), to Quebec and upstate NY.

Then, all digits will be crossed!

It’s a wild notion to be co-authors after 22 years together, and Jose is a photographer and photo editor and photo archivist — not a writer! But he writes very well and has been a good soldier with all my demands for revisions.

I haven’t sold a new book since September 2009, when I sold Malled, so am eager to rejoin the fray. The industry has changed a lot since then, and getting tougher, of course. There’s been a lot of consolidation so fewer places to submit to. Then the nasty fact of payments in 25% increments…the first payment (- 15% to the agent, standard every time) upon signing the deal; the second upon acceptance of the manuscript; the third upon publication — up to a year later then the final one (!) a year after that. Unless you get a huge advance, which few do, it’s not a way to make a lot of money!

But we know for sure there’s a global market for this subject and we’ve read some of the “comps” — comparable books, a must for every non-fiction book proposal. I won’t get specific yet, but ours has at least six very distinctive features that competing books just don’t offer.

Wish us luck!

My 2 weeks with Queen Elizabeth

By Caitlin Kelly

I admit — we were in the middle of a restaurant lunch yesterday when we learned that Queen Elizabeth had died.

I burst into tears.

I know for many people the monarchy is something hated and archaic. I get it.

For a Canadian who grew up, initially, with photos of Her Majesty on our classroom walls, then later on our stamps and currency, the Queen was a daily part of our lives, even if only her image.

As a young reporter for the national daily Globe and Mail, she became a part of my daily life in person when I was chosen to cover a Royal Tour of the Queen and Prince Philip.

It was the oddest sort of high profile assignment as it meant my stories would run on the front page most days — yet there would be little to say beyond what she wore, what she might say and who she met. It was both thrilling to be chosen and terrifying, especially as this was long before cellphones or the Internet or light, quick laptops. I would have to file for up to five daily editions, racing to meet each deadline with no easy access to a telephone or even a place from which to send my story or even to sit down and write it.

This made for some seriously weird moments — like the big old house in small-town New Brunswick where I begged to use their kitchen table to write, and, when an older gentlemen entered his own kitchen, muttered “Globe and Mail, on deadline!” Then I had to kick the lady of the house off her own telephone to commandeer the line, unscrew the handset, attach alligator clips, and transmit my story in time. The gentleman was a judge who would be attending a formal dinner with her that evening.

Or the hotel lobby gift shop whose pay phone I needed to use.

Or the small-town rural home whose front door I banged on in desperation…scaring the hell out of its poor owners as I begged yet more strangers for their help and to use their phone.

Each day was long and tiring, often with multiple events, and I think we were working 12-15 hour days, whipped.

We must have eaten, but I don’t remember when or how or what.

We traveled in a huge press pack, with Time and Newsweek and BBC and CBC all jammed into press planes or buses. Sometimes we flew in a Lear jet (a first!) and observed the “purple corridor” — the elapsed time between when Her Majesty’s plane took off and ours was allowed to.

We were all technically competing with one another for…no real news!

It was very odd to watch her turn her charm on and off like a spigot on walkabouts — we’re so used to politicians and celebrities who crave our attention, admiration, votes and money that to observe someone with multiple castles, the wealthiest woman (at least then) in the world up close — becoming cool/distant when she felt like it, was quite disorienting.

A dapper Glaswegian security man in a tweed jacket followed behind the Royal entourage, holding out his hands to keep us at bay like wild animals.

“You need a whip and a chair!” I joked.

“I could use the whip,” he replied, with a flirtatious twinkle in his eye. (I later bought one and gave it to him as a joke at our final party.)

I broke a few controversial stories and ended up being the brunt of some serious bullshit from competitors who had not matched my reporting. At a crowded mess hall somewhere in Manitoba, the legendary BBC TV reporter, Kate Adie, saw my distress and whispered in my ear: “The higher your profile, the better target you make.” She later mentioned me and that event in one of her memoirs.

A few specific memories:

— The stunning jewels of a tiara she wore to a dinner

— a brooch with an emerald the size of a baby’s fist

— a small suitcase in the back of a car, with a large red cardboard tag: The Queen

— being given a small piece of paper each morning with the official language we were to use to describe her clothing; eau-de-nil, not “light green.”

