RSS Feed

Author Archives: Julie Schwietert Collazo

Is one lesson of Matthew Power’s death that we need to slow down?

That was the take-away question for me after I read Brad Wieners’ “No Way Is Matt Power Gone” tribute and report in BloombergBusinessweek earlier today.

I didn’t know Power personally, as several of my friends did, but his death was unsettling for all the obvious reasons: He was young. He wasn’t, by any accounts I’d read, interested in derring-do for derring-do’s sake, and, of course, it meant the loss of a gifted storyteller. But after reading Wieners’ piece, Power’s death felt unsettling for another reason: Unless there were underlying medical issues that no one knows about, it might have been an evitable death.

Wieners explains that Power flew from 20-degree Farenheit New York City to Uganda, where the temperature, according to a companion, was between 100 and 113 degrees. His plane landed and he hit the ground running, as most all of us who do this kind of work do. Wieners writes:

“Matt may have been a free spirit, but he paid a New York mortgage and worked hard to afford it. Reviewing Matt’s itinerary—red-eye, trans-Atlantic flight followed by a seven-hour drive to the trailhead the day of his arrival, then joining the expedition on his second day in country—I got a shiver of recognition. I’d have made the same mistake. Not just failing to give heat the respect I do altitude. Failing to give it more time. Departing from New York, where there is never a moment to lose, there’s no way I’d think to schedule an extra couple of days—much less the week Casa recommends to top athletes—to let my body adjust. No one has that kind of time.

[emphasis mine]

I had a shiver of recognition, too. I’ve left frigid, wintry New York for tropical climes–Belize, Suriname, Cuba–and have pushed on upon arrival despite feeling less than ready because, it seemed, there wasn’t any other choice. I’ve taken ridiculous, self-abusing flight itineraries because they were cheaper than the alternatives. I’ve packed my daily schedule from morning to midnight because if I’m going to the expense of on-the-ground-reporting, I want to make the most of it. Writers don’t build a rest day or two into our schedules because we can’t afford them–literally–and rare is the case where a publication is footing the bill for us to have a day or two to acclimate to a different environment. I’ve yet to meet an editor who has said, “You know what? We’re going to spring for an extra night in a decent hotel so you can get your bearings and rest before you go out and report this piece for us in top form.” In fact, I’ve yet to meet an editor who has paid expenses adequately, period.

The idea that Power didn’t have to die is one that enrages. And yet, in a publishing world that’s driven by a news cycle that’s way shorter than 24 hours and balance sheets that favor other priorities over paying for good reporting, it’s not surprising and it’s not likely to change.

Public Service Announcement: One Week Left for SATW Lowell Thomas Award Entries

If you’re planning on submitting entries for The Society of American Travel Writers Foundation’s Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Awards, heads up: you’ve only got one week left to enter.

This is not the year to procrastinate, folks; SATWF has moved to an online submission manager for entries. While the system is ultimately loads faster than the manual completion of forms and printing and posting of multiple copies of articles, it takes a bit of navigating to figure out. Plus, you have to register for a free account and get approved to enter the contest before you can upload your submissions, which can take up to 24 hours.

So get on it! All of the instructions can be found here.

Last Call: Deadline for South Carolina Writers’ Residency Approaches

You've got two weeks left to apply for this residency.

You’ve got two weeks left to apply for this residency.

True, I’m not exactly the biggest booster of my hometown–after all, I left for college and have never entertained the thought of moving back–BUT (and it’s a big “but”) there are a lot of interesting things happening in and around Spartanburg, South Carolina (I just wrote about one of them for The Magazine), and the folks who are responsible for this residency are also behind many of those other exciting projects.

Actually, there are two residencies–a summer residency and a nine-month residency; it’s the application for the former that’s due on April 1. If you’re interested in the longer residency, the deadline to submit your application is June 2, 2014.

Information about both residencies can be found on the Hub City Writers’ Project website.

Worth Reading: “Yellow Prose of Texas: Dueling Fracking Stories Raise Plagiarism Questions”

I’ve told you a dozen times that I intend to write a post about a phenomenon I refer to as “derivative journalism,” and I still intend to do so.

