Expect the Unexpected

15 06 2010

As a working journalist, I am often afforded the opportunity to have experiences or encounters I might not, in the course of daily life, otherwise run up against. Indeed, one of the perks of the job (besides the excellent pay) is the chance to investigate interesting issues, met and interview fascinating people, and dive into the day’s news head on.

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What’s Fact When the Facts are Factually Unsound?

20 01 2010

Conversationally, I can be a bit fearless – willing and ready to debate whoever about whatever. In essence, I have opinions that I don’t mind voicing. Now, with some experience as both journalist and blogger, the evolving nature of how we express what we think to be true has turned out to be different than my original expectations.

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The Joys of Rural America

5 01 2010

I’ve been residing now in Bardstown, Kentucky, since the middle of October and I’ve gathered some impressions about my new location. I never imagined myself as the kind of person who could stand to live in sub-20,000 population community and this largely remains true. Yet, Bardstown has a surprising amount of charm despite its diminutive census count.

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The Grass is Always More Blue on the Other Side

8 10 2009

After months of continuous searching, applying and being rejected, I have at last convinced a newspaper that I would make a worthy addition to their staff. Those poor fools at The Kentucky Standard. My stint of table waiting has come to an end (Thank you, sweet Jesus), and now I’m heading down south to Bardstown, Kentucky, to the land of Bourbon and Bibles, in service of democracy, freedom of the press and special sections promoting unbelievable deals by local merchants.

This will not be my first experience working at a community newspaper. Before I hopped a plane to Korea, I had been employed as reporter/editor/fall guy for the prestigious Lake Sun Leader, covering everything local and happenin’ for the Lake of the Ozarks area in central Missouri. As it turned out, there wasn’t really a lot happening, but I covered it any way. Are you a middle-aged cover band playing “Mustang Sally” three times a night for other middle-aged hoosier tourists? Congratulations, front page of the weekend Entertainment section.

I also wrote a video game column which contained slang and terms that vexed my publisher endlessly. He was convinced such language was the result of grammatical error rather than an intimate understanding of the subject matter. In fact, not a single person on the staff played video games or very much understood them or the culture surrounding the hobby. Yet, when I announced my departure from the paper, the first thing everyone said to me was not “Oh, too bad, we will miss you” but rather “So, are you still going to do that video game thing?”, even the moms from the sales department.

The job involved more editing than writing and as such allowed me to be blamed for all the mistakes that my editor did not catch. For some mistakes, however, I can claim sole responsibility. For example, the last of my nightly tasks involved sending the finished PDFs of the newspaper pages to the printer. A simple job that I usually finished with complete success. Yet, through a process still mysterious to me, I once managed to substitute the next day’s paper’s opinion page for the archived version of that page from exactly one year ago. Though this greatly enraged my publisher, I’m convinced most of our readers didn’t even realize the switch.

My new gig will involve considerably more writing though not really anymore prestige. My concern will cover two primary beats, Education and “Cops n’ Courts.” Though the latter may sound like a poorly conceived reality TV show, it’s basically means reporting on any sort of serious crimes, trials or accidents that occur. So, if you live in Bardstown and manage to drunkenly knock over the giant fiberglass rooster at the gas station on Rt. 245 before plowing headlong into the Baptist church’s Halloween display (splattering pumpkin guts everywhere) only to emerge nude from your vehicle and protest your innocence when the cops arrive, I’m probably going to put your name in the paper.

Hopefully, events equally adventurous and hilarious will occur during my tenure at The Kentucky Standard, which I will chronicle here. Though I do not own any guns, have never voted for a Republican and can read above a 5th grade level, I’m sure I’ll have no problem fitting into rural Kentucky life.

Author’s Note: The above remarks are only meant in jest and in no way do I mean to offend or insult the fine people of Kentucky. Both my parents were born and raised in Lexington. I have visited the state many times and have always enjoyed myself, and I am looking forward to taking up residence there.