At the end of it all, we were invited aboard the royal yacht Britannia for drinks. That was amazing enough, and then we were each presented to Her Majesty.

It was brief, but memorable.

What’s missing?

By Caitlin Kelly

Whether by innate voracious curiosity or decades of working in journalism, my first instinct in response to almost everything I read, hear or watch is to ask….what’s missing?

It’s essential in that work to pay really close attention not only to what’s offered…but what isn’t being said? What does a long pause or silence in an interview mean? Why does almost every American national TV news report lack any useful or meaningful context? I routinely shout at the TV screen in frustration!

It might be a lack of diversity in sourcing — very common.

It might be sadly clear that the “news” item was simply a rewritten press release, also known as a “puff piece.”

It might be the reporter, editor and producer were too lazy or ignorant to dig deeper — like (!?) a recent report on the national nightly news from CBS that urged listeners to get vaccinated against polio (a good thing) but failed to even mention how polio is spread.


Or it might be the creators knew there was a minefield beneath the flowers — and decided to just let things lie.

This was immediately obvious to me while recently watching a new documentary about Leonard Cohen, a renowned Canadian singer/songwriter who died in 2016, but who has millions of fans worldwide. His life never lacked for drama — partnered with very beautiful women, one (Suzanne Elrod) who bore him two children, Lorca and Adam, spending six years in a Zen monastery outside Los Angeles, emerging to discover that a longtime friend and manager, Kelly Lynch, had robbed him blind, pocketing some $5 million of his earnings. She only got 18 months in prison — and he went out on tour at 79 (!) to make back his losses, which he did.

Here’s the thing:

I love his work.

I know many of his songs by heart.

I admire his art.

But to produce a documentary that doesn’t even speak to his children, or explain that maybe they wouldn’t speak on camera (!?) struck me at once as a huge oversight. It could not have been in error.

The film includes many musicians talking about their admiration for Cohen and his influence on them, from Judy Collins to Brandie Carlisle to Glenn Hansard.

As someone from an accomplished family, and parents who were devoted to their work, this hit hard. I’ve long wanted to write a book interviewing the adult children of highly successful parents, and not just “celebrities” like the Kardashians. I know that being the child of famous and successful parents can come at a very real emotional cost.

A little more candor here would have done the trick for me.

No more yelling!

If you ever watch the HBO series Succession, here’s one very toxic boss, Logan Roy

By Caitlin Kelly

My favorite place in the suburban New York county where I’ve lived for decades is an indie art film house; some weeks I’m up there multiple times to see a film. I love movies!

Its programming director was recently fired for yelling at his staff, leaving one in tears.

There have always been bad-tempered toxic bosses, but in some places there’s now (happily!) a diminished appetite for them — as several high profile male NPR radio hosts have also learned in recent years, also fired for abusing their staff.

I welcome this, as someone who grew up in an emotionally abusive family and then worked in journalism, one of the most dysfunctional of industries; with a constant oversupply of eager job-seekers, nasty bosses can thrive and rise, thrive and rise, usually without any form of accountability. If they keep losing talented staff, well, hey, whose fault is that?

Having also survived years at boarding school, also being yelled at by old women who were our housemothers, I have little appetite for people unable to hold their damn tongues and be civil. I don’t care how frustrated you are.

I’ve survived quite a few terrifying bosses, one a woman at a trade magazine publisher in Manhattan, who thought nothing of shouting abuse across the room at all of us and, when I dared confront her, stood very very close to me and leaned in further….her pupils oddly dilated. I quit within a month, and with no job waiting and newly divorced.

At the New York Daily News, I dared to ask the photo editor a question in an open newsroom so large it ran from 34th to 33rd street. His idea to humiliate and intimidate me, he yelled at me that I was asking a really difficult question; how to fill out a photo request. What a dick. This was a wholly normal question for a new employee offered zero training. I was then 50 — and quietly told him that being abusive wasn’t going to alter my request. He then ran to my boss to complain about me. Such a FUN workplace!

