Monday, May 4, 2020
No journalist wants to be part of the story. We're trained to be objective, truthful and as accurate as possible, something that's hard to do if one injects oneself into the story. At times, a first-person piece is the best way to tell the story but it's a relative rarity. I once made the mistake of telling my class at Miami University "I don't give a shit about you or what you think. What I care about is the subject." With 15 years of hindsight, that was unduly harsh. Then last week I ceased to be a working journalist. And The New York Times came a-callin. The result was this: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/04/business/newspaper-editor-gannett-homeless-blogger.html Let's discuss. I started this blog last week as a means to tell a story that's quite common in our economy. I also thought my writing chops needed constant practice and a blog could do that. Finally, I needed something to fill my time. Something to look forward to at the beginning of the day. When I was on furlough from the Gary Post-Tribune during the 2009 economic crisis, I kept a furlough blog, which I called The Furlog. Cute, huh? Except it was my first dramatic lesson in Search Engine Optimization. Ain't no knows what a furlog is and ain't no one searching for it, I realized in my Northern Wisconsin nomenclature. I looked it up recently and saw that I had exactly seven hits a day -- six of which were probably mine. So within minutes of being notified of my final day, I thought "Homeless Editor" would be good and I could combine narrative story telling along with information about homelessness, resources. Then people paid attention and sent it out via Twitter, one of which made it to Marc Tracy, a reporter for the Times. When he called my immediate reaction was tentative. Would it hinder me finding a job? Did I want to share something so goddamn embarrassing? Would it breach the disparagement clause in my separation papers, where I agreed not to trash the company and it agreed the same? In the same nanoseconds as I asked myself those questions I reminded myself I've always disliked how newspaper editors and reporters refused comment. That's happened to everyone of us so why do it to a colleague? I also talked to Marc about the disparagement clause. I said that's not my style even though I signed an agreement. Negative words about others say much more about the speaker. What if the article could do some good in this economy -- even when it's booming for the markets it's pretty fragile for individuals. Finally, my last thought was, What the hell? Not a deep thinker here, folks. Having conducted and heard thousands upon thousands of newspaper interviews, Marc was great. Easygoing. Good at pulling out information. He even laughed at one of my kid's jokes. None of mine -- but one of my kid's lines. ("It kind of pisses me off that you went viral before I did, dad.") The Times sent a photographer, and as an Unpleasant-Looking American, that always makes me writhe in discomfort but again, I've watched countless photo shoots. I did what he asked me to. Now usually, photoshoots in hotel room usually end with someone being asked to take their top off. Thankfully, that didn't happen. I'm sure the shooter, a nice young guy from Louisville, would have preferred I cover myself better. I once pined to work at The New York Times and have sent them dozens of letters and columns, only to be rebuffed. Actually, not so much rebuffed but ignored. I've come to terms with that (no I haven't). So the only way I get into what I think is the greatest newspaper published in America and perhaps the world, is to lose my job and move into a hotel. I'm not sure it was worth it. We shall see what happens but as a longtime, small-town newspaper, I move inexorably forward. When subscribers see a paper full of news on their porch each day, I envision the next day's newspaper -- completely empty -- and the panic begins. Hopefully, I get to do it again some day. Even if I don't, I have been blessed -- and throw your favorite cuss word in front of "blessed" because I do in person. Earlier tonight, I texted Marc who not only wrote this story but also wrote the story about the winners of the Pulitzer this year. The text: "Dude, I'm laid off, homeless AND skunked in the Pulitzers?" "Brutal" he responded. Indeed.
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