Six ways HBO’s “Succession” hit me hard personally

Logan Roy, bully, entrepreneur, puppeteer

By Caitlin Kelly

If you haven’t watched Succession, this blog’s not for you!

If you have, you’re familiar with this filthy rich dysfunctional family — including three ex-wives and a young assistant who had so hoped to become the fourth Mrs. Roy, but — damn! — the old dude died right in front of her, in his private jet en route to Sweden to close a business deal.

I love this show, but some of its moments hit me hard personally, often echoing my own dysfunctional family.

Here are six:

It’s not a family in any meaningful sense of the word

Logan Roy has three ex-wives; one he dismissed to a psychiatric hospital; one, very English and very cowardly and the last, Marcia, whose venom comes wrapped in a husky French accent. He has four adult children, including one from the first marriage — Con, likely 10 to 15 years older than the rest, who has always felt unloved and excluded by his father. As the oldest of four adult kids of our own father, by two wives, and two affairs, with none of us who ever lived together, I’ve felt this as the only child of my father’s first marriage.

The daughter, Siobhan Roy (aka Shiv), always, always shut out of power

Logan Roy loves to play his needy and insecure children against one another

Painfully familiar. My father, now 94, has always favored his youngest, 23 years my junior and who refuses to have any relationship to me at all. The sister I haven’t met only shows up every few years and the brother closest to me in age has created huge success for himself — but our father never seems able to celebrate us.

Having someone die after you’ve just argued with them is haunting and painful

My last conversation with my late stepmother, who died at 63 on my husband’s birthday, was an argument. It was a truly terrible time, with a lot of long-repressed and ugly emotions finally blasting to the surface. When so much remains unaddressed for decades and any chance of reconciliation is suddenly gone, it is a terrible shock and leaves even deeper family wounds.

Kendall Roy, whose past conceals a terrible secret he fears might one day emerge

Money changes everything

We’re certainly not wealthy in Roy style — private jets, helicopters everywhere, multiple huge houses — but two of my male ancestors were very successful in creating their own business, and the money they made very much affected their offspring and how they view(ed) money. It’s a useful and familiar way to wield power, to bestow or withhold affection. It’s also weird to grow up around opulent spending (my maternal grandmother was a literal heiress) and never earn or acquire such means yourself. It was normal to have Granny’s chauffeur — Raymond — and her jewelers, Jack and Adrian — attend her annual Christmas party. So I get Tom Wambsgans’ admission, coming from a less wealthy family, that he actually does like money.

Tom Wambsgans, Shiv’s hapless husband

When a man as calculating and manipulative as Logan Roy dies, beware

I’ve never met my half-sister (5 years younger) and have no wish to. My two half-brothers have an off-on relationship. With no clear communication between all four of us, it’s quite something to navigate.

There’s so much the Roy “kids” still have to figure out — like what emotional intimacy and trust even look like

While the Roys are spoiled rotten materially, and are putative adults, there’s an awful lot about the real world they just don’t know and will finally and suddenly need to learn without their father’s protection and power. Surrounded from birth by bodyguards and helicopter pilots and maids and chauffeurs, paid people who say yes to almost everything, they also seem to have no friends anywhere. Every conversation is about getting, keeping or getting more money. Forget love or affection or the joy of something basic — like actually enjoying a pampered life in New York City, with every cultural richness literally on their doorstep. As Season Four progresses, its final season, they’re finally, for a while, able to love and support one another.

I finally, gratefully, have a relationship with one of my half-brothers. But that’s it.

As I always joke, there’s no Hallmark card for a “family” like ours.

What newsroom life is really like

Two weeks trailing HRH was…an adventure!

By Caitlin Kelly

The NYT’s columnist Maureen Dowd recently posted this lament for the good old days of newsrooms:

As Mayer recalled, when a big story broke at The Star: “You could see history happening. People would cluster over a reporter’s desk, pile into the boss’s office, and sometimes break into incredibly loud fights. There were weirdos in newsrooms, and fabulous role models occasionally, and the spirit of being part of a motley entourage. Now, it’s just you and the little cursor on your screen.”