The problem is, every time I sit down to work on said post, yet another example of the varied forms derivative journalism takes pops up and distracts me. It’s a big subject and, sadly, one that’s becoming more common and more complex.

In the meantime, I want to share an article worth reading that addresses one facet of the phenomenon. “Yellow Prose of Texas: Dueling Fracking Stories Raise Plagiarism Questions” was published in the print issue of The New York Observer on March 3, 2014. Unfortunately, the version published online is not the complete article as it was published originally. In the print piece, journalist Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke details how a 10,000-word feature by Bryan Mealer, writing for Texas Monthly, was seemingly appropriated by a reporter for USA Today– by appropriated, I mean that the USA Today reporter sought the same primary source as Mealer in the same small Texas town, to tell, essentially, the same (albeit condensed) story.

Unless you’re a writer yourself, you may not realize how (increasingly) common this kind of appropriation is. It’s happened to me and it’s happened, more recently, to a colleague; both of us had gone to a hard-to-reach place and talked to a variety of disparate, far-flung sources about a topic that, at least in my case, was fairly specific and niche (scientific research on the military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba). It was clear that our work had been picked up by another person and “remixed” as their own original reporting. Sadly (and frustratingly), editors failed to catch the intellectual theft and, in my colleague’s case, at least, weren’t well-read enough to have even realized that the topic had been reported on–originally–by someone else in another publication (editorial myopia being a topic for a whole other post).

There are a number of points in Bloomgarden-Smoke’s article that are important and merit wider conversation, including these stand-outs:

-The initial exchange that occurred between Mealer and the USA Today writer took place on twitter. For me, at least, this raises the question: Was there an attempt to address the grievance before it was moved to a public forum? (If not, my opinion is: understandable frustration, but poor form).

-The initial exchange that occurred between the publications’ respective editors also took place on twitter. In my opinion, twitter doesn’t seem like the proper forum to address or correct these types of grievances, tempting as it is to sound off about them.

-A source Bloomgarden-Smoke quotes in her article says something that I think should be obvious, but clearly is not: “[T]he best policy is to be liberal with acknowledging previous reporting,” the journalist summarizes, citing the source by adding, “It doesn’t cost anything to be generous with credit.”

Finally, I think it’s worth reiterating an idea you’ve heard me hold forth about here on more than one occasion: Why can’t these writers find their own stories? Imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery, at least not in journalism. Whatever interested the USA Today writer about Mealer’s story could–no, should– have prompted him to take Mealer’s story further, to find an aspect of the story that hadn’t been told. Instead, it was apparently a rehash of Mealer’s original story, passed off as his own sui generis reporting. To me, this is the saddest form of writing: the kind that lacks any impetus originating in the writer’s own curiosity.

Have you had any personal experiences with this kind of derivative journalism? Do you consider it a form of plagiarism? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

What We Can Learn from Laura Ingalls Wilder and John Steinbeck

A couple months back, when my kids and I were visiting my mom, Gigi began reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods, the first in the “Little House” series, to Mariel. I had started reading Ingalls Wilder’s books by the time I was in first grade, after my grandmother began giving the hardcovers to me for my birthday and at Christmas.

I was thrilled that my mom was picking up the tradition and introducing the “Little House” books to my daughter. I was (and remain) a voracious reader, but I have never had the best memory for what I’ve read. Ingalls Wilder’s books were an exception. I remember entire chapters and scenes that, read nearly 30 years ago, retain vivid detail for me: Christmas in the Big Woods and making maple syrup candy; bolts of calico fabric and barrels of dry goods at the general store in town; dolls made out of corncobs; the description of Sundays, trundle beds, and Jack the brindled bulldog.

When it was time for us to fly home, I brought Little House in the Big Woods with us so I could pick up reading where my mom left off. And each night, as I read to Mariel, I feel the same wonder and excitement I felt reading these books as a child. I feel, in short, as if I am in the Big Woods, living alongside Laura and Mary and baby Carrie in their log cabin.