Another Stellar Recommendation

24 06 2009

I am motivated to write this post by the same impulse that directed me to recommend the fantasy fiction of George R.R. Martin. In conversations that cover the subjects of literature or journalism, what one likes and one doesn’t, I often deliver the same sermon extolling the virtues of a weekly radio production from Chicago NPR station WBEZ. Such endless recommending can become tedious, its listeners began faking interest and I am often frustrated that the full extent of its merits is not conveyed. Hence, this post seeks to rectify this situation by providing a definitive account of the subject.

"Every week we bring you a theme and a variety of stories based on that theme"

"Every week we bring you a theme and a variety of stories based on that theme"

“This American Life,” hosted by Ira Glass, consistently delivers a show remarkable in its storytelling, relentless in its journalistic legwork and surprising in its content. It is some of the finest American journalism being produced today.

The show is structured around a theme, conceptual creative and various in scope, with a series of stories, or acts, that relate to the week’s motif. The number of acts per show changes, two to four is typically, with bigger one-act tales coming along occasionally. One show even attempted to cram 60 one-minute acts into a single episode.

The show uses a staple of regular contributors and producers and occasionally includes work by well-known non-fiction authors such as David Sedaris or Dan Savage. Some acts are journalistic retellings, full of interviews, others are personal essays read by those who wrote them and even short stories make rare appearances. While the show has a general formula, the crew at WBEZ constantly finds new ways to tweak and explore the show and what can be with it.

The medium of radio is ideal for the show. Unlike television, which clearly separates the viewer from the performer, radio has a transformative intimacy. As you listen to people tell stories (tragic, funny, heartbreaking, heartwarming, shocking, informative, inspiring, refreshing, gut-wrenching stories) in their own voices and struggle to express them in their own words you feel a closeness to the person and the story.

With a full hour straight through, no commercials, each act is given enough time to develop, evolve and change. There are no hurried edits, one-line cuts or soundbites. Each issue is thoroughly explored and each episode gives you something you didn’t have before, be it information or insight.

For “This American Life,” the success is in the stories. As I listed a few paragraphs up, the range of emotions evoked in a single episode can vary wildly and some of the tales will stay with you for a long time.

In particular, I will always remember the story of a kid whose father, an electrician and TV repairman, dies of a heart attack. It’s the 1950s when his father dies, unwarned and unaware about the risk factors contributing to heart disease. A few years later, the kid decides in typical childish fashion, to dedicate his life to inventing time travel, to save his father before it’s too late.

And for most, this is where the story would end. The kid grows up and realizes that time travel is not possible, just the dream of a distraught child. Instead, the show traces the course of this kid’s life as he goes to college for physics, becomes an engineer and spends the next few decades of his life trying to make time travel possible. He undergoes ridicule and accolades, setbacks and steps forward, love and divorce all in effort to warn his father, to get a couple more years to spend with him.

You can hear “This American Life” as part of the weekend programming for most public radio stations or download the podcast from their Web site or iTunes. Worth a listen, I promise





Freelance Continued and Other Updates

16 06 2009

Matador just put up another one of my articles and this one differs significantly from my previous effort. One of the things I like about the site is that it covers so many aspects of travel, including the philosophical and emotional impact world travel often has on individuals. This recent piece explores how I felt as a self-described procrastinator set loose on my own in China and Southeast Asia. Read it and find out!

I had hoped on my return stateside that I would be able to find gainful employment in the industry of my degree before my funds dipped below a critical threshold. Despite my best efforts and many resume revisions, my outstanding qualities and qualifications continue to elude any potential employers. The reason for such rejection confounds me when the choice seems so clear. Come on guys, just hire me already, you know you want to. Really, it’ll be awesome.

Such attempts at persuasion coming to naught, I have been forced to find some vocation to sustain my basic necessities. While I managed to avoid delivery duty again at the sandwich shop of my collegiate career, I will tomorrow attend a training session for that most ubiquitous of part-time jobs, a waiter. I’ve been employed in a number of fields, but this will be an experience entirely new to me. While I can be quite personable and amiable in social situations, I wonder about my ability to maintain such cheerfulness for shift after shift.

