Friday, October 17, 2008

Joe the Plumber

There is something vicious about being a reporter. Something vulture-like that reminds me of the scene from "Deep Blue Sea" when the shark smells her blood and is lured right to her. And the he rips her to shreds, quite literally.
It's a terrible movie and I don't recommend it, but LL Cool J is in it and he has a parrot and it's slightly humerous.
At any rate, my point is this: when a reporter smells blood, look out.
So Joe the Plumber stepped forward and put himself in a public lime light that I'm sure he's regretting now. He stepped forward to challenge Obama, asking, "What are you SERIOUSLY going to do for us here below?" And now Joe has been subjected to all kinds of scrutiny, from his single-parenthood to his tax history.
What is it about this story that reporters have latched into? What is different about Joe's question than the questions posed on the YouTube debates not a year ago? And what is it about Americans that has launched newspaper reporting into this level of vulture-ness?
I feel bad for Joe because like many people, he's learned the hard way that public is the new private. When it comes to reporters and politics, no one is safe. The message being sent here is: You can challenge the President and ask him questions and try to get straight answers out of him, but it's at the risk of your own personal space. It's at the risk of having reporters camp out on your lawn to find out what kind of cleaner you use on your toilet.
This is the level journalism has been taken to, folks, and I'm not sorry I got out of it. When it comes to politics, and if there's blood in the water, forget about it. Reporters will be all over it.

And just so you know, I'm not entirely knocking the journalism profession. I think there is a call for news, especially in such an uncertain economy. But does CNN really have to continuously put pictures of sad stock brokers up on its home page? We don't hear any good news anymore. Is it because good news doesn't exist? What changed in journalism?

Another post for another day. Perhaps later.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

First update in over a year

Life is a crazy little thing and it gets away from you some time. Like most of my journals, I was pretty religious about updating my blog and then sure enough, time and space move and somewhere into that great abyss went my great plans for keeping up the blog.
So where I've been since my last post:

I think there comes a time in every writer's life when he or she just has to HATE -- and by hate I mean absolutely loathe his or her craft. At some point, a writer has to put down the pen, close the computer, unplug the typewriter -- whatever -- and just let it go for a while.
Or find a way to spice it up.
Lately, I've been finding that I don't feel so fulfilled when I'm writing. I've lost the spark and passion that I used to feel. I don't know if that's come on account of being a recovering newspaper reporter or spending so much time neck-deep in academic writing, but the passion for creative fiction writing that I used to feel has sort of ebbed.
My sister, in the last two years or so, has gotten herself deeply into her passion for writing. She's written a few longer works and she's extremely determined to get into the publishing sphere. I remember having that passion. I remember going through Writer's Market with a fine tooth comb looking for that perfect agent and publisher. And somewhere between doing that and not getting it done, I lost the spark.

So what to do:
A lot of the solution is encased in the notion of "self analysis." What was it that drove me to write? What excited me about writing? What made writing the only thing I could think about? And what circumstances happened to make that go away? Is it something I want to reclaim, and if I do want to reclaim it, what is necessary for me to reclaim it?
And is it time right now to just put fiction aside and focus on whatever moment I happen to be in?
Or maybe the answer lies in exploring another genre, such as creative nonfiction. I don't think I'm a poet. I've pretty much successfuly determined that each and every one of my poems is the product of depression, which is how I think it goes for most writers.

Every writer gets into a rut, and it's a lot of self evaluation that draws you back into your "happy writing place." Eventually, I think, if you're meant to be a writer, you'll go back to it anyway because you'll find if it's truly your passion, you won't be able to stay away from it, not even for a moment.
I'm not sure how long my moment will last, but that's where it stands right now. Year two of graduate school and still picking at novels that are just sitting there on my harddrive.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

When the Media Just Sucks

There have been several instances where I've had to talk to people who have a personal vandetta against the media. The first time I came across personally in the line of duty was when the county prosecutor in one of my coverage areas told me how much the media makes things worse. I was speaking to him about bomb threats at the high school and he said he blames the media for making this people "glorious."

Well, I understand his frustration, especially when I see Larry King is going to do a big interview thing with Paris Hilton. Paris Hilton has been getting so much media coverage over this whole jail thing and as a reporter, I can't even being to tell you how angry this makes me.

People are dying in Darfur. People are dying in Iraq. The American people barely know anything about any of the presidential candidates for 08. People complain about the obesity crisis in children and blame food companies when the real culprits are parents who let their children play video games and watch TV all day. And we're spending all our time watching coverage of Paris Hilton and Anna Nicole Smith.

There's a part of us, as Americans, that want to see the stars fall. We want to see bad things happen to them and hear about their failures, their head-shaving jounreys and jail time. We want proof that they are human. I think the danger here is that we spend too much time obsessing about them. Even I'm obsessing about it because it irritates me so much.