**
Why do these books stay with me decades later?

There’s the nostalgia factor, inarguably; my grandmother gave me these books and so they had a particular significance. They were my books. With each gift, I grew closer to having my first collection of books, and I treasured them. But as I reread Little House in the Big Woods now, reading, as I do everything, as both a reader and a writer, I think there’s something more than that, too. Ingalls Wilder’s prose isn’t astonishing, but it’s straightforward, even simple, and above all, extremely descriptive. The green buttons on Ma’s delaine dress, the way Pa cleaned his gun… Ingalls Wilder’s eye for details and her ability to convey those were so sharp. There’s no artifice in her writing, no clever conceits or sophisticated techniques; there’s just good, unhurried storytelling.

We could stand for more of that today, if you ask me.
**
A few months ago, a man who recently emigrated from China asked me, upon learning that I am a writer, how he could write better essays. He told me that he’d been told about the inverted pyramid style of writing, but he seemed unsatisfied with its basic principles. “I know a piece of writing should have a beginning, middle, and an end,” he said, “but…” he trailed off in frustration, not having full command of the English vocabulary to express what he wanted to say.

I told him that there are many ways to write. I wanted to elaborate, to explain some of those ways, but I wasn’t sure how. What kind of writing did he want to be doing? Writing for work, say, can be considerably different than writing a personal essay. I ended up telling him that reading was the best way of learning how to write, that by reading widely, he’d pick up on different styles and techniques, adopting and adapting the ones that felt most comfortable to him. He liked that answer and asked if I could recommend some American writers.

“Steinbeck,” I said, without thinking it over too much. I happened to be reading Cannery Row, which I’d plucked off our bookshelf for no other reason than the fact it wouldn’t weigh down my backpack. But reading it, I was reminded why I like Steinbeck so much, and it’s for the same reasons I like Laura Ingalls Wilder. Steinbeck isn’t overreaching; he’s not trying too hard, as so many writers are, to be a good writer. In fact, I’d read shortly before I picked up Cannery Row some criticism (can’t remember who wrote it) that Steinbeck’s problem was that he was too simple, too straightforward among his contemporaries, not sophisticated enough.

Maybe, but who cares? The guy had the ability to visualize a scene and make it real, to make it seem as if the setting was a place you recognized… or at least you could if your life circumstances or place in time were different. His observations, his sense of human emotion, were astute. And, like Ingalls Wilder, there’s zero artifice in a Steinbeck novel. He wasn’t sitting around trying to gussy up his writing by deploying a literary device that wasn’t really necessary. He used simpler techniques, like lists, to establish a sense of place and personality. And that was enough.

**
I love the complexity and near impenetrability of Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives, which I don’t think I would have understood or enjoyed in the least had I not lived in Mexico City. I love the metaphors of rage in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and the allegories and pages-long sentences of Jose Saramago’s All the Names. These are books that, each in its own way, have stayed with me. Each of these authors was deft in literary maneuvering, each mastering his own style, a style that is truly inimitable. But too many writers, I think, try too hard to achieve this kind of adeptness, and it shows. Simplicity, direct observations, a keen eye for small, rich details… these need not be confused with superficiality. Sometimes, a writer needs to know when to work a text less, to let it carry its own weight and not force upon it a device or meaning that it’s not intended to have.
**

How about you? What books have stayed with you over the years, and why? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Everything You Needed to Know about Being a Better Reader, You Learned from Your Mom

My mom didn’t invent this saying, but she sure loved it:

“If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”

Maybe your mom said that to you, too. Maybe it was when you complained about the one part of dinner–beets or broccoli, say–that you didn’t like rather than focus on the other parts of the meal that you really loved and for which you were grateful. Maybe it was when you said something unkind about another kid, even though you’d experienced the sting of being wounded by someone else’s words yourself. Whatever the scenario, I’m sure your mom pulled that stock phrase of parenting out of her play book and used it on you at least once.