If you have watched TV shows like Alaska Daily, about a small paper in Anchorage, or Borgen, or (a million years ago) Lou Grant or the Mary Tyler Moore Show or The Newsroom, or films like Spotlight (2015 Best Picture), All the President’s Men, Broadcast News, The Paper or The Verdict or….You might think you know what working in a newsroom is like.

Having survived three of them, The Toronto Globe and Mail for 2.5 years at age 26, the Montreal Gazette at 30 for 1.5 years and one brutal year decades later at the New York Daily News, lemme tell ya! My husband worked 31 years at The New York Times, in the main newsroom in New York City and, earlier, in its Washington bureau.

We know. Oh, we know. Jose worked many assignments with Dowd, including some huge front page stories.

I agree there are few places — maybe as an ER physician or nurse, or a firefighter — where adrenaline surges are a normal part of every working day. Whenever I walked up the rear ramp of the Globe’s parking lot, past the enormous satellite dish that would (!!) transmit all our words to printing plants across Canada later that day, my blood pressure always always rose.

It was exciting but terrifying.

What if the Toronto Star or CBC beat us? What if we got something wrong? Working in daily news always means the fear of someone else getting the “scoop” first.

Most newsrooms — whatever the medium — look the same. Rows of desks, some piled very very high with papers and magazines and documents. Few windows. Open plan so everyone can see if you’re there and working and an editor can (and does) yell at/for you from far away. Your co-workers work barely a few feet away from you, so forget any sort of personal or professional privacy. No smelly food! No loud conversations!

Managers get offices with glass walls so they can see what we’re up to.

Ideally, this fosters camaraderie and collaboration, and sometimes it does.

Despite the chaos of the industry — so many layoffs! — it retains a military hierarchy and chain of command, from interns to publisher. Mess with it at your peril.

The irony, of course, is that it’s called a newsroom when the news is never there.

It’s in Kyiv or Islamabad or Edmonton or Des Moines, and that’s the true strength and beauty of them — the immediate transfer of information, words and images that flow into and out of the editors’ desks in the newsroom. There’s often someone who does rewrite (I have!) which is wild…a reporter calls in with their story and reads it to you over the phone so you have to type really fast and accurately! I’ve also dictated my own stories by phone as well. Very 1940s!

A crucial — and unseen/unheralded — part of every functional newsroom are its editors, for copy, graphics, maps, illustrations and photos. There are also, depending on the size of the media outlet, lawyers who may review a story for accuracy and defense against a charge of libel.

I first worked in a time when our laptops were very slow, TRS-80s, with tiny screens and we had to transmit our stories to the newsroom using alligator clips you attached to the handset of a telephone. That’s if you could even find a phone on deadline! Research meant actually reading and speaking to sources as our only font of information — no Google!

Competing with a better-funded paper like the Toronto Star could be a nightmare, like the night there was a prison riot in a city 2.5 hours east of Toronto. The Star, of course, got reporters to the scene while I, sitting in the newsroom, had to update five editions with very very little material. We even had to ask a senior manager whenever we needed a new notebook.

But I really miss its wit and repartee….like the night I was banging away on deadline and an editor shouted down the room…”Where is it?!”

“Hey, you can’t rush perfection,” I replied. The Venus de Milo wasn’t made in a day!”

“Do you type like her?”

The Montreal Gazette was another world, with one key editor who was deeply Catholic so I was cautioned never to suggest a story about abortion. It was one-paper town (in English) — compared to three in Toronto. The metabolism was slower. It wasn’t a great fit for me.

The NY Daily News hired me without previous NYC paper experience nor work for a tabloid. At prior papers, 1,000 words was a warm-up; at the News, deemed a long feature. Its halls held enormous copies of legendary moments in history, their front pages, framed. No pressure!

