Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The days of "Lady Journalists"

Oh, to live in the time when women wore white gloves and hats and men drank scotch in dark, cigar-smoke-filled rooms.  Back when reporters were seen as romantic muckrakers who would do anything to get a story.

What's that you say?  Those days never really existed?  Well they do in my mind and in the mind of many others thanks to Hollywood.

Through the wonder of Netflix, I have been watching a lot of movies that I wouldn't otherwise have known about, including several that fall under the category "classic."  For some reason, in this one-woman sample, I'm finding a lot of movies about reporters and newspapers back in the heyday of local news.

In the last week, I have watched "The Philadelphia Story," "His Girl Friday," and a modern take on the reporter story, "Morning Glory."

One thing all of these movies have in common is a strong female journalist character.  I was surprised to find these women in movies from the '40s and '50s.

In "His Girl Friday," the hard hitting reporter Hildy Johnson, played by Rosalind Russell, is the only woman in a room full of classic male City Hall reporters.  She's leaving the profession to get married until she gets sucked in to one last story.

For those of you who haven't seen the classic 1940 story "His Girl Friday," you can actually watch the whole thing here on Hulu.

In "The Philadelphia Story," also from 1940, Liz Imbrie, a staff photographer for Spy Magazine is forced to pretend to be married to a reporter, played by Jimmy Stewart, in order to get the story.  In the end, her independence and feisty spirit almost cost her her happiness (seen here as getting the guy).

It's interesting (and possibly a reflection of the fact that every movie needs conflict and romance) that in each of these movies the women are forced to choose between work as a journalist and happy home lives.  This is something you expect to see in movies made in the 1940s, but is it something we still need to see in 2010?

In "Morning Glory," Rachel McAdams plays a morning television show producer who is chained to her desk (or blackberry), at the expense of her social life.  Ultimately, the movie is about finding balance and a sense of humor in your work and life, but it is interesting to me that she finds her strength at work while leaving her love life largely up to the man.

These three portrayals of journalism show the romanticism that many people still hold for the profession today, even though polls show journalists to be only slightly more popular than lawyers and politicians. Journalism has always been a fast-paced, conflict-ridden profession. And that makes for good entertainment, then and now.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

And now for something completely different...

I just finished reading The Death and Life of American Journalism by Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols and that, plus the fact that I'm getting a master's degree in journalism has me thinking about the future of the journalism industry on a grander scale.

McChesney and Nichols propose a government-funded industry based on existing non-profit business structures or on a new business structure to be created by legislation.  Even when the book was written, they understood the bile that a specific subset of conservatives hold for public broadcasting, but with the current budget negotiations, along with the release of tapes that showed the now former NPR fundraiser slamming conservatives, which led to the resignation of NPR's CEO, it seems that the United States Congress may have even less taste for government funding of journalism than ever.

Aside from the small subsection of conservatives, governments from coast-to-coast are looking to cut budgets, not add to their long-term costs.  It seems unlikely that a government-funded system would be a popular choice for Democrats or Republicans, at least at this point.  And news organizations are slowly, but surely, losing staff and money.

So, just a year on from the publication of McChesney and Nichols' book, what can be done about the state of the media.

I don't buy the idea that online-only publications, as they stand today, are the answer.  Their newsrooms are too small, they don't have the international bureau structure of the major news organizations, and they also don't have budgets that allow for the kind of investigative journalism that democracy calls for.

I also think the idea of online-only publications is indicative of a decidedly old-school way of looking at the media.  The media brand is far more important to today's news consumers than the platform. 

I do think a non-profit news organization structure is going to be one of the answers for the future of news, but I agree with McChesney and Nichols that there may need to be a legislative restructuring of the not-for-profit business rules to allow newspapers to continue to publish editorials and endorsements of local candidates, an essential function of many papers.

