Turns out, she changed her name repeatedly, took money from writers to help with their manuscripts and promised them access to some of the toughest outlets — she’d sold an essay to The New York Times’ column Modern Love, the equivalent in our world of winning a Nobel Prize; at a NYC conference this spring, I heard its editor, Daniel Jones, tell a crowded room the odds of getting published there are worse than getting into Harvard, (whose acceptance rate is 5.6 percent.)
March knew exactly which buttons to push to enlist ambitious women and lure them into her schemes:
Everyone’s desperate for access to the top editors and agents. Rejection is wearying and dis-spiriting and anyone who says they’ll make it easier…sign me up!
No one can do this work alone, and many of us (me, included) coach other writers. Isolation often means over-relying on social media to connect with people who says they’re a peer, and assuming the people offering you their help — for money — are legit. The difference? I’ve actually published two books.
Puhleeze. She was quite skilled at persuading women what a great and supportive feminist she is. I’m a tough old boot so this shit doesn’t do a thing for me; actions, not words.
Writing is a lonely and difficult business so when someone is supportive and kind, you think, whew! She gets it.
Here’s a bit of the story:
March had never published a book but had been quietly working literary Los Angeles’ social media connections for months. A spunky, unapologetic, sex-positive feminist ready to raise hell, she was supportive and flattering. She was also conspicuously generous — concerned about the line of people waiting to get into the party, March asked a pair of new acquaintances if she should give $20 bills to those stuck on the sidewalk. The bill for the night would total more than $22,000.
Why is she doing this? people asked, stealing glances at March.
Some had a larger question:
If something or someone sounds too good to be true…it usually is.
Having visited 37 countries, and a fair bit of Canada and the U.S., I’ve had that moment when you think — Really?
Some spots get breathless copy, (hello, free trips!), from travel writers who might never have gone there if they’d had to pay, and secretly hated the joint.
In June 2012, my husband and I visited the Thompson Hotel in Toronto, lured by the fawning copy we’d read everywhere about how amazing it was. Not so much. The famous rooftop pool was closed the four days we were there, the bathroom door was so poorly designed it didn’t even close fully and they’d forgotten to put a handle on the inside of it. Like that…
Here are 10 spots everyone tells you are so amazing but aren’t:
The Paris flea market. Merde! I’ve lived in Paris and been back many times. An avid flea market and antiques shopper, I’ve been to the markets there and most often have come away weary and annoyed: snotty, rude shopkeepers, overpriced merch, items so precious you’re not allowed to even touch them. I’ve scored a few things, but the emotional wear and tear is so not worth it.
Instead: Go to London’s flea markets and Alfie’s on Church Street. I love them all and have many great things I’ve brought home from there, from Victorian pottery jugs to silk scarves.
Times Square, New York. Puhleeze. If you want to be shoved constantly by throngs of fellow tourists, their backpacks jamming into your face and their five-across-the-sidewalk amble slowing you down, go for it! It’s a noisy, crowded, billboard-filled temple of commerce, with deeply unoriginal offerings like Sephora or The Hard Rock Cafe. They have nothing to do with New York.
Instead: Washington Square. It’s at the very bottom of Fifth Avenue, and leads you onto the New York University Campus. You can sit in the sunshine and watch the world go by, then walk down MacDougal Street to Cafe Reggio, an 85-year-old institution, for a cappuccino.
Austin, Texas. I simply don’t get it. I was bored silly.
Instead: Fredericksburg. A small town in Texas hill country, it has antiques, great food, fun shopping and history.
Miami. Meh. Maybe if you’re crazy for dancing and the beach.
Instead: Key West. I’ve been there twice and would happily return many times more: small, quiet, great food and you can bike everywhere. But don’t go during spring break!
Vancouver. I was born there and have been many times. Its setting is spectacular, no question. But I’ve never found it a very interesting place.
Instead: L.A., baby! One of my favorite cities. Yes, you have to do a lot of driving. Deal with it. Great food, great shopping, beaches and Griffith Park, one of the best parks anywhere. I had one of the happiest afternoons of my entire life there — galloping through the park at sunset on a rented horse then dancing to live blues that night at Harvelle’s in Santa Monica. Abbott-Kinney rules.