It was a very male place, with a few star reporters who were women. The photo editor shouted at me, again in an open newsroom where everyone was his unwilling audience, when I dared to ask for some basic instructions. I explained to my boss — who told me the man had once thrown a radio at him.

Like that.

I broke several national stories and learned how to write tighter. I reported on a very different — much less affluent, much more diverse — New York than I’d ever known. Our stories were in Harlem and Queens and the Bronx, not the Upper East Side.

But the manager who hired me soon left, and my time there became extremely difficult. I won’t say more, but I’ve never worked in a newsroom since.

I miss them.

I do.

There is there, at its best, a tremendous sense of teamwork and accomplishment. For some.

There is, at its best, ready access to some of the smartest and most fun and boldest people you’re ever likely to meet — colleagues who’ve worked in places like Kabul and Kandahar, not just Kalamazoo.

I’ve signed up to be a mentor with Report For America.

I look forward to helping the next generation survive their newsrooms.

Almost 40% of Americans have “no faith” in the media

By Caitlin Kelly

From a recent conference held in New York, with some of the industry’s top leaders…

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.

I found this analysis by Dame insightful and, sadly, spot-on:

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:

  • repetitive
  • overly focused on crime, violence, sentimentality and military
  • boring
  • 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!

A few more thoughts about our responsibilities:

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?

10 reasons to watch Babylon Berlin

By Caitlin Kelly

I may have raved previously about this series — the most expensive German TV production ever made (2016) — “with a budget of €40 million that increased to €55 million due to reshoots” says Wikipedia — but am now re-watching it for the fourth time, both savoring the smallest details I missed or misunderstood before and the comfort of favorite scenes and moments.

It’s a neo-noir detective series that starts in Berlin in 1929, during the Weimar Republic, a period of incredible tumult and change.

And Season Four starts next week in Germany — not sure when we’ll have it here.

The many characters are indelible, including:

Charlotte Ritter, young, broke, working her way into becoming the city’s first homicide detective but working at night as a prostitute because she’s supporting an older sister and her deadbeat husband and their two infants, a younger sister, a mother and grandfather — all sharing the same squalid flat.

Gereon Rath, a cop who comes to Berlin from Cologne, both innocent and hardened by his WWI PTSD. He’s a “trembler”, much mocked by a colleague for his ongoing post-war trauma.

Helga Rath, his sister-in-law, with whom he’s been having an affair for a decade, with his soldier brother MIA.

Detective Chief Inspector Bruno Walter, whose heart harbors both compassion and terrible, deadly ambition.

If you’ve never seen it (on Netflix), 10 reasons why it’s worth your time:

  1. To understand the many currents of Weimar Germany — intense nostalgia for The Fatherland, humiliated and broke after WWI, terrible poverty, unemployment, major new cultural changes like cinema and women joining the workforce.

2) To watch Gereon’s face as he takes his first airplane flight, moving from terror and disbelief to wonder. Magic!

3) To appreciate Charlotte’s blend of innocence and optimism in the face of relentless poverty and odds against her, and her toughness and determination.

4) To enjoy the long slow simmer of love between Gereon and Charlotte.

5) The music and sets and costumes! The soundtrack is also available — and it’s so good.

6) If you’ve never been to Berlin, to get to know it a bit through location shooting.

7) To feel as though you’re living their life with them, in all its complexity and fear and small joys — like a sunny afternoon swimming in a local lake (Berlin has more than 50! I spent an idyllic afternoon at Schlactensee.)

8) To travel to Berlin vicariously — without a mask or jet lag!

9) To keep unraveling so many layers of deceit and betrayal — and surprising loyalty and generosity.

10) For sheer pleasure!

And enjoy this terrific blog about the series — lots of inside intel!

10 reasons to watch Succession

Logan Roy, media mogul (played by Brian Cox)

By Caitlin Kelly

This is not a television show for the faint of heart!