And the fact that Paris's crying fits of hysteria every night got her out of jail just absolutely infuriates me. Who does she think she is? You don't get star treatment. And don't tell me you're not giving her star treatment. She is. And you are. And it's flat out WRONG.

That's my soap box. But seriously, folks, this is the problem with the media. We latch onto stories that we know people will obsess about because that is how we get the ratings. That's how we get the readers. That's how we make the money.

The goal of media is to make money. Period. This is part of the reason I'm getting out and quitting my job and going into seminary. I want to do somethign that will make a difference, not something that will just make a company money. I want to tell someone's story and create awareness about issues. I don't feel like I'm doing that here at my weekly. I do sometimes, but mostly not. Mostly I just cover meetings and write stories dependant on meetings.

It irritates me that this is what the media has become. We have become muckrackers and we have lost sight of the point of jouralism. We have lost sight of the purpose of journalism: to inform. News is what the people want and need to know. Not what the media thinks will just make money.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Why I Hate My Job

What a title for a blog entry, right?
So, it's been an extremely hectic last couple of months and I haven't had much of an opportunity (or motivation) to update the blog. I'm also doing some revisions on one of my novels, so that's been taking up a lot of my time as well.

June starts this weekend, which means it's officially my last month of working full time for the newspaper. As of July, I will be a full time seminary student. Talk about a career change, eh?

But while reflecting on my time as a pro journalist, I've been focusing on how much I really don't want to be a journalist and the answer I came up with this morning is that: it's a dependant job.

Everything I do as a journalist is dependent on someone else. My stories don't get done without outside influence. That's where interviews come into play. Nothing happens without input from someone else. I hate the idea of my entire job -- not just aspects, but the entire job -- being dependent on someone else.

My stories don't get done without interviews. They don't get printed without approval from my editor. They don't get printed without corrections and approval from the copy desk. Everything about being a journalist is about being dependent on others. Even the art of generating story ideas depends on who you can talk to about getting information.

True, a lot of the coming up with story ideas has to do with my own brain storming. But again, those stories don't get done without the help of outside influence.

I tend to think all writing is like that, some forms more than others. Journalism seems to lend itself to more outside influence, and that goes for magazine and newspaper journalism.

Fiction writing, I think, has some differences in that department. I'm more dependent on my own imagination, but I'm still dependent on my outside world and frame of reference for ideas. I create characters that are loosely based on real people, either in appearance or in personality. Rarely are they based on both.

Journalism isn't all bad, though. I enjoy writing feature stories and telling people's stories.

But geeze, if I never have to write another budget story, it'll be too soon.

I'll update again soon. No promises, but I'll try my best :)

And for the record, I don't actually hate my job. I've just been learning by trial and error that newspaper writing isn't necessarily the gig for me.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Welcome. Here's your paddle.

Before I begin the story, I'm going to do this backwards and tell you what the moral of the story is. The moral of the story is that no matter where you work, which paper you work for or what towns you cover, you will always find some kind of drama. Good or bad, it's always going to be there.
I'm working in a different office for a few weeks until the company hires two new reporters for this particular paper. It means three things for me. First, it means that it's going to take me about four times as long to get to work in the morning because I'm working in a different town. Second, it means I get a break from the two Hell-towns I cover at my office. Third, it means I leave the drama of those two towns and come to the drama of these two towns.
It took me three hours to get to work this morning; it's only supposed to take forty minutes, and that's without traffic. It takes me ten minutes to get to work at my regular paper, so you can see why I'm a little extra cranky today.
But the reason it took so long was because of the road and traffic situation. There is only one road getting into the town in which I'm filling in. One road. There are three roads that converge onto this road. Two of the three were closed due to flooding.
This is what happens: In the same weekend, your state governor ends up in the hospital because he wasn't smart enough to wear a seatbelt on the high way and several towns get buried by a northeaster. So this northeaster comes in and one of the towns I'm covering right now was almost completely under water. It was bad. Really bad.
So I went today to the refugee building where they evacuated almost 300 people to. It was lined with cots and plastic bags of clothes and sleeping bags and people who just looked like complete zombies. I can't even imagine sitting in a room like that with hundreds of other people just waiting to hear if I'd ever be able to go back home or not.
So between flooding, a governor who's in the hospital, and coping with people who are associated with the town I cover and the Virgina Tech incident, it's been really hectic around here. Drama is in every town, no matter where you live, no matter what town you cover, no matter what paper you write for.
Harry Truman said, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." This is what reporting is about, folks. It's about covering the drama in a way that doesn't completely kill your Bullshit Goggles. It's about going to cover the hard stuff and talking to people who have found out they just lost everything except the clothes on their back.
On that note, happy writing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Novel Idea

"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unforunately, no one knows what they are." --

I love going to used bookstores. Every time I go, I always look for the section that has books on writing. I'm not sure why; I never end up buying any of them. I've never found "that book" that explains exactly how to start, work on, finish, and publish a novel. I'm of the belief that you can't find out how to write well from a book on writing as well as you can from an actual book.