And, of course, there was another trade magazine boss, a weird little troll who shouted at me for disappointing him when I was editing a 48 page trade magazine with no staff at all, able to offer only extremely low freelance rates that guaranteed careless work from the only writers we could afford.

He came into my very small office and, as I pleaded with him that I was doing my best, snarled: “Define best!”

I was, no surprise, fired a few days later.

I ran into him decades later while riding our shared commuter rail line. As he went to sit beside me, he asked: “Do you remember me?”

“Yes,” was all I said.

Journalism attracts people who are smart and tough and highly impatient, expected to produce flawless results very, very quickly…not a great combo. Then the most demanding rise into management where, sure, they have high standards — but also can get away with shouting and raging with impunity.

I’ve even encountered this toxic arrogance as a freelancer, like a young woman then an editor at the Columbia Journalism Review (ooooh, the delicious irony) who I finally had to hang up the phone on since she was unable to let me finish a sentence.

And, funny thing, she too has since risen in the industry.

I shook for an hour after that phone call — because if you’ve been the subject of a lot of yelling, especially as a child, it really evokes a sort of PTSD.

So every time another abusive manager loses their job, income and authority, I’m thrilled!

Have you been the victim of such bad behavior?

How did you handle it?

Women — time to speak up!

By Caitlin Kelly

The editor in chief of the Financial Times, Rouala Khalaf, (probably the most male of the big newspapers — and boy are they male, especially at the very top) — recently implored more women to write to their letters page.

I was thrilled to have my letter published there, verbatim, a few months ago.

I can see why so few women do:

— It’s intimidating! Letters to the FT routinely arrive from Lords and CEOs and deans of elite universities. How dare we add our voices?!

— Fear of looking stupid or uninformed.

— Fear of professional reputational loss (see above!)

— Too busy working/parenting/caregiving

— Modesty…why listen to us?

As you know (cough!) I’m fine expressing my opinions publicly, here and on social media and in classrooms and at conferences and in letters pages, including those of The New York Times and Newsweek.

I was basically raised as a boy, to be smart and competitive, not sweet and submissive as so many girls and women still are, so this never scared me, even if maybe it should.

I am very careful on Twitter not to discuss the most divisive topics — abortion, guns, politics — in any detail. Women are trolled and harassed and get death and rape threats when they do. No thanks!

So, when and where should we speak up?

— Protest marches

— School board meetings

— City council/town hall meetings

— at industry conferences, either as a speaker, moderator or audience member

— your blog, and others’

— social media

— writing and publishing essays and op-eds

— voting

— call-in radio shows

— as a member of an organization or group or community

I know, it can feel scary to invite argument or ridicule or dismissal!

But the more we stay invisible and inaudible, the more we allow this behavior to dominate and silence us.

Now that the landmark abortion law Roe v. Wade is in danger, and so many U.S. states ready to ban abortion, it’s no time to sit back and shrug. Our many bodily rights to autonomy are being erased daily.

Our voices matter.

Are we here for attention or support? Both?

By Caitlin Kelly

I grew up long before social media existed.

If I wanted or needed love, attention, interest — in me or my work — I had to find and nurture the relationships that might provide it. Or not. In the real world, friends can come and go, betray us, be disloyal, say stupid or unkind things — or be incredibly loving for decades.

When conflict arises, which is likely over a long relationship of true intimacy, we have a choice: try and work it out or bail and end the relationship.

We had no “mute” or “block” button as Twitter so conveniently offers.

I spend too much of my time on Twitter, I admit, and now have 6,239 followers there, a few of whom have become close friends. But I would never mistake the majority of these strangers as benign and caring friends, no matter how much anyone “likes” my tweets or retweets me.

True friends show up for us at times of real difficulty, bringing their physical presence whenever possible or sending cards, gifts, flowers, letters. They know how bad things really are, or how hard we may have worked to win something.

I’ve also been very badly burned twice through Facebook, once by a “friend” who sent a screenshot of my (unwise) rant about an editor to that editor — destroying a professional relationship. I now accept almost no new “friends.”

So people on social media “know” only a fraction of who I am, even though I’ve shared quite a lot here, because, even though WordPress says I have 23,000 (!?) followers, a tiny fraction (thank you!) ever comment. I really have no idea if more than 20 or 30 people even read this. Tant pis!

