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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The fork in the road

It's been a while since I've posted with any regularity here at Creative Ink. Humble apologies to any regular readers I might have. My creative and productive energies have been diverted elsewhere for the past few months into some very important and meaningful personal projects that required my full attention.

As a result, I've had little brain activity leftover to share meaningful thoughts here. I'll try to do better as life starts to settle into the normal workday/school day routine. Part of what I've done this summer is explore where I want to take my career moving forward. I have possible paths, but certainly nothing definitive. I am at the proverbial fork in the road.

I've spent four and a half years working full-time as an independent journalist from home. It's been great in so many ways. Here are some professional highlights:

• Started Creative Ink in March 2004 and through that writing began reconnecting with the dreams of my younger self.
• Traveled to New York City for the first time twice in 2004 and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the Big Apple on my own.
• Got my passport and my first passport stamps when I traveled to Seoul, South Korea in 2004. I was one of the only female speakers at East Asia Journalists Forum, which obligated me to perform many toasts during our meals.
• Had my first PD feature published in May 2004; lead to weekly book reviews in PD for 18 months before burnout set in and freelance budgets were slashed.
• Traveled to New York City and Las Vegas in 2005, both times with awesome traveling companion Jill Zimon. 
• While in Las Vegas in 2005, had exclusive interview with former New York Times reporter Judith Miller upon her release from prison.
• Discovered the beauty and soulfulness of Thomas Merton; wrote article in 2005 on his influence on modern-day Catholics that started a three-year working relationship with Catholic Universe Bulletin. Oh, and that story also won first place in religion coverage in 2006 Ohio SPJ Awards.
• Traveled to Chicago in August 2006, but I'm disappointed to say that I saw little of the city other than the conference hotel and the Billy Goat Tavern. I hope to return soon.
• Had first article published in Continental Magazine in October 2006.
• Applied for and was accepted as a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors in February 2007
• Traveled to Anniston, Alabama, in April 2007 where I met Gay Talese and Rick Bragg among a host of other wonderful southern storytellers who continue to inspire me.
• Risked much professionally, personally and financially by calling out national SPJ leadership on a bad decision that ultimately was reversed in August 2007. Still a painful memory, but something I would do again in a heartbeat because it was the right thing to do.
• Started my third year of writing about small schools transformation at Cleveland Heights High School in August 2007 and discovered a passion for urban education that may dictate my future professional plans.
• Began consulting editor relationship with Catalyst Ohio magazine in November 2007 that continues to this day.
• Applied for Peter Jennings Fellowship for Journalism and the Constitution, was accepted and traveled to Philadelphia, Penn., in March 2008. Among my colleagues there was Atlantic national correspondent and author Mark Bowden, who has been very kind and generous in providing direction and assistance when asked.
• Had my first feature published in the Christian Science Monitor in April 2008, with subsequent stories in May and July.
• Was shocked, confused and then honored to be named Cleveland SPJ Distinguished Service Award winner in May 2008.
• Won first place in feature writing for article about group of St. Ignatius High School pallbearers from the Catholic Press Association in June 2008.

Over the summer I reached a few conclusions that will alter my writing future. First, is the financial reality that with my oldest son heading to college in three years, I need a more stable and consistent form of income. Second, is that I'm exhausted—I mean could sleep for a week straight exhausted—by the nonstop hustle of getting work and trying to get paid in something resembling a timely manner. Third, is that I realize my writing has reached a point of stagnation. Stagnation is akin to death for a writer. I need new creative challenges to push me forward. Fourth is that I'm tired of working in isolation. I'd like to be a part of a more collaborative working environment that allows me to brainstorm, share and learn from others.