Santa Fe, N.M. Heresy, since my husband grew up there. Cute, charming, gorgeous — for very rich people!
Instead: Taos or Truth or Consequences. Both are much smaller, funky as hell.
Quebec City: Beautiful to look at, some nice restaurants and an impressive setting on the St. Lawrence.
Instead: Montreal. You can get the same sense of history in the narrow, cobble-stoned streets of Old Montreal, but still enjoy fantastic meals, great shopping and the legendary Atwater Market. Take a caleche up to the top of Mt. Royal then go for brunch at Beauty’s.
Las Vegas. I’ve been there twice, only for work. If you want to shop or gamble, you’ll love it. If you want to do anything else, forget it.
Instead: Stockholm. If you’re planning to blow a ton of cash anyway, go somewhere truly amazing to do it. The city is beautiful, the light unforgettable, and the Vasa museum one of my favorites anywhere — a ship that sank in the harbor in 1628 on its (!) maiden voyage. I’ve been watching Wallander, a fantastic cop show shot in Ystad, and am now dying to return to this lovely (if spendy) country.
The South of France. I love it and have been several times, but $$$$$!
Instead: Corsica. I wept broken-hearted when I left, after only a week there. People were friendly, food was excellent, the landscape simply spectacular. One of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet; here’s my Wall Street Journal story about it.
Sydney. Call me fussy, but after 20 freaking hours in an airplane that cost a mortgage payment, I expected Heaven On Earth from this Australian city. Yes, it’s attractive. Lots of beaches. The Opera House. But I found the people there bizarrely rough and rude, much more so than anyone I’ve ever faced in New York City. I made a friend on the flight over and we went out for dinner — and were (!?) told to leave the restaurant because we were disturbing the other patrons. This was the oddest and most unpleasant dining experience of my life, especially when all the other diners applauded our exit. I assure you, we were neither drunk nor disorderly.
Instead: Melbourne. Lovelovelovelove this city! The Yarra River. The ocean. Elegant neighborhoods. Flinders Street Station. All of it. I’ve rarely enjoyed a city as much as this one.
I never studied journalism, but have taught it many times since; I was an English major at the University of Toronto. But I knew from the age of 12 this was what I wanted to do — and the only thing I wanted to do.
I also knew it would be, as it is and continues to be, damn hard. This industry is filled with rich, connected kids — of all ages — bringing social capital, huge confidence and parental financing that allows them to work for nothing. They, and thousands of others, are your competition.
Today’s fresh grads — good luck! — are clambering into the leaky, sinking lifeboats of our profession. It’s tempting to beat them off with our shredded oars, so few and so precious are the remaining seats.
Indeed, Justin Lewis, head of the school of journalism at Cardiff University, says that part of his role is to temper the high expectations of students.
“Some of them do come here with very idealistic notions of what being a journalist is all about,” says Lewis. “We don’t want to hammer that out of them, but we need to be realistic about what those opportunities are. Research we’ve done within the school has shown that each journalist produces three times as much copy today as they did 20 years ago. So it’s tougher. It’s tougher to get a job, and it’s tougher when they’re in a job, and we need to be clear about that.” Lewis, one expects, also tells his students that journalism is often wonderful. Return to the class of 2008, and you see young reporters enjoying extraordinary experiences. Kate Mansey, for example, was sent to Afghanistan in 2007 for a month, where she wrote a memorable story about a family of heroin addicts on the outskirts of Kabul. The youngest addict was a nine-year-old girl.
Jerome Taylor, meanwhile, has talked through the night with asylum seekers in Calais. Claire Newell went undercover to tease prominent MPs into admitting their role in the cash-for-honours scandal and the cash-for-influence scandal which sank Stephen Byers. Helen Pidd spent a day being rude to people in Perth, after it was voted Britain’s most polite town. The list goes on.
There will be those who could think of nothing worse than meeting poor Afghanis, or hoodwinking politicians, or testing the patience of Scotsmen. Fair enough — sell cars. But there will also be those for whom the idea of such encounters is intoxicating, and the prospect of reporting such experiences more thrilling still. These people, if they are lucky and tenacious enough, become journalists.
Yet several of my favorite young journos are doing just fine: one at a website; one at a small newspaper, one as a business writer at the Los Angeles Times and one as a staff shooter for the Denver Post, his first job. Woohoo! So there are jobs and these bright, talented young ‘uns are getting them.