I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot this weekend, as I process some of the criticism of my long-form feature on Roads + Kingdoms and Slate (a longer post about that coming soon) and as I’ve serendipitously come across some posts by other writers who have been feeling the sting of impulsive reader comments, like this one from The Joy of Cooking website. That post really resonated with me because the writers explained so personally and passionately the pain of working their asses off, spending lots of their own money on their work, and being as meticulous as anyone can be, only to receive sniping email comments about how the site could obviously function better or why in the world wouldn’t they post the recipe for chess pie? (Answer: Because they’d actually like to make a living by selling their cookbook).

I don’t want to be overly pitiful or pitiable about this–I’m fully aware that the hazards and downsides of most other jobs are far worse–but one of the most frustrating aspects of being a writer is that the reader almost never knows what happens in the making of an article or essay. They don’t know what you have to leave out, nor do they know why. They don’t know what gets changed along the writing-to-publication trajectory. They don’t know that you can read your own writing two dozen times, have two editors review it meticulously almost as many times, and still write “flaunts” when you meant “flouts” because, well, we tend to read what we meant to write, not what’s actually on the page. But the reader, of course, catches it, and then seems to think he needs to track down your email address and school you on your wrong word choice. (Yes, that happened.). And in most cases, they don’t know your larger body of work and they don’t know you, so they’re ever so quick to make assumptions about things that aren’t even related to the piece of writing they’re criticizing… like how much you’ve been paid to write the piece (and they always assume it’s been a lot).

Now I want to be clear: I am not against being critical. Criticism is good. It’s important. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone more critical of herself and others than I. But I don’t know anyone who likes being on the receiving end of criticism that isn’t framed thoughtfully or which is presented in a sneering, hostile, or arrogant tone. Listen to Mom: If you can’t frame your criticism constructively, step away from the keyboard.

There’s another facet of this, too. Don’t just feel compelled to comment when you’ve got constructive criticism. Reach out to writers to let them know when their work touches, informs, or inspires you. I’ve been doing this more lately–even if it’s just to give a quick “Hey, thanks for your article about widgets” shout-out via twitter–and it feels good. I’ve taken photos of writers’ books I’ve seen on bookshelves in places where I’m traveling and sent them a quick note: “Hey! Look what I saw at the Hudson News in the Memphis Airport- your book!” Writers love this. Writers need it. It turns the line that runs between the writer and reader–often completely invisible– into a circle. It breaks the isolation that often traps the writer behind his or her byline. And often, it starts a conversation, relationship, or quick exchange about shared interests. It makes the writer feel good, and trust me, writers need to feel good because there’s a whole lot about our career that attempts to chip away at one’s sense of self.

What Are Your Writing Goals for 2014?

I used to think the last two weeks of the year were a frightening time for a freelancer: editors gleefully set their “On vacation! See you in the new year!” e-mail auto-responses; accountants throw their hands up and say “Screw it!” to whatever writer invoices remain unpaid once the clock chimes 5:00 pm on December 23; and the writer’s to-do list, meanwhile, becomes a tedious menu of tidy-up tasks. Which articles were accepted but haven’t yet been published (and why?). Who still owes me money? Close out receipts for the tax year. And so on.

I’ve always thought I’d like to take those last two weeks of the year–or a good two days, at least–and head off on a retreat, just me, myself, and I. (My husband laughs. He thinks I’m joking). The goal wouldn’t be to get spiritually centered, though that’s not a bad idea, but to get professionally focused by taking stock of the nearly 12 months behind me. What did I do right? What did I accomplish and of what did I feel most proud? How did I do financially? What could I have done better? Did I work smarter or harder (maybe both)? What did the answers to these questions tell me about how I could strategize for the coming year?^ In the absence of retreating, I do what most working parents do: keep changing the diaper, stirring the soup, and wiping a runny nose while thinking about these things in between preschooler questions like “Mom, what is a bullfrog?” and “Why is an egg called an egg?”.