In a 24-hour news cycle, it's easy to look only as far as the next big story.  It is important to look for short-term and long-term solutions to what is a growing problem in the news industry.  If the current system isn't working (and it's not), what next?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

10 things

As the quarter comes to a close, here are 10 things I'm looking forward to over winter break:

10. Never having to read a Supreme Court decision again.
9. Exploring Chicago without wondering if there's a story there.
8. Finding a cool restaurant or shop without immediately emailing a classmate to cover it.
7. Hoping for snow because it's fun, not because it makes for a great audio slide show.
6. Riding the train without secretly hoping for an accident so I have a story to file.
5. Deleting all "Rogers Park Google Alert" e-mails without reading them.
4. Having cell phone reception all of the time.
3. Not having to ask for the age and contact information of everyone I meet.
2. Reading something other than a Chicago newspaper or the CMS.
1. Three weeks, no interviews.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's been a long three months...

When I started this blog, I fully intended to, you know, actually post things on it.  But, as always, life gets in the way.  Since the last post, I moved, moved again, and started grad school.  Grad school and Chicago are, to borrow from the fictional, weirdsies.  In other words, it's complicated.

I left some great friends in DC, and some that I was just getting to know.  I came to a city where I have no ties, no contacts, and entered a program with a lot of very competitive people.  I left DC on top of the world and landed in Chicago at the middle of the pack.

But it's not all doom and gloom.  I'm learning a lot.  Like the fact that only crazy people attend hearings labeled as "public comment sessions."  And that teenagers are not good interview subjects.  And that I hate talking to members of the public in general, which is probably not the best quality for a journalism student.

Which leads me to the subject of today's post: Do I want to be a reporter, or do I want to want to be a reporter?

Generally, I have found the first two months of reporting like I find caving.  It's only good because you're eventually going to emerge into the warm, bright sunlight of day.  I hate the idea of doing it, I hate the act of doing it, but it feels great when it's over. 

I like the writing, editing, and publishing aspects of being a journalist.  But does best three out of four really cut it in this business.  Everyday I am surrounded by dozens of people who live to do the thing I hate the most.  Eighty of us are going to graduate next winter and be competing, many of us, for the same job.  Will it be enough that I like 75% of the job? 

On the first day of our newswriting class, the professors sent us out to the neighborhood to perform what is known as a man on the street interview.  They let us go out in pairs, but we had to interview eight people.  The idea of it struck fear in my heart, my palms began to sweat, and the immediate thought that came to my mind was "there is no way that I can do this."

We went out, asked eight people what they thought about some vandalism at a Synagogue, and headed back to campus.  It was awful, but it was done.  For the record, only one of our eight interviewees had even heard about the crime, which made for a difficult article, but in my mind, the hard part was over and I could breathe again.

It hasn't gotten any easier in the six weeks I've been here.

I want to love the reporting.  I want to love talking to absolute strangers and asking them personal questions about jobs and money.  I want to ask the right questions and walk out with a story that has a great character and a larger message.  At the very least, I want it to get easier.  But wanting and having are not the same thing.  And maybe wanting is not enough.

Yesterday was election day.  I watched the returns alone in my apartment, instead from behind a computer screen in the studio.  And I felt left out, like I needed to be there, working with everyone else to put together the show.  I missed my co-workers and I missed the thrill of live TV.  And isn't that enough?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"This Hotel Room is a Vortex for Technology"

I flew to Chicago this past weekend to look for an apartment and when the airplane's TV monitor told me it was time to shut of all electronic devices (was it really such a big deal for the flight attendants to make these announcements that we had to produce a video to be played?), I had to shut off the following devices:

1 laptop computer
1 iPod
2 Smart-phone style cell phones

On the return flight, I had exactly half of those devices.  In the space of four days I managed to kill a brand new cell phone (new enough that it counted it's life in days) and an iPod that I've had for three years.  I was annoyed when the iPod quit, but when my new, beautiful cell phone refused to turn on it was like the world was ending.  And I realized that without my cell phone, I don't know anyone's numbers, no one can communicate with me, and I had no access to information that I only had in text messages.

After spending 2 hours talking to HTC, Verizon, and AmazonWireless, I was finally ready to mourn the loss and move on.  Besides, anyone who was reading carefully above can see that I have two phones (one is for work).  So it's not like I was totally incapable of communicating with the outside world.  It was strangely liberating to not be constantly waiting for texts from friends or phone calls from apartment brokers.  It put me in control of the calls I made and received.