Ie., if you want to write fantasy stories, you'd better be reading fantasy books to see how the "masters" do it and learn what type of fantasy story really markets itself well.

I've written a few novels (none of which are published yet) and I think the best novel advice I can give anyone is to learn when to let go.

I've been working on this novel for six years now. I wrote the first draft in high school and it's been through about four major overhaul revisions since I finished the first draft. Everything from completely changing the ending, to completely changing the beginning to moving the whole story from first-person point of view to third-person limited point of view. It's been a long time coming. Several people have read it and given me feedback. I've queried about five or six agents with no luck.

I'm at a point now where the novel is sitting on my computer staring at me with this mocking glare, daring me to edit it some more. And I always fall victim to its mocks. It's almost an annual thing to do an overhaul these days on the book and part of me thinks the reason for this is that I know if I'm still editing it that I can't send out query letters.

And there's plenty of reasons that I'm afraid to query. Having the novel accepted means that I'm done. It means that the story has been abandoned until an editor rips through it and I guess having an editor rip through my story is the equivalent of being raped. It means that my vision for the story becomes lost as an editor looks at the story merely as an item for sale. To me, this story is part of my life. It's an actual, tangible piece of my soul stuck on two flash drives, two hard drives, two floppy disks (You can see my paranoia of a technology failure) and two large 3-inch binders. It's a piece of my life and the idea of someone else judging it bugs me.

Which is why I'm telling you that if you ever want to write and publish a novel, learn to let it go. Learn that if you want your work published, you have to learn to create and let it lead its own life. It's very much like parenthood. Your novel is your baby, and whether you believe it or not, if it's meant to be shared with the world, it will do so, whether you really want it to or not. But you have to let it go. I have to let go of my novel and let it try and stand on its own two feet in front of a literary agent and potential editors. I'm not of the illusion that this is going to be a quick and easy process. I realize it will be painful. I realize that I'm going to see a lot more rejections before I see a few acceptances.

But I also realize it'll be worth it when the book is on the shelves and I can walk into Barnes and Nobles and see it on the shelf. It makes it a little easier to move towards the process of letting go.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Last One To Know

So, here's a funny story. Well...funny for me. Not for the people it involves. I'll explain.

Since I've started at the this newspaper, there have been three instances where I've had to break bad news to people. The first time was when one of the school boards that I cover announced that they were suing the state Department of Education and the state Education Commissioner. So I called the state DOE and asked for a comment about the lawsuit and the comment I got was, "We're being SUED?!?!?!"


The second time was when another school board I covered voted to write a letter to a fellow board member asking him to resign his post after he allegedly made racial comments (I've mentioned this before, I'm sure). He knew the letter was coming, but when I called he hadn't received the letter yet, so that was not as big of an oopps, but an "oops" just the same.

The third and most recent time was the other day when I got a news release from two people that filed an ethics complaint against a committeeman in yet another town I cover (I cover six towns). They filed the complaint five years ago and the state Local Finance Board found him guilty of violating ethics law because of a vote he made in office. He was fined $500. Then he appealed the decision with the state's Office of Authoritative Law who decided that there wasn't enough evidence to suggest that he acted in self-interest instead of violating ethics law, so they tossed out the decision. Then, last Friday, they announced that the LFB rejected their decision and the final decision was that he was going to be fined $500. So I called him to see if he would be willing to comment about the decision. Here's how it happened:

Me: Would you be willing to comment?
Him: That's old news. They made the decision to toss that out two years ago and they haven't made a final decision yet.
Me: Not according to a news release I got. According to this, the decision was made last Friday.
Him: Well then I guess I'd better call my attorney, shouldn't I?

So yeah, that was awkward.

I don't especially like being the bearer of unhappy tidings. It's always slightly amusing when I know stuff like that before the person directly affected knows, but hey. It happens. The three people weren't angry with me, of course, since I'm just the messenger doing my job. But it's always awkward when that happens. It's a little frustrating when news comes out a day before press time, so then I have to wait for people to track down their attorney and get me an official statement. Sometimes they get back to me, sometimes they don't. When they don't, the official statement is, 'So and so declined comment' and that's just the way it has to be.

In other news, it's pouring outside today for the first time in like...two months. So, we need the rain, but I still don't like walking into my office soaking wet. Ew.