There’s no physical violence — not the endless gunfire of cop shows or the bloody murders of Dexter — but every episode means someone, and likely several, will feel a verbal knife between the ribs.

This much-lauded HBO series has been booked for a fourth season, its finale of Season Three tomorrow.

It follows the fortunes, (which are considerable), of the Roy family: the father, Logan and his three hapless adult children, (in age order), Connor, Kendall, Siobhan and Romulus. The family business is Waystar-Royco, a global media conglomerate, and the succession is who, if anyone, will take over from Logan.

Ten reasons I think it’s worth your time and attention:

Peeking into how the 1% live

They call their private jets PJs. How cute! No one ever drives because there is always a gleaming black Escalade, with driver, waiting for them. No cabs or public transit. No commercial flights. So many servants.

At the end of Season Two, the Roys convene in Croatia aboard a luxury mega-yacht — you know, the kind with a helicopter landing pad and its own swimming pool. If you’ve never boarded one (and lucky you, if so!) it’s an interesting peek at opulence. Their Hamptons house is enormous. Their Manhattan townhouse, typically, has its own elevator and is both restrained and very luxurious.

Siobhan Roy, (played by Sarah Snook)

Sibling rivalry!

It’s both absurd and scary to see the sniping between these supposed adults, especially between Roman and Shiv, endlessly jockeying for Logan’s fickle favor. Connor is a low-key buffoon and Kendall is determined to bring down the whole castle.

Here’s a profile from the Hollywood Reporter of Kieran Culkin, who plays Roman.

The endless courting of investors

It all looks so shiny and effortless, but if your company’s health or survival relies on fellow billionaires investing millions of dollars in your abilities, things can get dicey very quickly — as they do in Season Three.

Tom Wambsgans (played by Matthew MacFadyen)

Marrying into money? You’ll earn every dime!

The marriage between Tom Wambsgans and Siobhan is…troubled. He’s a midwestern schlub — and I still have no idea how they met or what she ever saw in him?! — and she’s a spoiled rotten heiress who’s never held a job, apparently. She’s a skilled manipulator but, especially in this current season, he’s become wary and withholding. About time!

Ethics, schmethics!

It’s all about the power, baby! If your lawyer can’t get you the results you want, hire another one!

Nicholas Britell’s unforgettable theme music and score

Here’s a fascinating look at how he makes these musical decisions; a 5:24 video explaining his choices for Season 2.

Once you hear it, you’ll never forget it, a mix of discordant notes played with abandon. He uses his music in so many ways, from a funereal dirge to a gentle acoustic guitar to a stately symphonic rendition.

Kendall Roy (played by Jeremy Strong)

Kendall

This is one deeply sad human being. He has no apparent relationship with his two children. His current flame, another heiress, seems less than. There’s a deep sadness in his eyes and everything he says, with hearty bravado, just feels off. Actor Jeremy Strong is extraordinary.

Here’s a very long New Yorker profile of Strong.

Siobhan

How perfect that her nickname is Shiv — the home-made knives prisoners make to stab a guard or fellow inmate with. Played by Australian actress Sarah Snook, Shiv is a slippery shape-shifter, all cooing suck-up to her father and cold-as-ice to her hapless husband. She desperately wants power but never seems to find a way to legitimately earn it. Even when she does (in Season Three), her achievement is undercut and dismissed by Logan. It’s brutal to watch.

Here’s a Harper’s Bazaar profile of Snook.

Logan

He is a true brute, whose tactics may make this show unwatchable for some. His typical reply of “uh-huh” speaks volumes — by never committing to anything he hasn’t already planned or sabotaged. The definition of ruthless.

Wealth doesn’t protect you from abuse

Read this brilliant analysis, from Vox, of how deeply traumatized the Roys really are.

And this, about Kendall and the actor who plays him, Jeremy Strong.

If you’re already watching it — here are some interesting re-caps/analyses.

If you have been watching it, what do you think?