*
All things considered, 2013 was a pretty successful year. My friend Lisa Rogak reached out to me to work with her on the Pope book, and as of this writing, it has been (or is slated to be) published in 14 countries. I broke into some new outlets (Bespoke, Delta SKY, Emory Magazine, GOOD, Outside.com, Porthole, and Relish) and strengthened editorial relationships and my portfolio by expanding work with other outlets (The Latin Kitchen, National Geographic Traveler). I landed a contract to solo author a guidebook and I did just the right amount of traveling. I’d sold more of mine and Francisco’s work as a package. Editors reached out to me several times rather than the reverse, and I had a steady amount of editing work straight through December 31. I’d referred several friends to editors for work and some got into new outlets or landed choice assignments as a result, which always makes me happy. In the midst of it all, I managed to send one child off to pre-school (in NYC, this is far more complicated–and expensive–than you might think) and to give birth to another one (in other words: Mama’s got to keep the cash flow, flowing). And I won a Society of American Travel Writers Lowell Thomas Award for an article I’d written. So yes, I was happy with the year, particularly since the last two weeks of 2013 signaled plenty of promise for the beginning of 2014, too. By the end of December, January’s work slate was full and several solid publications (another piece for Porthole, a feature and profile for The Magazine, a feature for Roads + Kingdoms, and articles for National Geographic Traveler and Saveur) were pending. And I was grateful.

That didn’t mean, however, that I didn’t see room for improvement. I was still spending too much of my life at the keyboard, when I wanted to be playing with my kids or having a meaningful conversation with my husband beyond, “Hey, could you pick up a package of diapers on your way home?” We were doing better financially, but not well enough to feel like we could move to a bigger apartment. I was still (at least in my mind) doing too many service pieces and not enough of the meaty, nuanced, and better-paying features I wanted to be doing. And I was still spending too much of my own money (though I had gotten much better about this) on research expenses. How could I better manage these aspects of the freelance life in 2014?

*
I wasn’t entirely sure how to answer that question definitively, but I started by making a list of the features I wanted to investigate and write in collaboration with Francisco, as well as the potential outlets where they could be a good fit. We’d had a few projects in mind for a long time, but hadn’t pursued them because the cost of doing so seemed a barrier or because I thought we didn’t yet have the portfolio to be able to pitch to the kind of outlets where these pieces could be published. The money was a reality; the portfolio excuse was just what recovering addicts would call “stinky thinking.” We clearly had a solid track record (and that’s why it’s so important to maintain a running list of your published work).

I got rid of the ineffective excuse, then, and started focusing on the money. I didn’t want to keep putting these projects off until some outlet came along, offering to pay expenses, and I didn’t want to bet possible future returns against research expenses accrued now… I’m not a good gambler. Then, a friend’s post about fellowships and grants for reporting popped into my inbox and the answer–so obvious it was embarrassing– was there. A lot of institutions have a lot of money for underreported stories. There’s a lot of competition, too, of course, but if Francisco and I could pull together proposal templates for a few of our top-pick projects, wasn’t it worth the possibility of having funding to spend some time filing applications? The process of doing so has been valuable in its own right, bringing the strengths and gaps of our ideas into sharper focus and helping us get structured and organized for future research and reporting. Soon enough, we’ll see whether the stories we think are important seem of significance to other people, too.

The lesson for you here is simple: Take a minute to take stock. What do you want out of 2014? What do you have to give? What have you been putting off pursuing in your writing or photography career… not because you’re not ready for it, but because you perceive (correctly or incorrectly) that some barrier prevents you from realizing a particular goal? How can you kick that barrier out of the way? Who and what do you need to support you?

Don’t just answer these questions in your head, though that’s a fine place to start. Put them on paper. As with your publication goals and financial goals, which I also recommend writing down so you can see them visibly, physically map out some of those larger project goals and put them in a place where you can see them. Keep yourself focused and reach out for help when you need it. A year passes so quickly. What do you want to be able to say about your work at the end of 2014?

*
For one excellent take on a freelance writer/photographer’s taking stock strategy, please see my friend Lola’s pie chart assessment of her pitching and querying from 2013. She has been tabulating the outcomes of her pitching processes since 2008 and her reflections are insightful.

