Tag Archives: journalism

Stop the presses (because my head is killing me)

Well duh. From a story in The Independent (UK) on Monday:

People working in media, publishing and entertainment sectors are the heaviest drinkers, according to the Department of Health. They consume an average of 44 units a week, almost twice the recommended maximum amount of three-to-four units a day for men, and two-to-three for women.

Job by job: The alcohol league

*Media, Publishing and Entertainment sectors 44 units per week

*IT workers 34 units per work

*Service sector workers and retail 33 units per week

*Finance, insurance and real estate 29 units

*Education and transport workers 24 units

It’s from England, and it’s a bit of a broad category (does entertainment include everything Amy Winehouse has consumed?), but I don’t doubt it’s true for just media and similar in America too. I’ve been waiting for them to add “hard drinking” to the list at Stuff Journalists Like. I bet it’s on its way. Hard drinking and hard deadlines are like a test of your worth among seasoned press folk: “Do it without vomiting next time and then you can call yourself a reporter, kid.”

A hallmark trait of working at a newspaper is having to cover a fire, car wreck or plane crash with a hangover mocking and jabbing you from its comfortable perch in the back of your brain. I once was wrenched away from a sedate hangover-at-the-desk-day  to go stand in the rain for hours covering a major bank heist on Hilton Head (by the Bandaged Bandit, if any y’all remember him) until I couldn’t take it any more and had to slip behind some bushes to … you know … do what you do behind bushes on a hangover day. And the story was still pretty damned good, if I do say so myself (and I do).

Many reporters I know have stories about being called into duty after hours when they were already a few steps into their cups. This guy once came stumbling up to our newspaper office at GW at 2 a.m. drunk and in a mad scramble for a notebook so he could go report on the big frat/student

Journalists agree: drinking gets a thumbs up

Journalists agree: drinking has legs

government candidate party that was getting busted. We had sent him to the party undercover and he made sure to blend in by drinking lots of beer (why I was at the newspaper office at 2 am on a Saturday has nothing at all to do with not having any friends or being an irreconcilable newspaper nerd, btw). Now he works for Newsweek, has been to Iraq a few times and was interviewed on NPR and appeared on The Daily Show on the fifth year anniversary of the war. So, yeah.

It’s hard times out there for people in media and publishing, and “media/publish” is probably on track to overtake “professional alcoholic” in terms of highest beverage consumption demographics. But are things really that bad for you IT folks that you are not far behind? YOU HAVE ALL THE JOBS WE USED TO HAVE! Maybe it’s celebratory drinking?

I used to try to raise a glass in honor of every paper we’ve lost or significant layoff that is announced. Then I died from alcohol overdose and my doctor recommended I stop for a minute.

The Freelance National Anthem

Thanks to Kathlyn for the link:

selected lyrics:

But if one day all those employees lost their jobs one thing is true

One day later they’d be saying they had all gone ‘freelance’ too

[…]

Benefits are hard to come by

and the money’s not enough;

But our treasure is the endless

joy of working in the buff

Oh if only I could call myself a full-time freelancer. Full time generator of rejection letters from NY-area publications is more apt. But at least I have health insurance.

You can buy the song here, if, um, for some reason you felt the need to do that. Or you can send me 99 cents and we’ll never talk about it again.

Side note: was at a party Easter Sunday in Bushwick where I met some TJ’s faithful from years back. A woman who worked for the company for several years before becoming a lawyer said to me: “One of the things I’ve always noticed about TJ’s people is that they have some other pursuit they’re doing that they don’t really get paid for. So what’s yours?”

Journalist, I said.

“Oh!” she said, genuine surprise apparent. “That’s a new one.”

I mean, I guess I get paid for what I am able to do, but lots of my effort to make something out of it is still just struggling against the raging current, I said.

Mostly, it’s painters and artists and musicians and stuff who work there, which is true in my brief experience there as well.

Then she immediately began extolling the virtues of her ‘husband’ in the other room, leading to a direct correlation to the decline of my level of interest in the conversation and scrubbing the mission to flirtation that had amassed on the launch pad of a half-drunk confidence-boosting evening.

Good times.