Kim Wall’s murder: “The Investigation” on HBO

By Caitlin Kelly

In the summer of 2017, Kim Wall, an adventurous, ambitious 30-year-old Swedish freelance journalist made a last-minute phone call to Peter Madsen, a Danish inventor in Copenhagen. She wanted to ride in his home-made submarine, a potential story.

It’s the sort of thing many freelancers do all the time, without deep concern about the risks, as the rewards are obvious.

It would be her last.

He killed her, dismembered her and threw her into the water.

Now, HBO Europe has released a six-part series about the hunt for her killer, The Investigation, on in the U.S.

The show never once names him, referring to him only as “the accused.”

If you, as I do, loved the Danish show Borgen, this brings back two very familiar faces — Pilou Asbek as the prosecutor (who played the spin doctor in Borgen) and Soren Malling as the chief of Copenhagen police (the TV director in Borgen.)

We never see or hear much about Kim herself except through the characters who play her parents, who were as committed to her independence and freelance life as she was. It’s never an easy life, and one many parents find too worrisome and penurious, so this is an interesting piece of the story.

The show moves slowly, with many setbacks and confusion and a lot of frustration — just as much detective work actually unfolds in real life. Madsen was not tried and convicted until April 2018.

I found the show emotionally hard to watch — (I didn’t know Kim)– as it could easily have been me or many other freelancers. Our lives are full of such crazy adventures — many quite risky — we undertake in order to find and tell compelling stories.

And we go alone.

At 25, for a story about the many challenges of trucking goods across the EU, I climbed into an 18-wheeler French truck, met its driver, Pierre Boue, and set off from Perpignan to Istanbul (eight days.) We had never met or spoken. We were both single and he was 35. We. slept on tiny bunks in the truck cab, with no privacy possible. There was no Internet then or cell phones.

It proved one of the best weeks of my life and my career.

But it looked risky as hell.

Here’s a story about it from Vox:

The 2017 murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall is one of the most haunting true crime cases in recent memory. If you worked in New York media four years ago, there was a high chance you knew someone who had worked with Wall. She was a vibrant, award-winning freelancer who reported complex investigations all over the world, often fearlessly navigating unfamiliar regions.

That facet of her life served to heighten the irony around her death: Two days before she was about to move across the world to begin yet another adventure, she arranged a last-minute interview in Copenhagen with a man who should have been an easy subject: Peter Madsen, a high-powered tech guru and inventor. Madsen was part of Wall’s home region. He was a renowned public figure; she was a renowned, well-connected journalist. It should have been her safest assignment yet.

This, from IndieWire:

Some audiences may balk at the ways the HBO show (now available in full on HBO Max) removes some of these standard elements of biographical crime stories. In staying as close to its title as possible, though, “The Investigation” managed to address a recent tragedy in a surprisingly clear-headed way.

Much of that stems from the way that “The Investigation” handles the passage of time. Though the season spans months, writer/director Lindholm resists putting down easy markers to wring tension out of breaks in the case. There’s a sameness to the way it unfolds, the kind where a whiteboard sits with words and diagrams written on it that no one’s bothered to erase because there’s nothing new to add, either from detective Jens Møller Jensen (Søren Malling) or prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jepsen (Pilou Asbæk). Finding Wall’s body becomes the overwhelming part of their pursuit — if the show returns to the details of the retrieval process and an item-by-item timeline of everything that happened on the submarine, it underlines how singular their pursuit is.

It’s not an easy show to watch, obviously, and some of the details are very grim.

But what made it most compelling to me was the police’s shared dogged determination to solve this crime and the incredible teamwork it took — including months of diving to find her and her belongings.

Have you watched it?

What did you think?

What’s a “source” and how do we choose?

Who are our sources and how do find and choose them?

By Caitlin Kelly

Every time you consume media — in any form — you’re also at the end point of a lot of editorial decisions made while invisible to you, the end user.

We know that a wooden table was once a tree.