From Wig Marketer to NYT Photojournalist: Interview with Emon Hassan

I met Emon Hassan back in 2008, when we both found ourselves–somewhat improbably, we’d likely agree–at the Washington, D.C. headquarters of NPR, to cover that historic election night when Barack Obama was declared the 44th President of the United States. The not-yet-famous social media master Andy Carvin^ had convened a group of a dozen or so folks, including us, to cover election night via social media.

It’s hard to say how we forged a friendship that evening, as everyone in the room had head and fingers to keyboard, much less how we’ve maintained that friendship (though we both live in New York, we rarely see each other). But we have stayed in touch, mostly thanks to Facebook and twitter, where I’ve been amazed and happy to see Emon’s career as a photojournalist unfolding. Back when I met Emon, he was a wig marketer. (More about that in a minute). Today, he shoots regularly for The New York Times, Narratively, and a variety of other outlets. I was curious about how he made that leap, and I thought you would be, too, so I asked.

Julie:
It seems like just a year or two ago you were selling wigs full-time in New Jersey (or do I have some details about that wrong?). How did you go from that to this in such a short time? (I know it never seems so short to the person living it.)

Emon Hassan.

Emon Hassan.

Emon:
I actually worked in the Marketing Department of a hair extension company in New Jersey and never had to do sales. I planned the company’s web marketing, eCommerce, and outreach programs. [But before that] I produced a short one-act play in 2003 while I was in Brooklyn College doing my Bachelors in Entertainment Marketing, which led to a stint in writing and co-producing a series of radio dramas for Big Apple Short Radio Drama Festival in 2005. I made my first short film in 2003 and the second in 2005. My radio pieces are up on PRX. My latest fiction production was The Third, a supernatural/sci fi web series.

In 2009 I invested in a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L lens, my first serious set of gear, and left the job at the end of summer the same year. By then I had about a year’s worth of experience, if you can call it that, shooting concerts and profiling bands for my blog, Guitarkadia, with a Canon Rebel XTi. I also had a cheap 3CCD Canon camcorder I bought from B&H but I mostly would shoot photos – Mermaid Parade in Coney Island, festivals here and photo walks there. I photographed my first major concert on June 25, 2009, the day Michael Jackson died, at Central Park Summerstage; Ziggy Marley and 311 played that evening. I ended up shooting a number of concerts that summer and that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t cold called the PR person at the time, Amber Haeckel. I worked with her on many concerts that summer and often would turn to her for advice. “You are nice and not a pain in the ass to deal with. That alone, besides talent, will take you far.” Those words should be chiseled on a stone tablet and handed out to every freelancer out there.

Sometime in 2010 I started reaching out to newspaper photo editors in New York, researching mastheads for email conventions, cold emailing/calling them and following up with new stories I’d shoot. One summer day in 2011, after a former Rolling Stone photographer suggested I reach out to editors and let them know why they should work with me, I emailed about 15 photo editors. There was exactly one response from all those emails a few weeks later. “I think the best place for you to start is the Culture section. Here are three editors you should contact….” I signed a freelance contract with the The New York Times a month later, number one on that email list. Working with other publications soon followed. My philosophy has always been the same: “Don’t be a dick.”

Connecting with Narratively was the highlight of 2012 after having a pretty awful year and a half as a freelancer. I found myself amidst a group of creative minds who have, as they say, have love for non-fiction storytelling and New York. It was a match made in heaven.

Julie:
In your work, you really excel at unearthing and presenting what I call “quiet” stories–overlooked people/places/things/experiences–that are really fascinating but which don’t tend to be meme-ifiable, viral pieces. A few related questions, then: What are some of the ways you find these stories? What do you think is the importance of these types of stories in a media moment that seems to be seized with fluffy BuzzFeed-like posts?

Emon:
I realized early on in my young career as a non-fiction storyteller that if I needed to stand out I’d better tell stories no one else is. It’s not hard in New York City, where stories are in the beginning or closing stages at every turn. Not all of them make for sexy headlines or will go “viral.” How do I know what story is worth telling? I trust my gut on that completely. Some stories I stumble into while on an assignment, some I find when I’m not even looking (but I’m always looking), and some I seek out based on ‘I wonder’ or ‘What if’ questions that pop into my head. I never worry about what will “sell” to a publication or an audience because none of them know what it wants but both know they like to be surprised. I only worry about repeating myself and sucking. My goal is to tell evergreen stories because life is short and those stories will never die.