‘I want a revolution’

In this spirit of the New York Times’ real-time word train experiment, a collection of a few random takes on the decline of the industry from friends still in the trenches, culled from recent e-mails, from people working in South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.  These are young, talented people, still looking to do good journalism, finding themselves frustrated at the breach. Expletives preserved, because journalists curse, especially in tough times (note- I’m not including names or any specific work places, but if any of the below quoted want their comments removed, let me know):

my paper laid off 6 people today, 4 newsroom including lifestyles editor and lifestyles copy editor, leaving 2 people in that department.  yet they say we’re gonna keep putting out a lifestyles section. HUH??  I want a fucking revolution.  The paper needs to be completely restructured with 25 journalists in mind.  It’s not remotely the same paper that exists with 50 people.  I want a tight, highly produced 8 page paper instead of a loose weak 20 page paper or whatever.  I want my friends to have their damn jobs.

this sucks.

_____________________________________

Anyway, thought I would drop you a note to tell you about newsroom drama. 20 percent of our staff got laid off today — appx 30 people. They were ruthless. 3 photographers, 3 reporters, 3 producers, 1 web producer, 1 designer, two department heads including my old boss (the guy who hired me), Lots of sales people, our New Media marketing director and her 5 marketers, our Digital Assets Manager … and on and on and on. I honestly can not understand how I didn’t get laid
off. I know it’s only a matter of time. I figured I was gone at the
end of the month (they’ve done layoffs the last week of the month for the past three months)

I know you must have this conversation all the time,
but isn’t it fucked up how fast our profession is being wiped out.?
Breaks my heart.

______________________________________

The whole thing has been a shit show. They announced that nine people were going to be laid off then took three days to do it. Everyone sat around and counted heads for three days to see if they’ve gotten to nine yet. All the guidance we’ve gotten is bullshit about working smarter. The only ideas about making things better involve just waiting the bad economy out. My short-term idea about making things better involve WineFest on Saturday and St. Pat’s Day on Sunday.

______________________________________

We’re holding up OK, I guess. The biggest problem we have is with our new regional editor, who clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing.  Our old editor was insane, but she had a great nose for news and analysis. The new guy is all about chicken-shit features on the front of our statewide Friday paper, which is an inside baseball publication dedicated to hard news analysis.
I personally can’t take it anymore, and need to leave immediately. My attitude has changed.

April Fool’s Day journalism headlines

Newsroom heeds advice of its young, tech-savvy staff

Publisher gives up company SUV to save one reporter’s job

Chicago paper adds 30 new positions, expands coverage area

Study shows facts becoming more popular than opinion

Anonymous online commenters turn off caps lock

Twitter produces revenue

CEO sends T-800 back to 1960 to destroy ARPANET, Vint Cerf

Google decides to just give some of its damn extra money to newspapers already

Blogger actually appreciates MSM source material

Gary Pruitt informed the Rolling Stones aren’t cool any more

Local paper Web site tries new things

Decent paying job at established media company found on Craigslist

Editors respond to inquiry letter with haste and courtesy

Publisher’s predictions of future prosperity proven to be accurate

Sam Zell returned to Baldur’s Gate universe

Zell

Zell

Journalist quits drinking

J school education provides huge return on investment

Reader calls newspaper with rational, reasoned disagreement over story

Sheriff’s Office press person likes to be helpful, knowledgeable

Joe Grimm applauded for sound career advice

Yes yes, and there’s plenty more thinly veiled anger to be had. Got others?

Here’s Tribune’s actual April Fool’s Day press release:

Tribune to Unveil Revolutionary Communications Tool

Alternative Info Super-Highway Created, May Render Internet Obsolete By 2010

Content Delivered to the End-User More Directly Than Ever Before

CHICAGO, April 1 /PRNewswire/ — Tribune Company today announced detailed plans to introduce a high-power, low-cost communications device designed to make all media, including the Internet, obsolete by next year. The device, tentatively being marketed as “The Accelerator(TM),” uses patent-pending nano-technology to aggregate the sum of all human knowledge–everything from where you put your keys last night to the genetic sequence of field mice DNA–and deliver what you want, when you want, directly into your brain. A prototype of the device and a description of its features can be found on the company website at www.tribune.com.

“Forget cloud computing, this is vapor computing,” said Randy Michaels, Tribune’s chief operating officer. “Traditional media companies have been working for years to harness the so-called power of the Internet–we decided that rather than compete, we’d just make it obsolete.”