What gifts might I offer a fresh ambitious grad hoping to enter our insane, lovely, terrifying, brutal industry?
1) A really good, comfortable chair you’ll be happy sitting in for hours and hours and hours. At home, alone, in silence. Not sitting in a cafe with with your laptop being groovy and listening to tunes or chatting with your peeps via webcam. Working. Writing is not easily or well done with a ton of noisy people all around you. It is not meant to be something people watch you do and admire you doing. It’s not the Olympics.
2) A bicycle or a good pair of walking shoes. You need to get outdoors often. Fresh air, exercise and sunshine on your face will remind you there is a world outside your apartment or car. Pay attention. Take notes, always.
3) A fountain pen. Writing is still a sensual activity. And being able to inscribe your beautiful signature will be so useful when you’re signing autographs and books.
4) Thick, lovely stationery, or a gift certificate for personalized cards and envelopes; try Papersource.com. When it’s time — and it often is — to write a thank-you note, or an attaboy, using good stationery offers an elegant, immediate point of difference from your many competitors when your recipient gets a lovely real letter, sent within a day or two of your meeting. Email, schme-mail.
5) Great business cards. Thick stock, letterpress, with your name, website(s) and phone numbers. Not: cheap, shiny, cheesy. You don’t need a job to have a card. You don’t need someone else to decide you’re a writer. Networking will open many, many doors and part of your lasting first impression is having a card and having a memorably stylish one. Just don’t call yourself a “wordsmith.” Ever.
6) A gym membership. You need to stretch, run, sweat and tap into some endorphins un-related to staring into a computer. Some of your best ideas will come when you are least focused on your work.
8) The offer, when it seems right, to send your young writer to the conference of his/her choice. That’s where they’ll meet agents, editors, fellow writers of all levels. It might cost $1,000 if they have to fly/stay in a hotel and pay conference fees. Yes, a string of pearls or a handsome watch are more traditional choices, but this is one (costly) thing s/he really needs.
9) A passport and plane ticket to somewhere more than a six-hour flight off the continental United States: Mexico, Central or Latin America, Asia, the midEast, India. Anywhere but Paris/London/Prague/Berlin. They’ll get there on their own. When you’re young and (somewhat) fearless is the best time to try something new and scary. No mortgage, no kids, no spouse. Go!
10) A really good atlas. My favorite reading. Helps to know where you’re going and gives you places to dream of visiting or living in or working in. Reminds you the world is a large, complicated place.
Plus: a Teflon soul, the utter determination to get it right, compassion, a sturdy and unshakable sense of humor, a good set of fall-back skills (carpentry, languages, a teaching certificate, anything!), some money in the bank, the ability to discern a story from corporate BS. Here’s my list of “what it takes”.
What would you give? What, writers, have you gotten that you loved?
For anyone who loves great documentary photography — here’s its future — the four student winners, first place and three awards of excellence, from the White House News Photographers Association, whose annual gala dinner is in D.C. May 15.
The winner is Diego James Robles, just hired by the Denver Post, at 25, as a staff photographer. The awards of excellence went to three young men, two from Western Kentucky University and one from the Corcoran College of Art and Design. Their images are also powerful, moving, spectacular — see number 15 in Chris Jones’ photo-essay on a small child with cancer.
I met Diego this January when he was chosen to join The New York Times Student Institute just as he was starting to collect an astonishing pile of awards:
*White House News Photographers Association 2009 Student Photographer of the Year, March 2010
*Ohio News Photographers Association 2009 Student Photographer of the Year, March 2010
*Alexia Foundation Student Award of Excellence, March 2010
*Press Photographers Association of Greater Los Angeles 2009 Student Photographer of the Year, March 2010
*1st Place Hearst Competition II: News/Sports, February, 2010
That’s after winning:
*Gold, Sports Feature, College Photographer of the Year, Nov. 2009
*Award of Excellence, Portfolio, College Photographer of the Year, Nov. 2009
*1st Place, Week’s Work/Student Portfolio, Sports Shooter, Aug. 2009
*Pepsi Leadership Scholarship, Ohio University, May 2009
*Ohio News Photographers Association 2008 Student Photographer of the Year, March 2009
*The California Chicano News Media Association Scholarship, Aug. 2008
*Chips Quinn Scholar, Feb. 2008
A military veteran, Diego remains calm, low-key, quiet, soft-spoken. And driven.
