Sure, some journalists write puffy stories about luxury hotels and mascara and shiny new tech toys.
But the journalism a democracy relies on is one with consistent, ready access to its leader(s), holding them and their government to account.
If you don’t grasp this essential fact, you’re in for a very long and ugly fight.
In his very first press briefing, Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer managed to stun the entire White House press corps with a toxic mix of hostility, aggression and threats.
This isn’t how a briefing is supposed to go. Certainly not from the very start.
Oh, and fleeing the room without taking a single question.
Not a great start to a new administration.
This is how it works:
Journalists are hired to find out what the hell is actually going on in the halls of power.
They cultivate sources.
They read long, tedious boring documents, where the meat of the matter may be buried 537 pages in.
They do not give up easily.
We do not give up easily.
A President who whines about every perceived slight to his fragile ego, and an attack dog press secretary , are not what Americans need or deserve.
Millions of Americans did not vote for Donald Trump, and even those who did need and deserve to know what he is doing — beyond his relentless tweets.
And the rest of the world is also watching and listening, as confused and concerned as many Americans are by the oldest President ever elected, a proven liar, cheat and misogynist — and a man who has never served a minute in office before.
The Presidency carries tremendous power, and the trappings of office are indeed impressive and daunting: a residence in the White House, access to nuclear codes, travel in Air Force One and Marine One, rafts of attendants snapping salutes.
But he works for us.
He works for the American people.
If the press, whose role it is to represent every voter unable to ask tough questions directly, are body-slammed from the very start, look forward to the most persistent, aggressive and unrelenting scrutiny of this administration you can begin to imagine.
Those of you new to Broadside may not know that I make my living as a freelance writer and editor, with my work appearing in places like The New York Times, Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire. I occasionally open the kimono to let you know what it’s really like — triumphs and tragedies alike — as many readers here are fellow writers, freelance creatives or students of journalism.
I start my week, as I often do, with an hour’s jazz dance class. It’s a new teacher and new routine. Feeling confident, I try some new moves. Bad idea! I hurt my left knee badly and limp home and I’ll spend the rest of the week icing and elevating it, and taking Advil. Ouch!
I have only one assignment this month, which is terrifying, disorienting and liberating. That hasn’t happened in years.
I spend so much time cranking out copy for income that to have time to sit still and really think, make calls, do some deeper story idea research is rare — and necessary,
I work up a list of pitches and have ten, all at various stages of readiness. Most of my pitches do sell, eventually, but to keep cashflow flowing means selling them as quickly as possible.
I follow up by phone and email on a pitch I sent three weeks ago. It’s a great story and one I know is a really good fit for that publication. No answer — yet!
A 40-minute phone conversation with a non-profit, a potential client with a lot of work to assign. As many of my clients now do, this one came through personal contacts. At my stage of the game, 30 years in, I have a wide network of people who trust my skills as I do theirs — she mentions a need for skill I know another friend has and, even though he’s in Argentina this week, I immediately email him to give him a heads-up.
I check in with a regular client to find out our next story is due in October. Cool. I like to be working at least two to three months ahead.
I’ve also re-set my income goal a lot higher — (like, double) — than before, so I’m hustling a lot harder for new clients and clients whose pay rate is better. They’re out there. I just have to find them!
Spending way too much time on-line! I’m a member of several new and secret women’s writing groups on Facebook and they’re both a source of tremendous intel and fun distraction.
One of them spun off a new blog, I Believe You, It’s Not Your Fault, a place where women share stories of sexual assault and/or emotional manipulation, the goal to empower younger/other women and girls. It very quickly attracted a lot of media attention, like this BBC story.
I’ve finally been binge-watching the award-winning Netflix series House of Cards, which is both chilling and compelling. Its two lead characters, Francis and Claire Underwood, are absolutely ruthless in their search for, and exercise of, power. It’s well worth your time. I also love the production design. I’ve now seen more than 20 episodes and the show’s color palette is restricted to black, blue, gray, brown, cream, white. No sunny yellows, reds, purples or cheery prints here!
My husband, a fellow journalist, was a photographer in the White House Press Corps for eight years, so much of it feels familiar to him; here’s his blog, with many of those historic images. It’s also fun to see people we know, personally and professionally, playing cameo roles as journalists. I have a photo of Betty Ford on our living-room wall — taken by the official photographer at the time — standing on the Cabinet table. Love that image!
I check in with my accountant as I fill out reams of paperwork from the two New York colleges where I’ll be teaching writing this fall, The New York School of Interior Design and Pratt Institute. Looks like I will owe even more more money. Not a chance! Time to create some more deductions and figure out the maximum I can stash into my retirement savings instead.
Reading through my bookshelves choosing which books I want my students to read and discuss.