I think it’s important to give voices to “quiet” stories because they in turn speak for thousands of other similar stories. A story about a Mexican Shaman in New Jersey fighting to keep his endangered language alive will most likely never make headline – unless the Shaman is played by Antonio Banderas, and he actually fist fights – on traditional news media but it can give hope to someone in Bangladesh. The story of an Englishman in New York who runs a “hospital for clocks” will most likely not trend on Twitter but it will quietly be watched by thousands who love clocks and who love New York. Does “The Harlem Grandmaster and His Ten Thousand Karate Kids” qualify as a quiet story? Maybe to the ten thousand and first kid.

My advice to anyone who wants to stand out in his/her chosen career: (a) Don’t be a pain in the ass. Your talent won’t buy longevity, your professionalism will. (b) Learn from your mistakes to make the right “mistakes” on the next round. (c) Get good at what you do. You can only do that by putting in time for your craft. There. Is. No. Shortcut. (d) If you love what you do, you’ll be happy with your life and you’ll make those around you happy too.

Make yourself happy.

You fucking deserve it.
**
To find Emon online, visit his website, www.emonhassan.com, and connect with him on twitter.
**
^Andy actually prefers the term “real-time news DJ.”

A Pile of Maps, A Sense of Place

Text and Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**

The pile of maps for the guidebook.

The pile of maps for the guidebook.

It came as somewhat of a surprise to me that one of the aspects of the guidebook I enjoyed most was editing its dozens of maps. I spent hours and hours–whole days, actually–marking up changes and noting corrections, including identifying place names that, in at least one case, haven’t been used since the 1980s. I’d check the book’s maps against multiple sources–Google Maps, sure, but also the New York State map I’d worked into tatters, historic maps, specialty maps (like topos), and a whole stack of regional and town maps I’ve stockpiled and which have come to comprise something of an unintended collection. What struck me over and over again was the simultaneous precision and imprecision of cartographers’ renderings of place, the relative anonymity of those mapmakers, and how the portrayals and naming of place change over time.

It seemed fitting that in between working on the maps, feeding my kids, and occasionally kissing my husband and mumbling a hello or good-bye as he came and went about his own work, I was reading Home Ground: Language of an American Landscape, edited by Barry Lopez. In his introduction to the book, Lopez writes about the language–both textual and visual, but mostly the former–of maps… of how that language “radiates a sense of belonging,” as he says about the maps of Erwin Raisz or, on the other hand, sanitizes the distinguishing features of unique places by imposing a common language upon them that renders them a single and sadly conflated whole, or, as he says, “an attenuated list of almost nondescript words.”

The language of maps, the language of the literal land, is one that helps locate us in place, as well as in time. As I looked at the map of New York State rendered during the WPA-era, the map folded neatly into the back of the WPA guide I bought at The Lyrical Ballad Bookstore in Saratoga Springs earlier this year, and compared this map against the “modern” maps, I was struck by how many place names and feature descriptors had simply disappeared (or, some might contend, evolved). How long will it be before the New York towns of Seduction and Climax, New York–conveniently located near one another, I’ll point out– are “cleaned up,” changed by law to prevent the offense of someone’s sensibilities?

Cuba or Belfast?

Cuba or Belfast?

And who will remember how those towns even got their names in the first place, and be able to tell visitors who care enough to be curious when and why they disappeared? When we pulled off at the exit where you can choose– Cuba (New York) or Belfast?– and chose Cuba, no one we asked could tell us the history of the town’s name. They seemed exasperated to even be asked, as if the question, raised so often, is a nuisance rather than a reason to, well, possibly find the answer.

I can’t help but feel sad about the names we’ve already lost and all the stories that accompany them, as well as the ones we still stand to lose. As Lopez says, we “named the things we’ve picked out on the land, and we’ve held on to the names to make ourselves abiding and real….” And sadly, as he also says, much depends on “schemes…[that] hinge on our loss of memory, the anxiety of our alienation, our hunger after substance.”