Here’s my interview with him:
Tell us a little bit about your history
I am originally from a suburb of Los Angeles, Torrance. When I was in the fourth grade, we moved to Orange County. I attended high school, like Tiger Woods, in Anaheim’s Western High School. My parents are both retired lawyers. My stepfather, the man who raised me, is a retired machinist.
How did you become a photographer?
Nobody in my family is a journalist but I am the first of many. Well, I got into photography when I was twenty. I was deployed with the army in Kosovo. I was slightly injured in the mountains of Serbia and I was forced to go back to our forward operating base and recover for a short time. There, a really goofy, funny army friend of mine had an old fully manual SLR camera (a big camera with interchangeable lens). He let me borrow it for maybe 10 seconds and I was automatically hooked. I thought the prism and shutter mechanism were the coolest thing ever. I immediately bought an entry level SLR on eBay and started shooting everything…except people. I think a lot of people start like this actually. My parents didn’t know for a long time that I was into photography. I think they were just worried that my job was dangerous. In retrospect, I think I was always into making images. I liked to draw and paint throughout my school days; still do a little bit. When my family went on summer vacations, I was always the photographer but my parents didn’t encourage it since I was always taking wacky pictures, mis-loading film, and jamming the mechanics in some way.
When and why did you join the military? How did this shape how you think and work?
I joined the military after high school. A very influential high school teacher of mine was a former Marine and was wounded several times in Vietnam. He showed us one of his platoon photographs, before everybody but him was killed in action. That had an affect on me. I went to Kosovo and some other places in Europe. I was deployed for close to two years but served another four or so inactive or active in some form. I have the army to thank for many of the good qualities I have and maybe some of the bad habits too. I eventually switched from the infantry to public affairs, basically the journalism/propaganda arm of the military and I learned a lot. Those guys worked hard and sacrificed their bodies for the shot. I also learned how to write which comes in handy when I apply for grants and write proposals.
Which photographers’ work do you most admire and why?
I admire a lot of different photographers out there. I admire the intimacy and cleanness of Carolyn Cole’s conflict images for Los Angeles Times. Having worked on Native American reservations, I deeply admire the photography of Edward Curtis and his devotion to the craft. Others I greatly admire are Shaul Schwarz, John Moore and Vince Musi.
What do you want viewers to take from your work?
I want viewers to feel something when they look at my work. Anything will do. Photographs don’t always have to be intimate and meaningful. To draw a laugh or a tear is a great honor. So any kind of reaction or emotion response is okay with me. Hopefully, they’ll want to see more.
What do most enjoy about shooting?
Right now I am completely obsessed with portraiture. I love to plan, execute and edit environmental portraits. However, it’s not what I do best and I wish mine were more intimate like fellow Ohio University photographer, Peter Hoffman. However, I really enjoy quirky photo-stories about people with interesting jobs and complicated personal relationships.
What do you least enjoy shooting?
I am not a fan of shooting meetings or poorly lit high school basketball games. Also I loath shooting anything about ghosts, ghost hunters or anything involving the paranormal. It’s always the same photographs of somebody looking at a “energy detection” gadget and inebitably, when the photographs are published, somebody will find a ghost in the pictures.
Tell us about all these awards!
I have been pleasantly surprised by my recent success this year. I’d always won something here or there, even in the army but this year has been special. It feels funny because all the awards are for last year’s work as a senior and I know this year’s stuff, so far, is not as good. I am also very surprised about doing well in major competitions especially since there are photographers way more talented and experienced than me.
Tell us what you learned about shooting at college
I learned most of what I know as a photographer in Ohio University. I think it was a great combination of talented passionate instructors paired with the best talent in the nation. The atmosphere was highly competitive and inspiring. Although successful and talented people will always find a way to rise to the top, I don’t think I would have been as successful, not even close, if I had gone somewhere else.
What advice would you offer to other young shooters?
The best advice anybody gave me was decide what kind of photographer you want to be. This will determine what you need to do and what kind of life you will have. As you climb the ladder and everybody works hard, has talent and is creative, you realize the separating power of sacrifice.