I’m very aware that sharing personal or professional details — here and anywhere on social media — also means leaving myself open to criticism, judgment and cruelty, not just kindness.

I was recently shocked (should I have been?) to see a highly popular artist/writer start hinting on Twitter that she was facing a dire medical diagnosis, which she has now made clear is some form of cancer. She has 38,000 followers, but some have chosen to tweet truly horrific things in reply to her very real fear and grief.

I’ve tweeted and DMed her to suggest she stop sharing any details there immediately and focus solely on true friends and medical care. The added stress is not helpful.

Social media — certainly in an era of (ugh) “influencers” — begs an important question:

Are we doing this for attention (obviously) or (also?) for crucial emotional support?

I see many people now sharing their grief on Twitter (as well as weddings and births and graduations and new Phds) and find this somewhat confounding — but I also spent the first 30 years of my life in Canada and France, countries whose cultures are far more reticent than the “lemme tell you everything right now!” that Americans seem to enjoy.

It’s true many of us are now terribly isolated and lonely, and year after year of avoiding social contact because of COVID, is only making it worse. Social media becomes a default way to connect emotionally and intellectually.

It’s just a double-edged sword.

I was recently dressed down (albeit privately and in a friendly way) by a very senior journalist who admires my work, saying I’m so negative about journalism on Twitter I’m losing editors’ interest in working with me.

At this point in my career, I don’t care. I want newer writers to avoid the many pitfalls I see them tumbling into.

But loneliness is a huge problem for so many…here’s a long, smart NYT article about it:

real remedies to the problem of loneliness, Dr. Murthy stressed, must address not just the lonely people but the culture making them lonely.

“We ask people to exercise and eat a healthy diet and take their medications,” he said. “But if we truly want to be healthy, happy and fulfilled as a society, we have to restructure our lives around people. Right now our lives are centered around work.”

From the surgeon general of the United States, this is a moonshot call, to reverse cultural patterns that are decades in the making and that profit some of the nation’s biggest businesses.

We recently hosted a much beloved younger friend for a few days, visiting NY for the first time in a few years from Oregon. What a joy it was!

We chatted, snoozed, caught up, discovered all sorts of unlikely commonalities — like our addiction to the Bourne movies. Like us, she works freelance, so we have lots in common from a work perspective as well.

It was so sad to say goodbye!

Why do I still blog — now 13 years and 2,000+ posts into it?

I love having a place to muse, to share my travels or images or advice or ideas…many of which can’t be monetized and sold as pieces of journalism. I weary of retailing every thought!

But I also enjoy hearing from you!

So, yes, attention is the goal.

How about you?

Do you blog or tweet or use Reddit or TikTok or YouTube to gain attention or support?

Is it working for you as you hope?

Come join our pitch slam! Dec. 15, 6-7 ET

By Caitlin Kelly

On December 15, between 6-7pm ET, my friend Abby Lee Hood and I are offering a Zoom pitch slam — $25.

If you have been pitching (some of?) your ideas fruitlessly, this is a great and affordable opportunity to get smart, kind, helpful feedback from two busy full-time freelancers; I’ve sold more than 100 stories to the very demanding editors of The New York Times and Abby writes for a wide variety of outlets, some in their native Tennessee (i.e. local and regional news) but also for the Times, Teen Vogue, Washington Post and more.

Pitching isn’t easy!

So this webinar, which will be recorded, offers everyone a chance to either pitch their idea and get our candid-but-kind feedback or just watch, listen and learn.

Here’s the sign-up!

Hope you will join us!

Taking a short break

By Caitlin Kelly

Having been basically mugged on Facebook this week by someone determined to professionally sabotage me, I’m a little sour on social media right now.

It was real shock to me, and has left me sickened by how vicious someone can choose to be.

So with July 1 (Canada Day) and July 4 coming up, I’m laying down tools for now.

See you in a week or so.

Stay cool!

Trust. It’s everything.

