Editor to journalist:You’re born free,you’ll die free-in the meantime all u do is rewrite.If you don’t like it Elsa you can go blog yourself
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I finally looked at the NY Post front page headline, Doomed, the man on the tracks, yesterday.
I’ve been a journalist for 25 years, wrestled with all kind of ethical issues. I know NY Post people, I worked alongside Post city editor Michelle Gotthelf for 2 years at APBNews, invited her to a Livingston Award ceremony I won for a piece she helped edit- cool woman. I sat next to the Post’s main rewrite guy Todd Venezia for two years at another newsroom. I worked in the Bronx courthouse with Post reporter Douglas Montero, a decent guy.
But that front page — a daughter and a mother had to see that photo. Are you out of your fucken minds. What no shame because there’s no name for the headline writer and the person who put it on the front page? No apology? This headline made me so upset, I was screaming at the screen for 15 minutes. I’m not a reckless, immature, protestor — but I seriously, seriously was considering throwing a brick through your window or doing something civilly disobedient. And I probably will — gladly do a small sentence and have a record for something like that. I’ve bought 3 papers a day for 25 years. I won’t buy the Post anymore. I won’t ever talk to a Post employee again. I had a wife who died, if you posted a picture of her like that before she died, I would be in your office acting like a common criminal, a thug, doing as much destruction as possible to your office.
You have power with your paper — you abused that power terribly. The man or woman who made that decision to do that front page — name your goddamn self, be a man, meet with the dead man’s 20 year old daughter Ashley, look that kid in the eye and explain your actions. At least have that courage, that decency — make it right. You really hurt so many people — can you really not care so much?
I taught journalism in a juvenile prison, I used the NY Post sometimes to teach my students — I would never again.
I’m so sickened. Please do something to make this right. It really matters to a lot of people. And people will remember this photo and this headline for a very long time.
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.
1) On this Albanian Organized, kind of organized, ridiculously corporate like big narco types crime story, the last installment where I went to Albania, covered federal trials here in NY met with everybody and went everywhere I could, the one I cried about and the one that wrecked me a bit because how much can you write on a topic and how do you put a world of facts into order, maybe there is no order but when do you give it up — but I did it, proud of the article, not the usual feeling of just grateful it didn’t go really bad and blow up — it’s good and everybody behind it feels it’s good and all you prosecutors, defense lawyers, agents, people who talked to me from in the life, who gave me info to help, who took me into places and opened up, the guys and women I can’t name who treated me decently, yeah it will be out, published soon, — I know, maybe the mob will disappear or something bigger will happen and you all moved on, I know, it’s just the nature of this game, uh this business, uh this hobby of mine sometimes — so soon and it’s all out and sincere so at least en shallah that will be good.
2) That last blog post on slang (commentary like I’m Carrie Bradshaw on the police beat) I’m banking on two guys laughing appreciatively on it — Steve Hughes in Brazil and the smart funny JC who kept everyone in check and made being an intimidator like having a cool ass uncle in your corner — P from last period in jumpsuit land, but I don’t even know how to get him to a blog).
3) I just have to say this cop reporter relations thing here — maybe 9 months ago I applied for this NYPD Press pass, it used to be useful but post 9/11 it’s pretty worthless really, what police lines are they really going to let you cross with the card and what special courtesies are they really going to roll out. I sent this whole long application in, my bio, clips, sayingI’m not a daily reporter looking to do spot news but I thought it would be useful, especially for ID if say cops stop me for — what are you doing in school street projects, why are you in this deli, to rob it? we have a report of you with a gun in the subway we have to converge on you — true true true and it always comes up if I’m a snitch, undercover, informant, cop, really a reporter when I’m interviewing so a card would maybe help a little.
This detective in the public information office almost takes my head off in an e-mail, no exceptions, we don’t care, you don’t meet the criteria, you fail, you’re not a crime reporter, we don’t cover rikers, go to hell, we hate you, (paraphrasing here). What the hell — I write her back, look I’m not trying to get into a fight, I’m just wondering if there was any way blah blah respect respect. Basically go to hell response. I say thanks for trying, whatever be nice, squash it. No response.
What is this? That’s how little you value what a good journalist not trying to do gotchas and take cops down just to get a byline. What is this courting of enemies, cultivating enemies. This is your job , on press outreach. So we should disappear? Who is willing to come to the guy’s defense when you throw a cop in the psych ward for a week because he’s too out of line with commanders and getting to be a pain about quotas? Who’s going to really try to show who you are when you jump in the river for a rescue, take bullets, get stabbed with a screwdriver in the head. You have any idea how things went when an undercover cop tried to summons/arrest me for a turnstile jump, misunderstanding, on my way to court, he said remember this when you write all your ticket fixing attack articles, I said I don’t do that kind of thing, I’m not out for your blood (and I know a guy at the News who does those stories and he’s not out for blood either) and I went to his headquarters the next day to say thanks for helping me out, keeping it vague but saying he was decent and everybody was good. You have any idea what happens when I see cops chasing a guy and I’m walking by what any of us would do in that situation. Or hear them make a racist comment on a construction job and not go crazy and hate them all or how I would help like hell when they’ve had to wrestle down an emotionally disturbed rodeo guy on an EMS call when I did that job. I’m not saying I’m Mcgruff or cop-like or that I could even stomach arresting a person or testifying against them or being a police officer, but come on I’ve been in the crime, cop, prison, courts, institutions, streets world since I was a teenager — you really want to treat somebody who actually knows your world, actually knows how you talk, feel, what you go through, know many sides and has put in the time, listens and wants to convey that for real to the public — you want to treat that person like, what, nothing, and just give credentials to guys who need to get two quotes on an accident? Where’s the intelligence, the flexibility, the creativity, the reason, the willingness to cooperate to make things work. You really want to live in fantasy land bad cop show where the reporters are all sick evil jackals trying to hunt you down for gain and all the cops are swaggering guys with community college degrees who are crude and boorish. I talked to your guy last night at 3 am, two out of their mind British tourists drunk, sick, miniskirted laying on the curb, hey, sorry officer, I know this is run of the mill sat nite and you’re not a taxi service but there’s these girls. He’s normal, thoughtful, okay, where are they, yeah I’ll call a car and go there — cool, a man, another man, work together, no stereotypes. Same in Mott Haven on the street asking about crime at night on this chinese take out story and when I called the community relations cop, the desk — hey just a heads up, I wrote this article, just wanted to put it on your radar– thanks, of course, we’ll take a look, thank you I appreciate it and they are, not sure why, but they’re out there now in force in Mott Haven and the streets are safer and that restaurant is safe.
I’m not going to be a jerk, a p**ck really, and call out a name on this but come on, isn’t there enough crap and chaos and tension and politics in this city, can’t you give a little respect when you’re given respect. You’re the rep for them, all those men and women — we’re not all scum, looking to go against you. Give some of it a chance and we can be on the same side, both do good in our worlds for each other. I called DCPI maybe 900 times in my life and I was born and raised here and I’ve played deck hockey with probably half of you all on the force when we were 15 so come on, see who we are sometimes and we can do the same — alright, I appreciate you listening, be careful in those cars at high speed flying through intersections and in those dark rooms and on those shitty streets in the winter when guys flip out on you and decide let’s end it and you’re the way to do it and your backs and feet are probably sore as hell when it’s not calamity. peace.
THIS IS FOR ANYONE WHO IS A REPORTER, IS FRIENDS WITH A REPORTER, OR WHO READS REPORTERS