Don't get me wrong, when that new phone came via next-day FedEx shipment on Monday, it was a great moment.  But doing without for the weekend (and in a strange city, no less) really made me realize how much I rely on technology for everything.  And I think it would be a good idea to be a little less reliant on computers and cell phones.  After all, I have to turn in my blackberry at the end of the month, and then I'll be a one cell phone household once again.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

"A Note of Introduction"

If there's one thing I learned this past year by applying to grad school, it's that I'm not very good at talking about myself.  I know that may come as a surprise to those of you who know me, but writing about myself, without the benefit of tone of voice and hand gestures has proven to be one of the hardest things about getting into grad school (the other involves a tetanus shot and lying to my insurance company -- more about that in a future post).

Early last week, a member of the admissions staff sent out an e-mail suggesting that we all introduce ourselves via the newly established listserv.  Some future students dove in head first (these are the students that turn homework in early - you know who you are).  In reading what other students wrote, I learned pretty quickly what I didn't want to say and what I didn't want to sound like.  But anytime you are listing your accomplishments, you're going to sound full of yourself.  It's just the way it is.

So naturally, I put it off.  But today, I realized, it was probably time to do this thing, if for no other reason than that I will be in Chicago at the end of the week to look at apartments and would like to meet some of these people in person.  So I opened up my laptop, opened up a new e-mail, and then stared at a blank screen for the better part of two hours.  I know it was two hours because Bridget Jones' Diary was on TV and I watched pretty much the whole movie before sending the e-mail.

But then I got hungry, so I typed up a few lines and sent them off.  Like ripping off a band-aid, I figured.  And it was easier than I thought it would be. 

I wanted it to give people a little bit about myself, while leaving them wanting to meet me later.  I also wanted to avoid sounding trite or full of myself, something that wasn't necessarily achieved by others who e-mailed before me (If one more person tells me how "life changing" their study abroad experience was, I'm going to punch them. In the face.)

I think I succeeded.  I wrote a very short paragraph about my undergraduate degree and my current job, another paragraph asking if people want to meet up this weekend, and ended saying I looked forward to meeting people in person.  Maybe others will follow my example and keep it short and sweet.  These are journalism students we're talking about though, so... probably not.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It's Just Stuff

Two years ago, my house was robbed.  They took my laptop, a couple of digital cameras, and a whole bunch of jewelry.  I've replaced everything that could be replaced and long since finished mourning for the things that couldn't.  It was annoying, yes, but no one was in the house at the time, and, as my brother said to me when I told him, it was bound to happen living in DC.

I've been thinking about that time as I'm working on getting rid of most of my stuff before the move.  I like to think that I don't have that much stuff, and that I can get rid of it easily.  I'm not interested in taking my furniture, and my kitchen stuff isn't worth the box I would pack it in.  I spend hours fantasizing about dumping it all and starting from scratch on the other end.  But there's an awful lot of stuff that I can't get rid of.

I have souvenirs from my trip to Italy, and a box of stuff from my work covering the 2008 presidential campaign.  I have silly little gifts that my mother sent me over the years and a floppy stuffed dog that my best friend brought me when I was in the hospital in High School.  I could never get rid of those things.

But there's also notebooks from undergrad, and a box of Christmas decorations that haven't seen the light of day since 2006.  And original boxes for EVERYTHING (thanks Dad).  And I can't seem to get rid of these things either.

Lately, there's been a lot of news coverage of "hoarding" as a disease.  The Washington Post magazine devoted a whole weekend to uncovering the roots of one reporter's problem.  And just flip on TLC and you'll see show after show of people drowning in their stuff.  Some of it meaningful, some of it pure trash.  But what about those of us who keep neat, orderly houses, with hidden stashes of stuff in closets and under the bed?  What about those of us who don't necessarily hoard things, but don't live lives of total austerity either?

What is my irrational attachment to those college notebooks?  What are the chances that I will ever need to look back on my notes from "Foundations of American Political Thought"? (Sorry Prof. Kersh).  Why can't I get rid of some of the silly little things that my mother sent me, and keep only the ones that I really like or have special meaning?

In the end, practicality will rule the day.  It all has to fit in the back of my Subaru wagon.  And if it doesn't, then it may have to find a new home with someone who can appreciate it and not hide it all under the bed.  If it was all gone tomorrow, what things would I miss?  Probably not very much of it.  After all, it's just stuff.