I miss our “kids”

By Caitlin Kelly


They’re not really kids, of course, and they’re not ours.

They were, briefly, ours to teach and mentor and work with.

A week ago, Jose, I, and other veteran journalists, working as editors and web specialists,  from Tucson, Boston and New York, said a reluctant farewell to the 24 young men and women starting to work in journalism — scattered this summer to internships at CNN in Atlanta, the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Oregonian in Portland to name a few — that we met during The New York Times Student Journalism Institute in Tucson.

The Times has been offering the Institute for a few years now, alternating between Hispanic and African-American students, in Tucson and in New Orleans. It’s a terrific chance for students to come and be mentored, one-on-one, by veterans of our business.

It’s also, for Jose and I — who don’t have kids, or even nieces or nephews close at hand — a lovely chance to meet, mentor and get to know the next generation of journalists. Their passion, energy, smarts and excitement are invigorating. It’s so fun to watch them jumping headlong into difficult and challenging projects, helping their skills develop and their confidence grow.

We’re also deeply touched when, as happens every year, we’re each pulled aside and asked some tough personal questions by young people we have barely met, but who are hungry for candid answers from veterans a few decades into their chosen field:

How do you define success? Can I be a good journalist and have a thriving marriage? How? What about kids?

Can I get ahead and not be a total jerk about it?

How will I be able to handle the pressure? What if I can’t?

We offer them our insights, and hope they’re helpful.

Jose and I admit, though, that we would have breezed right past one another in our gogogogogogogo 20s, even 30s, desperate to carve out our niches within this hyper-competitive industry.

We were lucky enough to meet in our early 40s, too late to have kids of our own, but have remained close with several Institute alumni and hope to do so with several of this year’s group as well. Marie de Jesus, an Institute alum now working at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, even shot our wedding in Toronto in 2011.

English: Star Tribune Assembly Process. Kiswah...
English: Star Tribune Assembly Process. Kiswahili: Star Tribune Mchakato wa uchapishaji. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But it’s hard to offer truly useful advice to newcomers to journalism these days, whether employed or not, intern or freelance. The euphemism used to describe our industry these days is “disrupted” — aka chaos, guessing and hoping for the best.

One of the Institute students, hired as a summer intern by the Sun-Times, was flabbergasted as we all learned that the paper had suddenly and abruptly fired all 28 of its staff shooters and is now teaching its reporters, instead, to take photos with their I-phones.

That seemed to suggest that Alex, our student, would be the only trained news photographer on staff, suddenly responsible for covering — you know — the entire city of Chicago single-handed.

Are you fucking kidding me?

Here’s what Fortune magazine had to say about that:

Reporters, it should be noted, are in general terrible at taking pictures. Photographs snapped on iPhones by photographically inept reporters who are also trying to gather information at an accident scene, for example, are not going to impress anyone, digitally savvy or not. Journalism schools (again, often working from the addled theories of certain tech pundits and consultants) have been pushing the idea of “multimedia journalism” — that is, having reporters take photos and shoot video. Many of them offer training in this area. Most often, this results in nothing more than one person doing three jobs poorly rather than doing one job well. It also tends to sabotage the notion that all of these are professional endeavors and to strengthen the false notion that anybody could perform any of them equally well. This reveals a shocking level of disrespect for both journalists and readers.

It’s as if your local hospital fired every staff surgeon — handing kitchen knives to the orderlies, with which to cut us all open.


What do we tell our “kids”, then, in the face of such naked greed and stupidity? That this is the quality of senior management of the profession they have chosen? Sometimes, sadly, yes it is.

Chicago Sun-Times Building
Chicago Sun-Times Building (Photo credit: MA1216)

So our “kids” — now connected to one another, and to some of us, through every possible iteration of social media — are off on their own. We’ve called our pals in every city they’ve landed to make sure someone local and helpful, usually a fellow journo or photographer, is offering them a meal and a welcome.

We look forward to seeing their photos and stories, to hearing their tales of woe and joy.

We miss them!

Back from the Canyon — tired, happy, injured!

By Caitlin Kelly

Southend of the Grand Canyon with Plateau Poin...
South end of the Grand Canyon with Plateau Point and Bright Angel Trail…The last time I was here, I hiked all the way out to the of the bottom of the trail you can see here at the outer edge of that plateau; 4 hours down; 8 hrs back up! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m back in Tucson again — after a 5.5 hour drive from Grand Canyon: 90 minutes south to Flagstaff; two hours south to Phoenix then another two hours southeast to Tucson, to rejoin Jose and the NYT Institute students and staff for fond farewells tonight and the final banquet tomorrow.