We know that a cooked meal was once a pile of ingredients.

But most non-journalists don’t know, and some of course don’t care, how their information arrives to them in the final state that it does.

I’ve been a journalist for decades, staff and freelance, writing often for national magazines and for The New York Times.

It may come as a surprise to you — or not! — that we’re not told by our bosses who to quote or to interview. Maybe interns or those very new to reporting, but, apart from a friendly suggestion, I’ve never been ordered to speak to anyone specifically as a source for a story.

This is good and bad.

It’s good because it assumes we bring sufficient intelligence to the work. It assumes we know how to do our jobs without micro-management and supervision — editors and producers are busy!

It’s good because it lets us just get on with our work without endlessly seeking and getting some official approval or green light to proceed. (Our bosses are busy!)

Despite the very persistent belief that we are told what to do and what to write at the behest of our (pick one! left/right-wing managers and corporate owners) we’re usually not.

But it’s bad in a few specific ways:

It allows laziness

We will reach for the sources most easily found, certainly on a tight deadline, and those are often people we know or people who have already gained plenty of public attention. Just because someone is well-known doesn’t mean they’re smart, credible or the best person to explain a specific story. It often means they have the money, or their organization does, to hire a public relations firm ($5,000 to $10,000 a month retainer normal) to make sure their voice is loud(er/est.)

Pre-Internet, we had to work a hell of a lot harder to find and build networks of sources: no email, no texts and no instant results from Google or Bing. Now it’s the quickest option to return to someone already much-quoted.

— It allows persistent, if unconscious, bias

We tend to choose to work with/hang out with/consult people who make us comfortable. They look like us and sound like us and went to the same schools or live in the same sort of place. That means automatically and unconsciously screening out many good possibilities. Every time I start to report a story, I try to seek out BIPOC and LGBTQA voices and people living in very different ways/places from me.

How often do we even hear, on radio or TV, someone speaking English with a very heavy accent (probably sub-titled) — while we keep choosing and privileging people easier to listen to?

How often, if ever, do you see someone with a visible disability, like a wheelchair, being interviewed for a story totally unrelated to health?

— It can be a real problem if our editors push back

It’s only happened to me once and cost me an editorial relationship at The New York Times (i.e. income.) I was writing a story about what life is like when one half of a couple is ready to retire but the other is not. Instead of the usual anodyne tale I knew they wanted (he golfs, etc.) I found a gay couple whose affluent life was suddenly up-ended when one of them suffered serious health issues and the younger partner had to get a government job for the health benefits. I found and offered a real story of real struggle and real adaptation. Not wanted.

We automatically self-censor and choose sources our bosses will like

We know who our employer’s ideal market/audience/demographic is and it’s our role to speak most directly to them. At The New York Times, as with some others, there’s too often a default to affluent voices, if not the wealthy.

This also means that women over 40, let alone 60 or 70, remain basically invisible and inaudible because women’s magazine’s demo’s (the very narrow demographic appealing to its advertisers) is 18-35. You heard that right. There have been very, very few magazines that acknowledge and feature older women (36 is older?!) and they’re long gone, like Mirabella and MORE. If you read AARP magazine or its tabloid bulletin, all older women and men (50+) are presumed to care about are money scams, Medicare and aging celebrities. UGH.

— It’s a problem when we’re not paying close attention

One way a lot of reporters now find sources is through a service called Help A Reporter Out, or HARO. I’ve used it many many times. It’s a request list sent out three times a day to PR firms, universities, government, agencies and individuals.

It boasts one million sources — and 75,000 journalists and bloggers use it.

At best, you might get 100 replies. But, at its noisy and narcissistic worst, many replies are also demands for links to people’s books, websites, products and services — pay to play. When you need to produce many stories quickly, (and luckily I rarely do, as a freelancer), you don’t have the luxury of a lot of time to make sure your sources are diverse, even if you know you should, and even as diversity and inclusion are now a hiring and management focus for many employers.

