All I can say is: something about it gets under your skin. It poisons your blood with printers' ink, or at least that vegetable-based ink they use now that comes off and stains your hands on a hot summer day. It makes you want bad black coffee at 5 a.m. because you've been up all night writing about that car accident that took out three local 15-year-olds while they raced away from the cops in a stolen car.
Times like this, with the DNC is Boston, I'm not thinking about the screwed up traffic or worries about "terrorist threats" or...god help me...those god awful "free speech" cages set up for protestors outside the Fleet Center. (Someone please tell me what that fucking judge was thinking...)
All I want is to be a reporter again for just one more day.
There is nothing so sweet as getting your byline above the fold on the front page. There's nothing so heart-poundingly wonderful as lucking into a hell of a story, whether it's a tragedy or something good. There's nothing better than meeting all sorts of people under all sorts of circumstances. The fact that you own nothing of what you write, the fact people might not even know your name even if they see it every day...none of it matters.
And then I remember the bad black coffee at 5 a.m., the daily deadlines that never stop, and the heartless jokes about some pretty gruesome stories. When I was an EA at the Boston Herald waaaaay back in the late 80s, there was a December housefire where two children were burned to death. A freelance photographer brought in pictures, some of which included shots of dead children.
One editor, upon seeing the pictures, stood up on his desk and began singing at the top of his lungs, "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..."
All of that sticks with you. And not always in a good way.
Last year when the body count started building about The Station in Rhode Island, where 96 people were burned to death at a Great What concert, guess what image popped in my head?
Go on. Guess.
Sometimes you have to find the funny otherwise you're going to cry.
See, that's the thing about local reporting: There's nothing blow-dried and perfect about talking to someone that's watched their neighborhood spiral out of control because of a riot. There's nothing uplifting about watching someone crumble as a five alarm fire destroys everything they've ever owned at two in the morning. And there's nothing worse than interviewing a 12-year-old cancer patient that'll be dead in less than two weeks.
What I'm trying to say: working the local, small-town press is nothing like the movies and nothing like television. It's different than life at the Boston Globe, I'm sure, the place were all local newspaper reporters in Massachusetts want to go when they die. I spent more than a year writing obits at the Boston Herald while still in college and I remember the controlled chaos that went into putting out a Sunday and Monday editions...I'm sure it's nothing like it once was.
Really, when you get down to it, reporters at the small and medium-sized papers tend to see life at extremes because that's where we (I mean they) work.
You either see people at their high-flyingest best, or at the lowest of the low. There is no in between. The story is not in the in between; it's always at the extremes because that's where you find out who people are.
Okay, maybe an overly romantic view: I try not to think about the endless city and town meetings where people argued over a single line in the fiscal year budget, although I remember more than a few Conservation Commissions and Zoning Boards that resulted in near fistfights.
So you see why I weep when I see how the media has sunk so low. I've watched journalism descend from the fourth estate to little more than a cheerleading squad for the rich and powerful. This is not the thing I was once part of. I don't know what it is, but it's not the thing I once loved to distraction.
That's why I thought it would be different this year: proximity of the DNC aside. I WASN'T GOING TO MISS THIS!
But I do...I really, really do.
Then the election will happen and the ache will go away for another four years. I hope.
I just want the media to be better when it happens.
Anyway, I'm jonesing at work for newsink and I find this cool article in the New York Times about independent bloggers getting press credentials to the DNC and RNC. I knew it was going on, of course, but it's interesting to see just how widespread it's becoming.
Look to the left at the links on my (new look) LJ and you'll see some political bloggers (must feed the beast after all).
And for people who are interested, here's the New York Times article:
Web Diarists Are Now Official Members of Convention Press Corps
July 26, 2004
By JENNIFER 8. LEE
Jeralyn Merritt had expected the news to come by e-mail
rather than by snail mail, otherwise known as the United
States Postal Service.
But she had to rip, rather than click, to open the message
informing her that she had received press credentials to
cover the Democratic National Convention in Boston for her
Internet Web log, or blog, at TalkLeft.com, where she
offers a running commentary on political and criminal
"A big smile broke out on my face and I just went 'Yeah!' "
said Ms. Merritt, 54, who works as a criminal defense
lawyer in Denver. "It was someone who was judging me on the
work that I was doing for free over the last two years and
found me worthy."
Even as many networks are reducing their coverage of the
increasingly predictable political conventions, the
political blogs, which have become a fruitful alternative
for individual voices, have been ablaze over the prospect
of officially covering conventions for the first time. Ms.
Merritt is one of about three dozen bloggers who have been
given press credentials for the Democratic convention in
Boston, which begins Monday. Another, Ana Marie Cox from
the Washington gossip site Wonkette.com, will be working as
a correspondent for MTV.
Organizers of the Republican convention have said they plan
to issue credentials to 10 to 20 bloggers.