12/27/95–On Military Route “Arizona”- A sign warns of mines that were planted in a field during the Bosnian war. In a report published by the Bosnian and Herzegovina Mine Action Centre, it stated, ” In Bosnia and Herzegovina there is still remaining more than 80,000 mines/ERWs. Mine problem is present in 129 municipalities/cities, or 1,398 affected communities/settlements.”photo, J.R. Lopez, New York Times.

By Caitlin Kelly

If you’ve been reading Broadside for a while — thank you! — you know I’m generally an openhearted person.

I like people and approach new situations, professional and personal, with a sense of optimism.

Working as a journalist means I have to quickly put strangers at ease and gather useful information from them. We have to establish trust fast — something of a contradiction.

Working as a journalist also means assuming most people are not lying to me, or want to do me harm in so doing, because a journalist who publishes lies is someone with a very short career. So we fact-check when possible and seek out sources whose background and credentials are as legit as we can find.

When it comes to personal relationships, trust is also paramount, at least for me.

My first marriage, to a physician, lasted barely two years; he bailed and remarried, quickly, a fellow therapist (!) he worked with and with whom he spent a lot of personal time. I was wholly reliant on him financially, so I had to trust him. I had little choice then.

Jose and I have spent time apart. I traveled alone for six weeks in Europe in June-July 2017, as blissful as I could be. I love solo time and traveling alone, exploring to my heart’s content.

I had an amusing evening in Berlin, sharing a table with three handsome young men (all co-workers), one of whom (as part of the conversation!) took off his dress shirt.

It was all good fun, nothing more.

Trust is the basic foundation of every interaction we have, from infancy to death:

— our parents

— our physicians

— our caregivers

— our teachers and professors

— our school/college administrators

— the police

— the courts

— our clergy and religious leaders

— our political leaders

— activists

— our relatives

— our romantic partners/spouses

— our employers

— youth group leaders

— our co-workers

— government agencies whose job it is to regulate/fine/shut down offenders

If you’re a person of color, or non-Christian, or gay, you have now become a target for hatred — with more and more deaths-by-vehicle, targeted by sociopaths or a pervasive police brutality that is deeply shocking, if no longer surprising.

You can’t even go out for a bike ride or a walk trusting in your personal safety.

And, as I’ve written here before, trust can be quickly shattered, and is difficult to regain….after dating a con man in 1998, being laughed at, literally, by my local police and D.A., my worldview would never be the same again.

My family relationships, too often toxic through anger and alcohol, taught me to be wary of intimacy.

Trust also underpins every freelance personal and professional relationship:

— our friends

— our colleagues

— our clients

— our agents

— our editors

— our social media networks

I spend a lot of time (too much!) on Twitter, where I have some 5600 followers, including some very senior people in my industry.

I’ve made several very good friends with people I still have yet to meet face to face, whether in Brazil or Tennessee.

So this past weekend, we did!

SO MUCH FUN!

A gay couple, one of whom works in our industry (journalism) and her partner, came up to our home and shared a long lunch that started at noon — and ended at 5:30.

We all took the chance of getting together and hoping we would be as we are on social media — fun, funny, playful, smart, interesting.

We were and we did.

I call these Twitter blind dates, not that we want a romantic thing, but we go into them really only knowing a tiny profile photo, a bunch of tweets and LinkedIn profile. Hoping for the best!

I’ve done this many times, never disappointed.

With a retail expert who lives in Virginia.

With a travel blogger and an archeologist (2 people) in Berlin.

With a pair of travel agent sisters in Zagreb.

With a fellow blogger, in London, https://smalldogsyndrome.com/.

We’ve been repeat house-guests a few times, and that also requires trust — that we’re quiet and thoughtful and don’t smoke or do drugs or will break or stain or ruin things. We bring food and drink and a gift and we always send a thank-you note.

We also trust our hosts to offer us a clean, soft bed. To let us have quiet alone time. To offer good food. To not (as one did to me?!) leave a filthy cat litter box beneath my pull-out bed.

I also once house-sat for a family of four headed to Tuscany from Vermont — unpaid. I was perfectly happy to walk their small affectionate dog. I was not at all happy to also get stuck watering their large garden in a heat wave and (!?) cleaning their pool.

That friendship died with this abuse of my time and energy. I trusted them to be fair with me, and they were not.

Do you trust easily?