The journalist and the ghetto article

So being a journalist and having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me I was going to write a story about a really crime ridden, impoverished section of the city.  I spent so much time there, days, nights, in projects, in cheap hooker motels, on the streets, in clubs, stopped repeatedly by cops and went through what you wouldn’t believe, talking to the mother of a shot girl, gun shot victims, activist groups protesting violence, the fellas on the street on and on — but then I thought what the hell is the point.

Another story about gangs, and teen beefs and cops behaving badly and drugs — what do I have to add, to teach anybody, to contribute — I can notice, point out, write out a few details that are intriguing, introduce you all to new slang, try to break your heart, make you outraged, blow up stereotypes, show folks as real people, diverse and human as you and I — but why, I (and so many other journalists) wrote so many of those articles and what? I got awards, I got flack, some good things happened, conditions changed, I got superficial praise at gatherings — “Wow, you do really serious interesting stuff, bye I’m going back to the guy or girl who loves me, makes me laugh, provides for me and likes watching The Office with me when we get home from Trader Joes.”

But write the article if you don’t really really have something to say that needs to be said and hasn’t been said? Try to find a sexy original way in like a graduate school lit paper — “Herman Melville and The White Whale — A racial trope in the service of a cautionary narrative of mythic bestiality”

Write the article because it’s my job?, it’s work, just like the guy who shows up everyday at the factory and works the lathe or the pediatric nurse who goes in every day and treats patient after patient.

Since I’m still 16 years old in my mind I think of journalism as a calling and doing  a certain type of reporting seems just as useless and useful as waking up and getting out of bed each morning. So what, stay broke until I have something to say? Work blue collar jobs until I have an article I need to write? I did that for years but gettin old and my back can’t hang — can’t unload those UPS trucks anymore, can’t shovel that snow for the city, carry those boards of sheet rock up those stairs, can’t hang from the rafters with one hand wielding a nail gun with the other.

As for the existential whining — Johnny Cash’s lyric, “I shot a man in Reno  just to watch him die” was originally “I shot a city editor just because he said hey welcome to the real world and sent me to cover a city council meeting and told me to use a punchier lead on a story and said ‘And use some humor, you every read Joel Klein in the back of Time Magazine, use him as a model, write like him, funny but he actually makes good points about society and culture.”

What would you do? And BTW, what is the meaning of life and why is the sky blue?

I’m serious actually, too damn serious. Why doesn’t Wolf Blitzer have these problems. Goddamn, is this what blogs are for? – shut down the damn internet and just give us all diaries.

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7 responses

  1. I was honestly shocked to see your rather impressive list of merits at the end of such a terribly whiny, “whoa is me” blog post. I was blown away by this line: “try to break your heart, make you outraged, blow up stereotypes, show folks as real people, diverse and human as you and I – but why, I (and so many other journalists) wrote so many of those articles and what? ”

    Why? Because it’s what you signed up for. Because it’s the purpose of a journalist. Because your entire job–livelihood, for fucks sake–is about informing the public and having the potential and power to make real change in the shitty community you live in.

    “Wow, you do really serious interesting stuff, bye I’m going back to the guy or girl who loves me, makes me laugh, provides for me and likes watching The Office with me when we get home from Trader Joes.”

    Again, your job is to bring truth and the harsh realities of life to the suburban readers you so look down upon. Upset because they don’t deal with the same bullshit you do? Show them what that life is like. Tell the stories of people who otherwise don’t have a voice so that the next time they watch Jim and Pam argue who has to play a prank on Dwight, they’re preoccupied with the crack addicts and corrupt cops and poor, depressed mothers trying to make ends meet instead. Also, does having someone to love make them less gritty than you? C’mon man, nut up.

    In short: quit your fucking angst, and get back to work.

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  2. I was honestly shocked to see your rather impressive list of merits at the end of such a terribly whiny, “whoa is me” blog post. I was blown away by this line: “try to break your heart, make you outraged, blow up stereotypes, show folks as real people, diverse and human as you and I – but why, I (and so many other journalists) wrote so many of those articles and what? ”

    Why? Because it’s what you signed up for. Because it’s the purpose of a journalist. Because your entire job–livelihood, for fucks sake–is about informing the public and having the potential and power to make real change in the shitty community you live in.

    “Wow, you do really serious interesting stuff, bye I’m going back to the guy or girl who loves me, makes me laugh, provides for me and likes watching The Office with me when we get home from Trader Joes.”

    Again, your job is to bring truth and the harsh realities of life to the suburban readers you so look down upon. Upset because they don’t deal with the same bullshit you do? Show them what that life is like. Tell the stories of people who otherwise don’t have a voice so that the next time they watch Jim and Pam argue who has to play a prank on Dwight, they’re preoccupied with the crack addicts and corrupt cops and poor, depressed mothers trying to make ends meet instead. Also, does having someone to love make them less gritty than you? C’mon man, nut up.

    In short: quit your fucking angst, and get back to work.

    Like

    • Good points. Though I don’t look down on suburban readers really, more often looking down on myself. The quitting angst thing — of course you’re right, but you know that angst made me want to report on people bullied, fucked over, living shitty lives, gets me outraged at social injustice, unfairness,etc. Less angst, if I was an easy going level headed hey that’s life what are you gonna do and maybe I’d be writing ad copy for Kellogs or be an event coordinator, no offense to those professions but most of my drive was from angst.

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      • I appreciate your response. I wasn’t trying to diminish you by any means, just give some perspective. Keep at it boss.

        Like

  3. I love your writing style truly loving this site. “How helpless we are, like netted birds, when we are caught by desire” by Belva Plain.

    Like

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