In the world of order taking and food serving, the twin skills of overbearing enthusiasm for items on the menu and dogged but non-invasive interest in the persons seated are what vault one to the upper echelons of food service income. Alas, my financial fortunes will again be left to the kindness of strangers. I pray for rich drunkards and recent lottery winners.





A News(paper) Analysis

10 06 2009

Whenever I tell someone I’m an unemployed journalism major looking for newspaper work, they immediately bemoan the sad state of the news industry. However, while I agree with this sentiment on a personal level, I’m actually not concerned about the future of journalism itself. Things are changing and a certain amount of growing pains are to be expected.

The essential problem (at least for one such as me) is not a lack of jobs, but an abundance of journalists. Journalismjobs.com has new entry-level postings almost every day, but each of these is immediately swarmed with applicants. New college grad that I am, I can’t really compete with someone with five years experience in the field.

Even with that in mind, there are two unquestionable truths. First, ad revenue is falling for publications across the country. Second, large national or regional papers are cutting back on staff.

Yet this doesn’t mean journalism is dying. Newspapers aren’t going to disappear. Perhaps print editions of newspapers will in the future, but the idea itself isn’t going anywhere. After reading a recent issue of the Columbia Journalism Review that pondered the future of journalism, I’ve reached two conclusions.

1) The companies most threatened are the large ones that must compete on a global or national scale, like say the New York Times or the Chicago Tribune. This modern age features a myriad of easily accessible sources for such news, from citizen blogs to foreign media outlets. RSS and other methods of news feeds allow users to bypass a direct visit to most sites and aggregate information instead. Maintaining foreign news desks or funding investigative reporting is an expensive proposition and a losing one, when competing against cheaper Internet-only operations.

However, smaller community newspapers can still thrive in this environment. For most small American towns, the local newspaper remains the sole source of information about said community. Yahoo news isn’t going to bother posting items about Smalltown, USA. In fact, the convenience of modern technology allows such newspapers to do more than they’ve ever done before and create a better product. When the recession ends, these papers will be poised to do quite well.

2) Journalism, both large and small, will become increasingly fragmented and collaborative. The web Site Politico is a good example of this. Formed by veteran political reporters from the Washington Post, it created a (hopefully) sustainable model by going after a very targeted audience and has become a staple for political junkies. It competes directly with media giants in both print and TV but is a fraction of their size. The new age of Internet journalism will give rise (and indeed in many cases already has) to thousands of niche publications. The idea of a single publication (such as a newspaper) covering all topics at once will give way to people reading several separate sites instead.

Since stories can be uploaded via the Web from practically anywhere, the need for a central newsroom becomes less important. Full-time staff positions will grow less common and more work will be done on a freelance basis. This will help news organizations remain lean and keep their overall costs competitive. All these changes, will of course affect how news is presented, consumed and ultimately, paid for.

The industry is in the process of adapting and integrating into our brave new Internet-dominated world. Collectively, there have been more stumbles than successes, but the consumer demand for quality news and journalism hasn’t dissipated. Great progress has been made in how to adapt content for online consumption (videos, blogs, etc.), but little attention has been given to how to pay. The approach has been to sustain any online operation through online advertising, but after a few years of experimentation this method has fundamentally failed.

Thanks to the analytical software available to advertisers, clients know more about the reach and effectiveness of their ads. While this allows for the creation of more targeted campaigns, the exact nature of it has weakened the traditional leverage publications held and therefore reduced the rates they can reasonably charge.

Businesses are now emerging to introduce new fee structures that take lessons from proven methods of online payment like PayPal and the iTunes Store. Eventually, one such of these methods will come to dominate the market. Expect to start paying for your online reading and expect it soon. Newspapers really can’t afford it otherwise.