Monthly Archives: June 2009

The Journalist, Improvised

There’s a quote from Henri Matisse that goes “there are wonderful things in real jazz, the talent for improvisation, the liveliness, the being at one with the audience.” Matisse was talking about choosing the word “Jazz” as the title of one of his final collections, the hand-brushed and stenciled works released under the Jazz name in 1947.

The series–now considered among the most important of Matisse’s career–grew out of setback and pain: as Greg Kucera describes the period, “The years of World War II were a difficult time for Matisse and his family. He had separated from his wife Amelie in 1940 when he moved to the south of France. His wife and his daughter Marguerite were each tried and then jailed by the Gestapo for their parts in the French Resistance movement. Marguerite was tortured and then deported to the Ravensbruck concentration camp but was miraculously rescued before arriving there.”  The artist himself was ravaged by gallstones, insomnia, failing vision, and the after effects of surgery for intestinal cancer, but as Kucera reflects, the pain produced a spark:  “After a risky operation, Matisse remarked to his friend Albert Marquet in 1942, ‘Truly, I’m not joking when I thank my lucky stars for the awful operation I had, since it has made me young again and philosophical which means that I don’t want to fritter away the new lease on life I’ve been given.’”

Without drawing too sharp a parallel, I believe many journalists are finding their own inspiration in the pain of unemployment, furlough and fear.  Over the past weeks, journalists on this page have shared their own versions of Matisse’s improvisational “Jazz:”  for Brian Andrews, it was selling everything he owned to move from Miami to Columbia and–quite literally–start his own English language news operation. For Polly Kreisman, it’s an online hyperlocal effort that, like the lady herself, has smarts and attitude.

And now, almost without realizing it, I’ve found myself producing my own collection of new works unlike anything I’ve produced before.  I’m improvising, and I’m loving it.  As you know (since you’re here), I began blogging back in January as a way of expressing my own uncertainties about the local television news business.  The daily writing–and connecting with creative, passionate people across the country–has become a treasured part of my life.  It started as strict improvisation:  I had no idea what it would become, I just knew I was being honest, about the business, and most of all, about myself.  As Matisse wrote, I was truly being “at one with the audience.”

UCB

Improv! On Stage at New York's Upright Citizens' Brigade Theater

And like nothing I’ve written before, people have responded to that.  I’ve made new connections, joined with other journalists determined to innovate and create instead of sit and bitch, and a few weeks ago, I found myself contacted about a job that somehow, in all the job-listing-looking I’d been doing, I missed. And they hired me.  (No agent-negotiated, megabucks deal here–I’m working for a nonprofit, and making nonprofit wages, so I’ll still be blogging my heart out, shooting my own stuff for my neighborhood newsblog, and getting goofy on Saturday nights for Toni Senecal’s “Toni On! New York” on WPIX.  (Today’s shoot:  doing improv with the comics at New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade–am I driving the improvisation metaphor too hard?–if I am, whatev, they’re crazy funny and it was a blast to share the stage with them.)

Recovering Journalist and Philanthropist Ruth Ann Harnisch

"Recovering Journalist" and Philanthropist Ruth Ann Harnisch

Anyway, a week ago I ventured into a world that may one day be commonplace for journalists, or, perhaps, it won’t.  But for now, I’m part of  a journalistic experiment being bankrolled by a philanthropist (Ruth Ann Harnisch, former local newser turned benefactor to journalism schools, research programs and countless community efforts) and being studied by a university professor seeking–as so many of us are–new ways to keep journalists on the job.  I’m serving as a “community supported journalist” who works not for a paper or television station, but for a group of people who have a shared interest, in this case, in the field of coaching.  Will people interested in getting news on their field one day decide it’s worth their own money to keep a reporter on the beat? We’ll know more in a year.

The Coaching Commons:  Like No Newsroom I've Been a Part Of

The Coaching Commons: Like No Newsroom I've Been a Part Of

For now, I’m part pioneer, part guinea pig.  And improvising my butt off.  But like the artist with the new lease of life, I feel a stronger connection to my original love of journalism, writing, and storytelling than I’ve felt in a long time.  In part, because I really don’t know what I’m going to do next.  And also, because I feel a kinship with all the others out there spinning plates, juggling knives and tap dancing…waiting to see what new show an audience will pay for.

I feel confident one day soon we’ll look back and realize that some of us are doing some of the most important work of our careers.

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Dispatch from the Frontlines: Polly Kreisman

Polly Kreisman

In the Loop: Polly Kreisman

I am an obsessive journalist the way some people kayak or collect star trek trinkets. I can’t help seeing the world the way I want to write it or shoot it or edit it for others. And then, I can’t help reporting it.

So the transition from old media to new media for me is the easiest thing in the world.

And the hardest.

For what we have here folks, is the Wild West. No assignment editor sending you to an apartment fire. No tweaking possible once your piece has aired. No beginning, middle or end to your day. And no more ‘one thing’ to call yourself: producer, reporter, producer/reporter, managing editor, cameraperson, one man band, guy at the lunch place.

Nope, not anymore.

For example, I have been trying to write this blog post since 9:30 am.  (Actually, since May 12) It is now 5:12. In the interim, I have had to write and send out my weekly newsletter (which helps bring people to theLoop,) upload four new articles, format the artwork for a new advertiser and put it in the ad server, finish writing a business plan, field emails with news and content to post, then post it, gently kick my two 7-year olds out of my home office (twice), and plan the next installment of LoopTV…all the while nursing a hangover from a Loop event last night (hey, it was my birthday.)

(Sorry- just had to post some breaking news and new real estate listings–damn formatting took forever)

looptiedyeMy goal for today was to read virtual piles of articles I have saved about hyperlocal business models and how to monetize them. In other words, how to make money doing this. As someone wrote to me today, it really is one of the first big new media questions of the 21st century.

Never got to that.

So while this feeds my news jones…and sometimes feeds my family, I have had to wear hats I never knew were in the closet:  Business Manager, Ad Sales (ew!), Computer Programmer, Event Planner, Graphic Artist, PR person, Accountant…Then there’s the micro-version of things that will never change: Instead of the ballsy “Eat, Drink and Be Wary” segments we did at WWOR TV (anyone remember the rats at the Bagel factory on the West Side Highway?) or that month upon month–long siege with the Korean-American community excoriating my 7-months pregnant self and WPIX TV for finding (and confirming on video and in lab testing) that certain members were breeding dogs for the restaurant trade–it’s the local coffee bar in Larchmont, NY where I found rats dancing up a storm through the window.  That proprietor, a year later, is still trying to shut us down, much the way the Korean Community tried to extract a retraction from the station. And much the way the H & H Bagel CEO came on the set with me one night and insisted I “put” the mice in the video.  One of the things I loved about being a reporter was the ability to do something new every day, meet people I never would have otherwise, and learn about their jobs, which were so different than the one I had.  And maybe along the way pass something on to give the audience more information about his/her world, whether it pisses someone off in the process or not. Hopefully, not.

And really, in that way, nothing’s changed.

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