Why does sacrifice matter when achieving excellence?
Sacrifice is something I learned in the army. You sacrifice yourself for the well-being of the unit and the success of the mission. I sacrificed much in Ohio. I sacrificed personal relationships with friends and girlfriends. I never went out to parties and bars but not because I didn’t like my peers but because I am so obsessed with the craft of photography.
The digital revolution has turned photography and photojournalism on its head. I am a product of it. If it wasn’t so easy to take hundreds and now thousands of photographs in one sitting, I don’t know if I would have gotten into it. My first SLR was a digital and I didn’t shoot any film until I got to college. I believe digital has made a lot of people think photography is easy. However, digital has flooded the market and internet with really bad photographs by the millions. The relative cheapness of digital, once you make the ridiculously expensive initial investment, has allowed people to get better and improve their photography. I’m all for it and thankful of its emergence but am slightly uncomfortable with overall drop in photographic quality.
Tell us about the Denver Post — how did you get such a great first job in a recession right out of school?
There are about 15 photographers on staff at The Denver Post. I am by far the youngest and greenest of them all. I don’t know how they found me. The director of the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University told me my name came up when my boss, Tim Rasmussen, was looking to hire somebody. However, I am unaware if he knew of me beforehand. I think I had a total of three phone interviews. The last one was a telephone conference with most of the staff. I didn’t know what to expect so I was just myself and tried to be as honest as I could. I detailed both my strength and weakness. I told them who I am as a photographer and what I am all about.
Anything you want to add?
The photographic life is worth living but the photography itself has to be the reward and ultimate endgame.
How many tweens have their own Wikipedia entry already — for blogging about fashion since they were 11? Not to mention she’s a muse (before puberty?) for Rodarte, one of the edgier fashion labels out there.
She appeared, of course, at New York Fashion Week, which just ended, her hair (why, dear?) dyed an odd shade of pale blue-gray, the color of hypothermic skin. She lives in a Chicago suburb, but has been profiled in major publications from the Los Angeles Times to Vogue.
But, hey, her blog gets 1.5 million hits a month. Nice work if you can get it!
It’s striking — to me anyway — that every staffer quoted, none by name, is in their 50s, typically at an age — and salary level — that’s as high as they’re likely to get, probably at least $80,000-100,000 or more.
They’ve got mortgages and kids in or entering college and are in a dying industry. Most of them will never find another job at their previous salary, and certainly not within journalism.
On the East Coast, many veterans at The New York Times are scared shitless and morale right now in many departments is subterranean; 100 more bodies have to leave that building by December 17.
Any journalist working on emotionally harrowing stories — war, corruption, violence, death, poverty — faces a specific and deeply personal challenge. In order to witness this material, which can be terrifying, confusing and anxiety-provoking to us as well as those we cover, we have to be present, both physically and emotionally. As a result, many of us later suffer PTSD or secondary trauma, the price of admission to these searing stories, as James Rainey wrote recently in The Los Angeles Times. That can bring anxiety, depression, nightmares or insomnia.
A new feature film, The Bang-Bang Club, recently finished shooting in South Africa. The name was given to a group of young news photographers that included one who still shoots for The New York Times, Joao Silva, and South African photographer Kevin Carter. Carter is best-known, to some of us, as the photographer who captured an image of a tiny, emaciated Sudanese child lying on the ground, a vulture waiting mere feet away. The image won the 1994 Pultizer Prize. Two months later, at 33, Carter committed suicide.
I experienced secondary trauma while writing my own book, during which I spent two years interviewing, and writing about, women and girls. some of whom had experienced gun-related violence, including a woman shot point-blank in her California driveway while her husband was shot and killed beside her during a robbery, women who’d shot and killed, women who’d been shot themselves, women whose husbands and sons had committed suicide. Sometimes this was just exhausting and overwhelming.
The Dart Center is a terrific resource for helping journalists deal with this issue; last week’s J-Day featured medical author Maryn McKenna, whose new book about MRSA required much wearying, important reporting. She’ll be one of their fellows this fall at Columbia University, a sort of post-traumatic de-briefing.