It might be funny, if a bunch of my friends didn’t have jobs hanging in the balance of the future of that company. Less jokey , more fixy Sam.

Drink one tonight for Reese, the PI

Things to Drink in Honor Of — March 16 edition

1) The passing of Reese Cleghorn, former University of Maryland j-school dean, professor and once a giant in the world of southern newspapers:

Former Observer editorial editor dies

By Steve Lyttle
slyttle@charlotteobserver.com

Reese Cleghorn, who led The Observer’s editorial department during the turbulent changes of the early 1970s and later built a nationally prominent journalism department at the University of Maryland, died early Monday.

Cleghorn, 78, had taught at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism until December, when failing health forced him to retire.

Funeral details and other information are forthcoming, University of Maryland officials say.

A bunch of us had Reese for editorial writing in fall 2003 and have nothing but fond memories. He was crazy, disorganized a little out of touch, and stuck painfully to a requirement that students turn in assignments on floppy disks. But every so often a glimmer of incisive commentary or brilliant news comprehension would shine through, or he’d pass out an old column of his full of clever turns of phrase and hard-hitting aphorisms, and we’d be reminded: in his heyday, this guy was among the best.He may have been humorous in class, but when his red pen hit paper, it was sharp and cutting and spoke with diamond-tipped authority forged under the high-pressure environments  of the newsroom.

One assignment was to created an Automatic Bullshit Detector. Out of stuff like soda bottles, toilet paper rolls, rubber bands, paper clips and paper plates. I spent an inordinately long amount of time on mine.

He essentially built Maryland’s J-school into the program it is today, and students coming out of there over the past two decades owe a lot to him (he also, of note, was dean during Jayson Blair’s rise through the school).

2) The passing of the print edition of the Seattle PI, becoming the largest newspaper to close its print edition. I know these things are inevitable at this point, but that doesn’t mean it’s still not a sad reminder worth noting. The paper plans to keep publishing online and remake itself as an new type of media company, and maybe they’ll find success eventually.

This Simpler Times’s for you.

Diving into the Dumpsters of NY journalism

I was walking to work today when a familiar image caught my eye in the Metro newspaper box, causing me to skid to a halt, lose my footing on the snow covered sidewalk followed by being trampled underfoot by a crowd of rabid Liz Smith supporters before picking myself up and grabbing a copy. Here’s the front-page centerpiece story that did it:

‘Dumpster divers’ rate

best trash eats

Easy on the wallet, not as hard on stomach as you think

A Dumpster diver sifts for edible food outside the Trader Joe’s Brooklyn store.

A Dumpster diver sifts for edible food outside the Trader Joe’s Brooklyn store.

Most folks flock to the Brooklyn Trader Joe’s for discounts on bulk food. But another group heads there because it’s got the best place in the city to eat out of the garbage.

Kelly is typical of so-called “Dumpster divers,” who sift trash for useful items, including food.

“Pretty much all my food is from Dumpster diving,” said Kelly, 21, who did not want her last name published.

She follows a few rules, like “no sushi,” don’t leave a mess and “be polite” to store employees and authorities.

Read the rest of the online version here.

This story angered me something fierce. Not because the trash pickers are the bane of the existence of the TJ’s management. In truth, I could really give a shit about these folks picking through the trash, because the store does throw away quite a lot of food (even beyond the stuff we donate to local charities) ranging from bruised fruit to half-opened boxes of cookies to salad that’s a day away from its expiration date. Sure, the turkey slammer sandwiches pictured above are goddamn disgusting, even if they weren’t soaking in warm chicken juice for hours, even if I weren’t a vegetarian, but plenty of other food is often just missing a label or in a box that’s too damaged to sell, and some employees don’t take the time to put them in the donation pile.

The managers’ problem that they sometimes leave a mess all over the sidewalk, and they’ve discussed draconian measures such as pouring ammonia over the trash before putting it out or just opening and pouring out all the containers first. I suggested just talking to them one night. Then they asked me why I was busy telling them how to do their jobs and not using my protractor to make sure the labels on the cans of marinated bean salad were perfectly aligned, so I shut up.