"Whomever they decide to let through the gate is now the
press," said Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York
University who will attend the convention for his blog,
PressThink.org, which appraises media coverage. "What the
credential means to me is that someone just expanded the
idea of the press a little bit."
If the 1952 Republican convention was the first television
convention, and the 1924 conventions were the first radio
ones, the 2004 election will be remembered because of them,
the bloggers insist.
"I give them full credit that they opened up the convention
to bloggers," said David Weinberger, 53, who blogs at
Hyperorg.com and will attend the Democratic convention.
"That took guts, because bloggers are always off message."
The question facing many of the bloggers, who do most of
their work without venturing from their desks, is how
exactly they will cover a live convention. Most built their
followings by ferreting out interesting but obscure
information or by providing commentary on events and on
news coverage of those events.
"What we don't usually do is talk to primary sources," said
Tom Burka, a lawyer in New York City, who maintains a
satirical blog at TomBurka.com. "We've never been put in
this position as bloggers to have this kind of access."
The bloggers predict that they will provide coverage on
issues too narrow for mainstream news media, while offering
an irreverent eye on the media-political complex and
gossipy accounts of behind-the-scenes convention life.
"I look forward to the world that exists in the margins,"
said Patrick Belton, a 28-year-old Oxford University
graduate student who blogs at Oxblog.com and calls himself
a "liberal hawk."
"It will be interesting to get around the televised
spectacle and see it as a meeting place for the different
factions of the party," Mr. Belton said.
Jessamyn West, a 35-year-old librarian in Rutland, Vt., who
shares her liberal positions on library issues at
Librarian.net, said, "I've been trying to make the
librarian voice in politics stronger and louder." She plans
to discuss freedom of information issues in the party's
Some observers are uneasy with how the convention is
expanding the definition of journalism.
"I think that bloggers have put the issue of
professionalism under attack," said Thomas McPhail,
professor of media studies at the University of
Missouri-St. Louis, who argues that journalists should be
professionally credentialed. "They have no pretense to
objectivity. They don't cover both sides."
Even so, large news media organizations are paying
"I'm intrigued at the way that bloggers and blogs have
forced their way into the political process on their own;
that's why I want to incorporate the blogs into our
coverage," said David Bohrman, Washington bureau chief for
CNN, which is coordinating with Technorati, a blog-tracking
service, to provide online commentary for the convention.
Earlier this month, as acceptance and rejection notices
went out to more than 200 people who applied for the
Democratic credentials, blogs were awash in chatter on a
variety of related topics, including the fact that the
credentialed bloggers are overwhelmingly white and male - a
reflection of the larger world of opinion journalism, some
note. There has also been discussion about which bloggers
were given the coveted "hall" credentials versus the more
limited "perimeter" credentials and whether Atrios, a
well-known but anonymous political blogger, will unveil
himself at the convention.
Convention staff members visited the blogs of every
applicant, choosing the finalists based on three announced
criteria: readership, professionalism and originality.
"It was very difficult," said Peggy Wilhide, communications
director for the convention. "It was a new medium.'' Some
of those selected, like DailyKos.com and
TalkingPointsMemo.com, have such large followings, in the
tens of thousands, that they feature guest writers when the
main bloggers are on vacation. Pacificviews.org, run by a
29-year-old woman from Seattle who only identifies herself
as Natasha, averages only 300 views a day.
While a few of the bloggers also work as freelance
journalists, others call themselves amateur pundits. Many
unabashedly identify themselves as political activists,
either having volunteered for campaigns or done extensive
political fund-raising through their blogs.
"What bloggers do for the Democrats is that we enable the
party base, those who are in the middle or upper class who
are deeply involved in Internet and activism, to get a
viewpoint they can get fired up about," said Stephen
Yellin, a 16-year-old high school student from Berkeley
Heights, N.J., who was credentialed to attend the
convention. Mr. Yellin has attracted a large online
following for his contributions on DailyKos.com. Markos
Moulitsas Zuniga, a lawyer in Berkeley, Calif., who runs
DailyKos.com, has raised around $400,000 for Senator John
Kerry's campaign, the Democratic Party and other political
candidates. He also says that his blog has begun to bring
in a comfortable advertising income in the last two months,
enabling him to pay off his credit card debt.
"I'm one of the biggest fund-raisers for the Democratic
Party, but also one of the biggest critics," Mr. Zuniga
One thing that separates bloggers from traditional
journalists is the expense account. Most of the
credentialed bloggers have had to find creative ways to
finance their trips to Boston.
Ms. Merritt put a request for donations, accepted through
Amazon.com and PayPal, on her blog, as well as a wish list
of technological gadgets. So far she has raised more than
$2,000 of the $3,000 she needs.
Others, including Mr. Yellin, are tapping an old-fashioned
source of financing. "My parents are paying," he said.