Thursday, June 26, 2008

Are we scavengers?

Some weeks ago, my outlook on journalism changed.

It was a Wednesday morning. Elvis's "A Little Less Conversation" woke me up, and I immediately grabbed my phone to silence it. The caller-ID read "Unknown," letting me know that it was my editor at the Globe. Apparently the newspaper likes to be stealthy.

We exchanged pleasantries and got to business.

"How brave are you feeling?" he asked.
"Depends on what we're talking about."

I had previously been assigned to go down to Miami, Okla. to do a story on a Model-T club that was traveling across the country. My editor filled me in that there was a woman in Miami who had lost her son and daughter-in-law in the recent tornadoes.

The Globe hadn't been able to contact her, so since I was in the area it fell to me to go track her down. Great.

"Oh, and if they stick a shotgun out the door, just leave--that's happened before," my editor added.

So there I was, sitting in my car outside this woman's house. There was a miniature zoo of people in her yard, and I tried to summon the courage to walk the gauntlet of relatives on the way to the door. Fortunately for my inexperienced anxiety, they all left shortly afterward.

But so did my hope that I might be able to get an interview. Fearing that she was one of the people who had left, I got out of my car, plodded to the door of the house and knocked.

A woman answered the door, and I knew it was her. She had lakes for eyes.

Immediately, everything I had planned to say to justify my appearance there melted away. I stammered an introduction and asked if she was willing to talk to me. I was met with a deadpan stare as she tried to process what it was that I was asking.

After a brief pause, she said it was fine. We sat down on the couch, and amid the bustle of people circulating through the rooms and attending to the responsibilities that come with planning a funeral, I tried to think of what I should ask.

So I asked her to tell me about her son. Who was he? what did he enjoy doing? What were his interests? At first I felt like a vulture, looking for a piece of roadkill. Gradually, however, that mindset faded away and was replaced by a new realization about journalism.

Stories like this perform an important role because they allow us to understand ourselves better as well as remember who has passed. In another realm, they can also provide a therapeutic outlet for the victim's relatives or loved ones.

In this woman's case, the shock she felt was still apparent, and she wasn't exactly a wellspring of information. But the fact that she allowed me in and answered my questions said enough.

For the whole story, check out the Joplin Globe's website.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Eating money

I walked into Kaldi's Coffee and ordered a strawberry smoothie (a "sissy drink" in the words of Jeff). I handed the barista my credit card and took the drink back to my table. Then it dawned on me that I had dropped $4.70 on a 12-ounce cup of liquid.

Maybe I should have just taken a fiver out of my wallet, inserted it into my mouth and swallowed.

When did it become normal to spend $5 on a drink without so much as a thought? How many better ways could I have spent my money? (Obviously, I was paying for the hip coffee shop experience with the rad vibes, but still, my brain wasn't firing on all cylinders).

But will I change? Maybe slightly. But if I do, it will be to spend less instead of taking that money and putting it toward more important uses. Just being honest.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Good writers are good readers

Patrick and I subscribed to two magazines on Tuesday. We did this for a number of reasons.

Our main motivation was the realization that reading excellent writing gives well to writing well. There is also something to be said for intentionally exploring magazines to find a favorite writer in hopes of developing a favorite style.

The American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) recently published its annual compilation recognizing the best magazines in current publication. We chose two of these:

The New Yorker publishes a selection of reporiting, commentary, fiction, essays, poetry, satire and criticism. It is well known for its profiles and cartoons, which have garnered wide acclaim in the past. Malcolm Gladwell writes for the New Yorker.

The New Yorker consistently wins the general excellence award for the 1 million to 2 million circulation category. This year, it was a finalist in numerous categories including Reporting, Feature Writing and Profile Writing.

Vanity Fair publishes articles pertaining to politics, fashion and culture. In the 1920s, it featured such writers as Aldous Huxley and T.S. Eliot.

Vanity Fair won the awards for Profile Writing and Photo Portfolio. It was a finalist for Reporting, Feature Writing, Photography, Design and General Excellence in the 1 million to 2 million circulation category.