I was upset because the story is terrible, and because it was in my tickler file of freelance stories to pitch around the city. Odds are it would have been a long shot to pull off without pissing off both current employer and prospective editor, seeing as I pull a paycheck from what is now considered the No. 1 freegan site in all the city.

But there is a bigger story here. Many articles have been written in recent years about freeganism and so-called Dumpster-diving, so that’s nothing new (side style note: “Dumpster” divers is not the correct term. Dumpster is a trademarked name, like Ziplock, Jetski, Jeep and even Velcro. Unless it is a Dumpster brand trash receptacle, which you can tell it is not from the photo, proper AP style would be the un-alliterative “trash-bin diver,” or, may I suggest, “trash troweler.” Style nerd!).

But trash troweling in New York City is clearly an art form. People show up with bikes with wagons attached. They obviously have a stealth system in place for avoiding detection by store management and law enforcement. And they must have a pattern down: Store X puts its trash out at this hour, we can get to store Y before the rats take over, etc. This means they must have some form of communication, a subculture of procedures and planning and organization, that the rest of us would never think about, followed by some sort of distinct preparation and serving techniques for half-opened food. I know for a fact there have been tense run-ins with the management at that store; surely other incidents elsewhere have involved the police at one point or another.

And, the bigger picture question that’s only hinted at in the story but never really discussed: how have the economic downturn and nationwide financial woes affected the trash troweler scene? Is it suddenly competitive? Are former top-executives at Fortune 500 companies among those face-deep in expired cage-free organic eggs (as this New York Times story hints may be the case)?

OK, so I know Metro is a crappy free commuter paper distributed as much, if not more, to sell ads to a broad audience as it is to actually provide news and journalism. The story was maybe 12 inches long (about 500 words) and probably included all the grand research of going to TJ’s one night and talking to three people.

I know this because I’ve done stories like this before, when an editor slinks up to your desk and is all “hey…. we need a front-page story. Fast. Like, tonight. Whattya got?” Not to mention the factual error anyone who had stepped foot inside the store would know: TJ’s doesn’t sell “bulk” food, despite what the lede suggests.

There was more even Metro could have done in its limited space, like at least made a somewhat scientific approach to the ranking of free trash food. The point is, there’s a very good story to tell here, one that speaks to the broader heart of the city in a rough winter of 2009, not just a quick synopsis. And it makes me worried that as papers from the seemingly doomed SF Chronicle up to the New York Times are worried about their futures, still nothing has really stepped up to offer an alternative.

I’ve been pitching a handful of stories to different publications since landing in New York, largely with no success, probably having something to do with naivette and terribleness and the fact that even my e-mails smell like unwashed, uncut Brooklyn hair. I’m still learning my way around the city and feeling out where the good stories are hiding, what untold things the city needs to know about itself to create and foster a worthwhile dialogue. I pick up all the papers, free and otherwise, regularly to help develop this kind of knowledge.

It’s hard not to wonder, when the big papers go away and all the freelance budgets at magazines and elsewhere dry up, where will the real conversations about our city and its people begin? Certainly parsed blog posts or quick-hit subway readers can be part of it, but sometimes you just need depth and time and research to truly paint a picture.

I don’t know the answer (SF Chronicle critics have some ideas) but for now let’s turn back to the Metro story and conclude this post with its list of trash troweler places. It is introduced by the aforementioned Kelly, who, upon looking at her picture, is kinda seriously cute, and should probably get in touch with me if she ever reads this. I’ll be one of the struggling writers working the cash register inside. You bring the turkey slammers:

"Pretty much all my food is from Dumpster diving.” Kelly

“Pretty much all my food
is from Dumpster diving.”
Kelly


1. Everything: Trader Joe’s, Atlantic Avenue and Court Street, Brooklyn

2. Fruits and Vegetables: Atlantic Fruit & Vegetables, Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn

3. Bread: Caputo’s bakery, Court Street, Brooklyn, New York

4. Pastries: McNally-Jackson Bookstore, Prince Street, SoHo

Another note: the story references, but does not describe fully, the blog Abroad’r View, where author Courtney Scott is chronicling her efforts to eat completely off free samples and the like, almost like a MyOpenBar for free sustenance. Maybe someone wants a freelance story just on that experiment, if Metro doesn’t get to it first.