I check in with Jen, pictured below sharing a dugout canoe in rural Nicaragua on assignment, to make plans for a conference we’ll be attending together this fall. I speak to fellow writers, by phone, email or social media, pretty much every day. When you work independently, it’s the only way to survive, let alone thrive.
By 9:00 a..m. New York time, it’s 3:00 pm in Switzerland, where I need someone to help me with sourcing. I call them, ask in French for help, and send an email.
The weather this week has been delicious — sunny and clear, with no humidity and a breeze, so I’m writing this sitting at a table on our sixth-floor balcony. Enormous buzzards and red-tailed hawks wheel and dive within 30 feet of me. The only sounds are overheard aircraft, the wind in the trees and the radio station I listen to much of the time, WFUV.
I pitch a national business magazine, one new-to-me, after reading their editorial guidelines. I was introduced to the editor yesterday by a colleague, someone I met when we were both judging journalism awards. I haven’t seen or spoken to him since, but we play at the same level.
This evening, in D.C., I’ll be receiving an award for my cover story — ooooh, glamorous! — in Arthritis Today, about what it was like to stay active and athletic, despite 2.5 years of constant left hip pain, before I had it replaced in February 2012. Here it is, if you’re interested.
We’ll stay with friends in the area and I have a business meeting and then we drive to coastal Virginia to stay with friends of my husband, from when he was a photographer in the White House Press Corps for eight years. Jose is the photo editor of the New York Times business section, with six meetings every day, responsible for finding photographers all over the world to shoot assignments for the section’s stories. So he, too, is very ready for a break.
Eat, sleep, read, repeat! The only writing I plan to do is blogging and working (a bit) on my book proposal, hoping to finish the damn thing so I can send it to my agent.
It’s been an insane few months, and while I’m grateful indeed for a steady freelance income, I’m fried. Last week I had four stories due in four days and attended two all-day conferences, where I learned a lot, especially about social media.
In addition to which, I’m pitching ideas to people almost every single day and following up those pitches — and chasing payments that are always late.
I did get a terrific email from someone I met recently, introducing me to a potentially hungry new market, the BBC’s website, which actually pays well. Yay! So I have that to look forward to when we get back.
The challenge of working for yourself is that no one ever gives you a raise or a bonus. They almost never say “Good job. Thanks!” because they’re too busy and our business just isn’t one for a lot of back-slapping. So I asked one regular client for a raise, and she’s giving me a 20% boost. It’s only an extra $200 per story, but I’m damn glad to have it, since so many places simply refuse — even after decades at the same rates — to offer more.
The good part of working for myself is that I can take off whenever and wherever I choose, as long as the bills are paid. So I’ll have these 10 days, come back to New York for a week, then head to Tucson, Arizona for two weeks, where Jose is teaching The New York Times Student Journalism Institute. If you’re a college student studying journalism, join the Hispanic Journalists Association, stat! You do not have to be Hispanic…if you are chosen for the Institute, you’ll get two weeks’ working with NYT staff, a stipend and an all expense paid trip to Tucson.
If you live, as I do, near the suburban New York town of Chappaqua, and if you like the local French bistro, Jardin du Roi, the odds are good you will see former U.S. President Bill Clinton there.
It’s a little like seeing a UFO or a unicorn, something you’ve heard about for years but thought…nah…not in my lifetime.
On our last visit, a few weeks ago, he was sitting at the corner table of this quiet, unpretentious bistro, run by a mid-life career changer named Joe, with two delicious blondes, women somewhere near his age. Knowing the deal, I asked my husband — who spent eight years in the White House Press Corps as a New York Times photographer, and who has met Clinton in that capacity — where’s his security detail?
Are there Secret Service agents who look like models?
It’s the second time we’ve seen him there. The first was decidedly odd, as he stood in the very narrow doorway to the restaurant — a large, bulky agent standing visibly a few feet away that time — and held forth to a rapt audience for a long time. His zeal for conversation was legendary when he was in office, but you might expect that of a politician who, in some measure, is always campaigning.
In private life, not so much.
It is a strange, if interesting, moment when you encounter someone so iconic in the flesh. After seeing thousands of images for decades, there they are!
I followed Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip around Canada for two weeks on their 1984 Royal Tour, and the cognitive dissonance was even greater. As a Canadian, I grew up with her image on our coins and stamps and, suddenly, right in front of me, there she was.
Not only was she a living, breathing woman, she was surrounded by an eddying sea of equerries and ladies-in-waiting. Not to mention her security detail, which included a devastatingly handsome Glaswegian in tweed and her bodyguard, a quiet, small man people referred to only as The Detective.
We watched an excellent two-part documentary on Clinton this week, on PBS show, The American Experience; if you ever wanted to know more about this man, or how American politics shape a President once he’s in office, I highly recommend it.