Most of my stories are 1,000 to 1,200 words, leaving only so much room to choose who to include — while aiming for a mix of gender, race, age, expertise and geography. My recent Times Styles story included nine sources; I would normally include maybe six at that length.

And I was taken to the woodshed in a furious Tweet for not interviewing a person of color beyond an Iranian woman.

Point taken.

What if you were a reporter here who didn’t speak fluent French?

It de facto privileges people who dominate social media (TikTok, Insta, YouTube, FB, Twitter, etc.)

Many people, for lack of Internet access or savvy or language skills or confidence or time — or fear for their personal safety — can’t just promote the hell out of themselves all the time. Those who can will therefore more easily command the lion’s share of our distracted and divided attention.

That includes overworked reporters, editors and producers. Easy access to a source who’s readily available often beats the 5th or 8th or 15th un-returned text, email or call (if anyone has the time and persistence to even do it.)

It really (further) alienates and pisses off our diverse audiences who still don’t see themselves represented in our work

This is a big one.

If you’re not a cisgender white man or white woman, nor someone with a platform/organization/PR firm/ready access to journalists, it’s less likely you’ll ever get quoted or interviewed.

This creates lousy and lazy journalism. And ongoing deep frustration for every BIPOC or LBGTQA reporter or producer wanting to include voices that are quieter or less-consulted. Too often, a journalist turns to a known/respected/trusted Big Name policy analyst, think tank or academic voice to explain an issue, when someone whose own lived experience remains silent and invisible.

— The voices we hear from most also bring their own strong biases and opinions

It’s often too easy to defer to the demands for audience from the powerful and wealthy, always happy to sue and bringing threats of retaliation. Not a good idea.

Must-see TV: Ted Lasso

By Caitlin Kelly

All my friends kept raving about how great this TV series is and I thought, it can’t be that good.

It is!

It has 10 episodes and has already been renewed for two more seasons.

Ted is an American college football coach hired to coach AFC Richmond, a British soccer league — with no knowledge of the sport — because the team’s owner has walked out on his wife, and she wants to ruin the team by hiring an incompetent foreigner.

You don’t have to like soccer to enjoy this (although why not?). It’s got fun characters, some interesting plot twists and, for those of us landlocked in the U.S. unable to visit our beloved England, a nice way to travel, if only visually.

As someone who also finds many Americans too sentimental and effusive, Lasso is very much this — to the ongoing consternation of his team, his boss and pretty much everyone British he meets. He is absurdly, relentlessly kind and outgoing and supportive, to a point you think — ugggggh, saccharine.

But no.

He also faces some darker moments in his private life, so he’s a character we can identify with and find relatable.

He does have lots of adjusting to do to his adopted home, from different words and meanings for things (relegation?!) to — what is this?! — his immediate dislike of and disdain for tea.

“Hot brown water,” he says. I can’t look at tea the same way now!

There’s a classic WAG, Keeley, whose bubbly exterior conceals a solid heart, the team owner who’s kinder than she first appears and Nathan, the team’s waterboy who’s been utterly overlooked until Ted arrives and starts to offer him chances to show his stuff.

A local pub plays an essential role, and there’s an ongoing conflict between the team’s youngest — Jamie Tartt, who’s 23 and supremely talented and arrogant and team captain Roy Kent who’s probably 35 or so. It all feels pretty realistic, from the many challenges Ted faces of trying to navigate a wholly new culture — being called WANKER! by everyone — while also trying to manage his troubled marriage from across the ocean.

Have you seen it?

What did you think?

Have you seen “Borgen”?

By Caitlin Kelly

I know, I’m very late to this party!

This 30-episode, three-season series, was released in 2010 and so many people had recommended it, I finally bit.

Loved it!

Certainly in a time of relentlessly restricted travel — when the very idea of getting on a plane, let alone crossing the Atlantic — is impossible, it’s been a real treat to visually re-visit Copenhagen with each episode. So many cyclists (none wearing helmets?!) Canals. The fluttering Danish flag.