So this post is just a quick hello and a place-holder.

I’ll put up a few detailed posts from the three days I spent alone there, with lots of photos. (Even Jose said ‘Wow!”, nice praise from a  pro photo editor.)

It was a fantastic time, a badly-needed break from the daily stranglehold of the computer and the cellphone and the telephone and the daily newspaper. It was such a relief to not have to talk to anyone, or listen to anyone, or look at anyone. To not have to be polite or cheerful or attentive.

To not pitch editors or follow up or come up with any ideas or write or revise, (or cook, shop or clean.)

To be alone, and self-reliant and have to figure it all out by myself, without the protective help of my lovely husband. To remember how to be a woman out there, solo, in the wider world.

To just be.

I had no idea what was happening in the rest of the world — even though (sigh) there are newspaper boxes with daily papers all over the Park.

All that mattered was making sure I could put up my tent alone (yes) and not lock my keys in the car (no.) I ate out of the cooler I borrowed from a local friend and went to sleep early; it was dark by 7:30 p.m.

All those stars!

The injury — gah! — was self-inflicted when I was putting up the tent for the first time ever, and barefoot and filthy, jammed a tent peg into the middle of the bottom of my left foot.


Thank heaven I had a bottle of water to wash off the dirt, and soap and antiseptic cream and a bandage. But, just in case, I went to the clinic…and they wisely gave me a tetanus shot. No puncture, no stitches, just a nasty scrape.

So much for all the hiking I had planned!

Tomorrow morning at 8:00 am, I head off for a two-hour private horseback ride. Perfect way to end a fantastic vacation; we fly home to New York on Sunday.

Here’s a pic of me on the Bright Angel Trail, taken by a man with his daughter who — of course! — turned out to live all of 20 minutes’ drive away from my home in New York.


How to not get eaten by a mountain lion

By Caitlin Kelly


It was only after we saw this sign that we turned to one another — cool New York City journalists who are expected to know a lot about the world every day — that we asked each other: “What is it we’re supposed to do?”

We had started our hike through Sabino Canyon, on the edge of Tucson, before reading the warning signs. You do not run. You do not turn your back. You try to make yourself larger than before (eat a doughnut? Eat a dozen?) in order to scare it.

Yeah, right.

We did not, luckily, see a mountain lion.

English: This is a view of Sabino Canyon, nort...
English: This is a view of Sabino Canyon, northeast of Tucson, AZ, nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We did see three white-tailed deer, a bunny (might have been a jackalope), doves and about five different sorts of lizard, one so tiny he was the width of my middle finger and would easily have fit into my palm. They would pause, virtually invisible against a small rock or a tree trunk, waving their frond of a tail back and forth. They were impossibly lovely, so perfectly designed for their environment. One was striped in rust, white and brown, reminding me of a chipmunk.

I love the desert. It is such an elemental place, filled with a beauty that is specific and subtle. Cactus have a cartoony presence when fleshy, green and alive — but their bones, as it were, are an astonishing interior architecture, when dried and brittle and gray, that looks like coral. Every student of art, design and architecture needs to spend hours, days, weeks, studying this landscape.

As we walked, flakes of mica winked up at us from the rocky path. I picked up three of them. If I found a really big one I could use it as a mirror and flash it at the sky for an SOS signal. (If I knew Morse code. Oooops.)


Aren’t they gorgeous?

We started our hike at 8:00 a.m., although the sun had been up since 6:00. I knew there are rattlesnakes and my friend asked me to make the sound they make but I am not very good at imitating it. I did know enough not to stick my hand beneath any rocks or to sit down without looking around very carefully.

One of the reasons I so love being out in the desert is the necessary reminder that, out there — as in our every urban day, deceptively cocooned by labels and technology and fast/fine food and taxis and buses and jobs — we are merely one more species on this fragile planet.

We are poorly adapted, too. Our skin is fragile, easily punctured or torn by the spines and thorns of the plants out there. We will quickly overheat and char if we do not drink a lot of water and wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen.

It is a deeply powerful, humbling reminder how silly and small we are in the greater scheme of things. As we walked through the landscape, I realized how much I don’t know about the natural world. What’s the name of that tree? Why are those rocks darker than the others? How can trees grow so high and healthy in so arid a place? (Snow melt and monsoons, a guide told us later.)

Bombycilla cedrorum Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona
Bombycilla cedrorum Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And the silence! Doves coo. Wind rustles leaves.