I wish I could say that I’ve restored some of the places that are lost to their rightful places, but my attempts inevitably fell short. To know the places we’ve lost, there’s quite a bit of recovery work that has to be done, and really, I’m only getting started.

Developing Honest, Transparent, Ethical Editorial Practices in a Cloudy Age

[Apologies in advance for all the scare quotes here, but so much about this story deserves them.]

Those of us who like to think we’ve got a bead on industry developments have been watching the recent masthead and editorial policy changes at Conde Nast Traveler with (morbid?) interest.

In case you haven’t been following along, here’s a recap: Former CNT editor, Klara Glowczewska, once believed to be “untouchable,” (as in totally safe on her editorial throne) was summarily dismissed in August by “artistic director” Anna Wintour and replaced with Pilar Guzman, formerly the EIC of Martha Stewart Living. Guzman went right to work envisioning a new incarnation of the “stale” brand, eliminating most of the folks on the Glowczewska masthead… presumably because they weren’t “willing to get on the change bandwagon.”

Privately–and not so privately, too–freelancers wondered what the CNT shake-up might mean, not just for themselves (editorial contacts gone, improved/diminished likelihood of getting a foot in the door with new departments, etc.), but for the industry, as it was rumored that Guzman would make some significant policy changes in addition to staffing changes. Under Glowczewska, CNT liked to trumpet its “truth in travel” tagline… meaning that writers on assignment didn’t accept comps of any sort because it might compromise their integrity. In reality, some folks who’ve written for them have willingly told me, off the record, that the “truth in travel” tagline was really–how can I say this?–a crock of shit. Paying $50 a night for a $500+ room at Mandarin Oriental isn’t all that different from accepting a comp, now is it? And it didn’t take a sleuth to surmise that the line between editorial and advertising wasn’t so bright.

So Guzman arrived and said, “To hell with all that fake transparency.” Ok, she didn’t say it like that. What she did say was that it’s sometimes ok for both staff writers and freelancers to accept “preferential media rates” when working on a story.

The reactions, of course, have been laudatory on one side “(Finally! An editor actually admitting that staffers are accepting media rates and/or comps!”) and livid on the other (“This is another nail in the coffin of ‘travel journalism’!”). Unfortunately, it’s news that probably has a limited shelf life. For the most part, the majority of people–even those directly affected–could really care less. Guzman’s “Sure, sometimes we accept media rates” “policy change” is actually a distraction because it’s only partial. It does little, if anything, to elucidate CNT’s overall editorial policies and practices, including when such media rates might be accepted, why, and to what potential effect. In short, while Guzman’s “policy change” seems to be a move toward transparency, it’s really not.

If you know me in person, you’ve likely heard me rant about this issue before; it’s one that I hang onto like a dog with a chew toy because I think it’s an important issue in our industry that most people–publishers and editors in particular–don’t want to address openly or collaboratively. As a result, writers are often in a bind, even when they’ve worked to arrive at their own clear articulation of personal ethical policies. And then, of course, there’s the reader. Does he/she really know/care about how the sausage gets made? Should he/she?

*
Earlier this week, a friend sent a link to an article published by, of all publications, Business Jet Traveler. You’d think (or I would, at least) that a magazine dedicated to “C-level executives, high-net-worth individuals and families who utilize private jets” wouldn’t really preoccupy itself with developing honest, transparent, and ethical editorial policies and practices, but as I poked around the publication’s website, I was surprised to find that someone at the magazine has thought about just these things… and has thought about them a lot.

Rather than cut and paste their policies here and offer my commentary about them, I urge you to visit the website and read them for yourself. The policies are comprehensive yet clear, thorough yet succinct. They’re not necessarily black and white (ie: “We NEVER accept comps or media rates”); they allow room for unique circumstances without being vague or ambivalent. And the policies don’t just reference comps; they cover many other issues that we’d all do well to think more about– and that publications would do well to spend some time addressing in the same thoughtful manner that this magazine has.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,518 other followers