Happy birthday, you filthy soapbox!

It’s our blogiversary!

That’s right, it’s been a year since this odd experiment in web interactivism was birthed in the corner of a lowly bar during a lowly happy hour on Hilton Head, as I sat slashing away at the keys in search of some new solace I wasn’t finding in the newspaper industry. Indeed, I only started writing this thing out of a frustrated sense (or premonition) of claustrophobia with the newspaper job, knowing that the bounds of the vestigial print newsroom were constricting around me and other fellow reporters so quickly there was barely time to grab our asthma inhalers.

Lots of people start blogs with the mindset that the world needs their opinion on topics from music to politics to the state of obesity in America. I’ve been lucky never to have such delusions about why I started this. I’ve tried to clean it up over the past year, adding some order among the cranial chaos and occasionally (usually not on purpose) writing about something momentous or of interest to a general audience.

But looking back now, I’m surprised at how reasoned and sensible that first post was a year ago, even though I knew I was shouting into the abyss, before I even started posting links on facebook or attaching my real name to it, when I was still keeping it on the DL out of fear of discovery by an editor or job prospect.

So blog pretensions aside, the only reason I created this was for another outlet, just somewhere else to write that doesn’t involve soul-crushing lede changes or aversion to risk taking found in too many newsrooms. The thing about blogs is, you either devote a lot of time to it and seek to crack the market with a fresh idea and still make a pitifully small amount of revenue, or you do it for the joy of writing and creating a dialogue with friends. And also possibly because some nights you come home half drunk and think everyone wants to know what you think about a direct-to-dvd Batman animated promotion. Which they do.

In the course of a year, I kept track of (and got considerable Google traffic from) trivia team names, channeled unchecked rage at Funky Winkerbean, somehow became the No. 1 Google image search for both “ghostbusters” and “cartoon all-stars,” and wrote in probably unnecessarily detail about a breakup (“I’m not too happy about having personal details about my life out there,” she said after reading it. “Well, it’s my life too,” I said, giving the writers’ “all life is fair material” response. Besides, I said, there’s no one would read this that I wouldn’t tell about it anyway, and better to describe it in precise written words than awkward spoken ones on my end.)

I also kept a sad documentation on the decline of a once-promising local newspaper, then wrote in plain truths about my decision to leave the newspaper industry and to try to pit writing skill against the forces of poverty in New York City. A few times, I even wrote about news events that got linked to and read elsewhere.

And if nothing else, I had a place to write in honest language what it’s like to watch your dad slowly suffocate for the last few days of his life under a maddening blanket of an inconsiderate disease. And I learned writing doesn’t really dull the edge for something like that; it sharpens it to an even finer point most times, but I left the apartment the night I wrote that to go drink a 7&7 (Dad’s favorite drink) at the bar, at least feeling like I had made an effort at turning personal emotions into something concrete, even if it was just ultimately a cascade of words emptying into the mouth of the void.

So overall, I generally tried to write about things that had some broad interest and weren’t just about the limited-interest world of myself.

Some friends have told me they really like this blog, that I should do more with it (others have complained about not being name dropped enough), which is nice of them to say. But I’m the first to admit this doesn’t serve a purpose other than to be just another person out in the internet writing long sentences about things that are important to him, even as people everywhere want shorter and shorter things to read each day.

Since switching to WordPress, I’ve tried to turn this into a slightly more focused site documenting the travels and travails of a young writer navigating the empty void between print and web. Those aren’t the kind of blogs that people read on a regular basis though, you need quick hits like making fun of journalists or poorly edited advertising, and that’s fine with me, I’m not trying to do much here (but please feel free to send me checks out of the goodness of your heart).

Here’s the inaugural post, Feb. 19, 2008: The Powers of Inversion.

If you read this, all I ask is that you bookmark it and maybe check back every now and then to see what’s going on. And maybe even e-mail me with stuff you like, don’t like, suggestions, comments, vegan strudel recipes, cease and desist letters, etc etc at tim[at]timdonnelly.com.

A year later, I’m still sure there’s something else out there that will fill the gap being left by the end of print journalism. Until then, I’m glad to be in New York City, struggling my way through a new media landscape and happy to have at least one outlet in the meantime.

But most importantly, thanks for reading, wherever you are!