But ego and time melt away in a landscape clearly indifferent to our human presence. Is it 2013? 1813? 1513?

Who knows? Who cares?

Which landscape most moves or touches you?

Time To Holster Your Opinions? Intolerance Kills

Gabrielle Giffords, Democratic nominee and gen...
Gabrielle Giffords. Image via Wikipedia

Great piece in today’s New York Times, responding to the terrible shooting yesterday in Tucson:

Within minutes of the first reports Saturday that Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, and a score of people with her had been shot in Tucson, pages began disappearing from the Web. One was Sarah Palin’s infamous “cross hairs” map from last year, which showed a series of contested Congressional districts, including Ms. Giffords’s, with gun targets trained on them. Another was from Daily Kos, the liberal blog, where one of the congresswoman’s apparently liberal constituents declared her “dead to me” after Ms. Giffords voted against Nancy Pelosi in House leadership elections last week.

Odds are pretty good that neither of these — nor any other isolated bit of imagery — had much to do with the shooting in Tucson. But scrubbing them from the Internet couldn’t erase all evidence of the rhetorical recklessness that permeates our political moment. The question is whether Saturday’s shooting marks the logical end point of such a moment — or rather the beginning of a terrifying new one.

I blog at opensalon, under my name, Caitlin Kelly. There, last week, someone decided to threaten me — for expressing an opinion (on boredom, of all things) he disliked — with beating me bloody.

Excuse me?

Did I laugh it off because, hey, he’s just some random guy on the Internet? Because he lives (he says) in a state far away from me?

No. I called my local police and they are investigating it.

Because to threaten someone in this fashion is a crime that can lead to jail time.

A few people at that site sneered at me and derided me for my sensitivity. He’d done it to a bunch of other people, so why was I so overly sensitive?

Because being threatened for speaking my mind, civilly and calmly, is an abuse of my rights. Because it is illegal.

And because the man who shot 20 and killed six people yesterday in Tucson started out “only” rambling on wildly on the Internet before he decided to express his opinions with a Glock instead.

What will it take to restore any sense of civility to public discourse?

When did lethal rage become the default way to express your opinion?

Want Your Photo In The NYT Business Section? Here's One Way In

NY Times Building
Image by jebb via Flickr

It can happen.

You’re an ambitious young photographer, but still in university or a fresh grad. You read — (you do, of course) — every agate/photo credit for every major photo moved by the wires and the agencies and the major papers — wondering when it’s your turn.

For two terrific young women, Samantha Sais and Marie deJesus, their dream came true this week, Sam’s photo illustrating a story about a Tucson  man who’d successfully fought off bill collectors and Marie’s of a coffee-shop owner in San Juan, PR, unable to get a business loan. It happened because they were chosen to participate in The New York Times Student Journalism institute, open every year only to student members of the NAHJ or NABJ.

Winners get paid to spend two weeks working closely with top editors from the Times and other regional papers, so when a shooter is needed and there’s a talented student in that town, they’ve got a good shot at the assignment.

The editor who assigned to both women — my sweetie. I’m proud of his commitment to finding and nurturing the next generation of talent, regardless of age or gender. Talent — and making the right contacts — can be enough.

I'm Heading Southwest — Javelinas And Mountain Lions Notwithstanding

Mountain lion at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Image via Wikipedia

Our host has warned us that mountain lions roam nearby — and he’s recovering from a javelina bite. I had to look that one up. It’s not a female javelin, but a wild pig.

Now that’s my kind of vacation!

I’m heading to Tucson tomorrow then to southern New Mexico for some badly needed vacation; I’ll post when I find something fun and interesting.

Our final destination — thank heaven — has no Internet access so we’ll look at the stars and, maybe, the mountain lions. I get to visit Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, named by Budget Travel one of the nation’s coolest small towns in 2008.

Nearby towns — and “near” is a relative term — include Elephant Butte, Cuchillo, Las Palomas and Caballo. In Spanish, cuchillo means knife, caballo means horse and las palomas means the doves. Elephant Butte remains to be determined.

T and C is named, improbably enough, for a 1950s television show. (I hope there’s no town being named for The Bachelor or American Idol out there somewhere.)

For an urban girl who bursts into tears of joy when she lands in Paris, I’m totally psyched. I love the outdoors, the desert, the Southwest. I’m looking forward to visiting Tucson’s aviation museum and the Center For Creative Photography, a museum founded in 1975 by legendary shooter Ansel Adams at the University of Arizona.