The other exciting element about magazines is that you can hold them in your hands. Call me old-fashioned, but I love hard copies. The texture and feel of the pages, the design and look of of the layout. Hard copies have a distinct beginning and end. The Internet, on the other hand, can be overwhelming at times. Once you finish one article, there are always more pages to look at and more being created as you read. Not to mention the strain of looking at a backlit screen for hours.

You can put it in your bag for when you're on the go. You can rip out a page and tack it on your wall or decoupage it to the cover of your Moleskine journal (something white people probably like). You can mark it up.

The hard copy is less removed from the made-by-hand ideal. It's brought to you; you don't have to go out and search for it. Long live the romance of the hard copy.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Among giants

It finally hit me today, as I was walking out of class, that I am here.

So this is what it feels like to go to the finest school in the world for my field. It's a good feeling, knowing that I'm receiving one of the best educations that is available (if not THE best). It's thrilling to know that I'm coming into contact with people who have been, are and will be some of the most influential contributors in our field.

It's exciting to say the least, because except in a couple of instances, I've had little contact with journalistic giants. One of the few fortunate, brief opportunities I did have was with the late Tim Russert.

I confess, I am terribly late to be writing about Tim Russert's death, but I read a column by William Kristol on Monday that really conveyed a warm memorial of Russert's journalistic career and serious personality.

I didn't closely follow Russert's career or approach to journalism while he was alive, but from hearing and reading about him in the recent news, I've been struck by how large of a role he played in Washington and the impact he had there.

Earlier this year, I wrote about how I was fortunate enough to run into him coming out of a rally for Barack Obama during the Iowa caucuses in January. He agreed to take a picture with me (something I almost never do). He told me, "Good luck" with journalism, and we parted ways.

Suddenly, with his death, the picture we snapped takes on greater significance. I can't wait to read Big Russ and Me, and find out more about one of the legendary journalists of our time.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Fake man, great stats

Apparently JFK has become funny. And what a riot he is.

Irreverent comic artist Brad Neely, creator of Wizard People: Dear Readers, the unauthorized retelling of the first Harry Potter installment, some time ago came out with a new parody of another of our presidents (earlier he produced an alternate interpretation of the life of George Washington).

This time, Neely's warped mind speculates on the possibility that Kennedy was a robot. His outrageous, history-bending characters, the Professor Brothers, present an utterly ridiculous and obviously inaccurate portrayal of JFK's life.

Take a look (however, if you are offended by profanity or crude humor, please look no further).


Saturday, June 7, 2008

Life at the A-Street Orphanage

Lo and behold, the day I get the bent wheel on my bike fixed, I go head over handlebars.

I was playing Fugitive with a group of people across the downtown. Fugitive is a game where one group of people (the Runners) takes off and tries to make it to certain checkpoints, employing either speed or stealth. In the meantime, the other group (the Chasers) hunts the Runners down by using cars or bikes and "tagging" them with a squirt gun.

As luck would have it, I was riding my bike when I spotted a Runner and instigated the chase. I pedaled after her at speed. As I tagged her with the gun, she stopped. In an effort not to hit her, I grabbed a handful of brakes and popped a stoppie, catapulting myself over the handlebars. Unfortunately, the bike still snagged her in the arm.


In other news, things have been great here at the A-Street Orphanage.

The location is great, the rent is cheap, the guys I'm living with rule, and I've got a room to myself. School starts on Monday, and a job starts shortly afterward, assuming I can find one. Things are looking up, so stay tuned.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The setup

Tonight: my first night in residence in the city.

Today was filled with settling in to my room and becoming the newest new member of the Anthony House. Activities included excursions to college-esque eateries and viewing depressing shows on A&E. Factor in a religious, political discussion and an exhaustive plan of action should zombies attack and you've got the makings of a fantastic summer and beyond.

Tomorrow: book editing, job hunting and figuring out how to find food.