I was there once, for 10 days, on my amazing European journalism fellowship. I loved it, even though it was so expensive I could barely afford to eat, given the small size of our travel budget and the very high costs of everything.

The series — which sounds dull as dishwater — revolves around two worlds, Christiansborg Palace, or Borgen (The Castle), seat of all Danish politics, and TVI and Expressen, a TV station and a “red-top” (tabloid) newspaper. The key characters include Birgitta Nyborg, who becomes prime minister in the first season; Kasper Juul, a troubled press secretary — which they, without irony, call “spin doctor”, Katrine Fonsmark, a tall, blond TV reporter turned spin doctor, other politicians and Birgitta’s husband and two children.

As a journalist, I sure enjoyed the many newsroom scenes and the bossy news director, Torben Friis. As someone who grew up in Canada, a multi-party political system, I enjoyed the endless horse-trading in an eight-party system to gain and hold power.

The show covers a wide range of political and personal issues — the massive invasion of privacy Birgitta’s teenage daughter faces when she goes away for in-patient psychiatric treatment or Birgitta’s breast cancer/radiation (the exact same as mine), the back-and-forth affair between Kasper and Katrina, and so on. There’s an episode about prostitution and one about pig farming. It’s also, if politics or journalism interest you, an pretty good look behind the scenes of how each product is actually made — lots of arguments!

Have you watched it?

What did you think?

Our scantest resource? Attention

Imagine just lying very still and looking up in silence

By Caitlin Kelly

Every time I post here I wonder how many of the 22,000+ (?!) followers WordPress tells me read Broadside actually finds the time to pay attention to anything I’ve offered.

The highest counts these days are maybe 200 or so views.

I admit to envying fellow Canadian David Kanigan — whose blog and life are very different from mine — and who consistently gets a lot more likes and comments on his blog.

This can now feel like shouting into the wind — a fruitless waste of my time and limited energy trying to capture anyone’s fleeting and overwhelmed and pandemic-weary attention.

But I still enjoy it and I really appreciate those of you who do make time to read, comment and share, so onward!

I thought of this as I recently listened to a Doors song 11 minutes and 48 seconds in length.

And the Arlo Guthrie classic, from 1967, Alice’s Restaurant — 18:34!

I’m a huge fan of music and film and books and it’s fascinating to consume older media that assumed, rightly, a much longer — and much less distracted — attention span.

Different pacing.

Different plot development.

Quieter scenes.

Fewer edits.

For amusement, I once counted every single image in the introductory credits to the HBO series about journalism — The Newsroom.

The difference between its initial 2012 opening credits — with 53 separate images in 1:29 and the 45 images of the 2015 season, in 1:07 — are striking. The second set are super quick jump shots, much more emotional, much more compelling — with Ron Rosen the editor.

His list of credits is very long, and very current.

He’s shaping how we see and how we pay attention.

One of my favorite film directors is American Kelly Reichardt, whose films move slowly and beautifully, often through a rural, timeless Oregon landscape.

I keep re-watching the 1968 film “2001”, also intrigued by how slowly some scenes unfold and how very little dialogue it contains.

It demands our sustained, often mystified attention — and amply rewards it.

No doubt our brains were wired very differently before the ’90s when we all started moving online, let alone the daily deluge now on social media.

I find it more challenging than ever now sit still for hours and just read.

I often wonder what it was like to live in the 18th century where domestic amusements were embroidery — slow! — or reading or playing a musical instrument. When a letter sent, sealed with wax, took days or weeks or even months to reach its reader. Then the reply.

What different brain chemistry they must have had!

Living through a pandemic and the useless political “leadership” that’s killed so many is bad enough — add to this grief and anxiety that absolutely rob us of the ability to stay focused and pay attention and retain a damn thing.

Who has this much time now?

Who reads past the headline?