I asked two brave, respected journalists whose work I admire to talk about this difficult issue. I met Bill Lobdell when we both participated in a religion writing fellowship at The Poynter Institute. I was stunned by the story he told us then, which later became his book, and never forgot it. I did not know Michael Hastings before coming to T/S but his raw, passionate candor here is also generous and extraordinary.
Michael Hastings, fellow T/S contributor, former Newsweek Baghdad correspondent, whose 2008 book, “I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story,” is about his fiancee’s murder.
Tell us a little about how and why you chose journalism.
Michael: I’ll start with a cliché—from about the age of 12 I knew I wanted to write. (Or join the Marines, win a congressional medal of honor, and run for president.) As a teenager, I discovered guys like Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, and had a serious Beat literature phase. I brilliantly deduced that to be a great writer, you had to ingest great amounts of illegal substances. That didn’t work out so well. I wrote a column at my school paper, called “Fear and Loathing at LCC.” (Lower Canada College, the name of the high school I attended in Montreal.) Then I moved to Burlington, Vermont, where I went to a Catholic school. I was promptly banned from writing for the school newspaper there. The principal was a rather large man named Brother Roger. He didn’t take kindly to an essay where I compared him, perhaps unfavorably, to Jabba the Hutt.
Anyway, after bouncing around at a few colleges, I ended up at New York University. During my last semester, I got an unpaid internship at Newsweek International. I probably was the only one who applied, as the work at first was primarily on Friday and Saturday nights. But I’d been chastened enough by life at that point to realize that I’d managed to get my foot in the door, so to speak, and I wasn’t going take it out. So I more or less lived at the Newsweek offices, and the internship turned to a full time position. I guess I was 22 at the time. I loved it, and I learned how to write an edit there…. I never refused an assignment or anything an editor asked me to do, which helped my cause.. But after about three years, I started asking to be sent to Iraq. By that time, America was already suffering from its first bout of Iraq fatigue—circa 2005. It wasn’t a hot story. Not many people were banging down the door to go. So my bosses finally sent me in August 2005. Six months or so later, the civil war broke out, and all of sudden, Iraq was a really big story again.. I was named the magazine’s Baghdad correspondent a few months after that. That meant I was now going to move to Baghdad permanently
William: I went to Stanford and the University of California, Irvine and majored in political science. As my senior year approached, I still didn’t have a clue what I’d do for a living upon graduation. A mentor gave me some obvious advice that had eluded me: find what you love and get a job in that field. Well, I loved reading newspapers and magazines. I was a news junkie. I thought, maybe I could be a reporter. I went to the college newspaper and the minute I walked into that newsroom, I was hooked.
My career path began traditionally—an internship at the Los Angeles Times and then a job at a small daily in Fullerton. But then it took a turn. I became editor and later president of a local magazine chain. After that seven-year detour, I returned to daily journalism as editor of the Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot. I eventually oversaw the LA Times’ community news division before becoming a Times reporter. I spent eight years on the religion beat and two more years as a city editor. I left the paper last year and am running two Internet-based businesses: http://www.newportmesadailyvoice.com and http://www.greersoc.com. I also wrote a critically acclaimed memoir of my experiences on the religion beat called “Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America—and Found Unexpected Peace.”
Check out this story in The Los Angeles Times — picked up by NPR and the Guardian of London — by my pal Nathan Olivarez-Giles about the growing business there run by Dr. Will Kirby, aka Dr. Tattoff, removing tattoos. In a lousy economy, having six dragons peeking out of your cleavage may no longer be a great career move.
An online Harris poll last year, Nate reports, of 2,302 Americans aged 21-39, found 14 percent of them had tattoos and 84 percent said they had no regrets over getting one. That still leaves 12 percent sick to death of hiding their tattoos when looking for a good job.
The older, wiser and job-hunting have helped boost business, which has three locations each getting 25 customers a day, to consistent profits and a possible IPO. Most of Kirby’s clients are women between 25 and 35, half of them college-educated and half earning $50,000 a year or more.
The film, “Breaking News, Breaking Down” focuses on the toll that reporting dark or terrifying stories can take on the men and women who gather that material, who pride themselves on doing whatever it takes to get it, toughing it out, and crying, if and when they do, much later and alone.
I’ve lived through this, as have many writers, photographers and cameramen I know. War, 9/11, poverty, crime. Hard stories exact a price. The Dart Center is there to help.