So where do I see myself in the next few months? I honestly don't know. I'd like to continue being a journalist, though frankly the opportunities to do so and remain in Cleveland are extraordinarily limited. I check the job boards daily and there's little in Ohio, let alone in Cleveland. I've reached out to some colleagues, but the news is always dire about cutbacks rather than hiring. I'm not about to close off any path. I do have some potential opportunities in the works that could fall into any of the following categories:

1) Find a great job at an existing media outlet that allows me to explore narrative and new media journalism either as a writer and/or editor.

2) Get some funding and start my own new media venture that allows me to lead a team of professional, citizen and student journalists toward development and launch of a dynamic multimedia site.

3) Go to graduate school to study history and begin work on becoming a history professor.

4) Find another avenue for using my writing and editing skills outside of journalism. 

5) What every writer aspires to do: write a book. 

My path is not clear, but I hope it will be illuminated soon.  

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Phelps, ADHD and teachers

Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps was diagnosed as ADHD as a child. His mom, Debbie, spoke this week about how swimming helped him to focus. There's this little item from Teacher Magazine this week:
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Deborah Phelps, middle school principal and mother of Michael, the most medaled Olympian in history, remembers how her son’s elementary school teacher once told her, “Your son will never be able to focus on anything.”
Good thing he had an elementary teacher willing to think so highly of his talents. What I find most interesting in the comments feed of this post are all the people saying how brave Debbie Phelps is for talking openly about Michael's ADHD. What they should be discussing is how the statement I've bolded makes them look like complete, insensitive cads. Nothing like making an uninformed sweeping judgment about a kid at such an early age to really boost their drive.

That is one MAJOR problem with teachers. They have the power to inspire, which I hope they use well, but they also have the power to kill a kid's spirit. 

Monday, August 11, 2008

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Join the Monitor in real-time reporting on "Little Bill Clinton"

Here's another reason why I'm so proud to be a contributor to the Christian Science Monitor. Last night I received an e-mail from my editor about a new project called, "Little Bill Clinton: A School Year in the Life of a New American" by reporter Mary Wittenberg and photographer Melanie Stetson-Freeman.

According to the editor: "This year-long narrative project about a refugee charter school in Atlanta, the International Community School. The face of the project will be Congolese third-grader Bill Clinton Hadam – but it will also include story threads from refugees from 35 countries."

I'm thrilled to see that this kind of unconventional, in-depth reporting is taking place and would jump at the chance to be involved in such a project here. 

Monday, August 04, 2008

ABC News and the anthrax story

In the years since 2001, I had largely forgotten what it felt like to live under the sustained fear of unimaginable terrorism hovering over our collective conscience. But it all came rushing back in the wake of suicide death of Bruce Ivins, the FBI's lead suspect in the anthrax attacks of October 2001. 

Salon's Glenn Greenwald has two compelling pieces (here and here) that call into question ABC News' role in perpetuating the Islamic extremist, Saddam Hussein, Iraqi biological weapons role in perpetuating that fear and the warmongering against Iraq that resulted. There are many serious questions to be asked of ABC News, namely who were its unnamed sources. 

Jay Rosen and Dan Gillmor have posted three questions for ABC News and I'll add my voice to the chorus of those seeking accountability in the reporting process. 

Three Vital Questions for ABC News About its Anthrax Reporting in 2001

1. Sources who are granted confidentiality give up their rights when they lie or mislead the reporter. Were you lied to or misled by your sources when you reported several times in 2001 that anthrax found in domestic attacks came from Iraq or showed signs of Iraqi involvement?

2. It now appears that the attacks were of domestic origin and the anthrax came from within U.S. government facilities. This leads us to ask you: who were the “four well-placed and separate sources” who falsely told ABC News that tests conducted at Fort Detrick showed bentonite in the anthrax sent to Sen. Tom Daschle, causing ABC News to connect the attacks to Iraq in multiple reports over a five day period in October, 2001?

3. A substantially false story that helps make the case for war by raising fears about enemies abroad attacking the United States is released into public debate because of faulty reporting by ABC News. How that happened and who was responsible is itself a major story of public interest. What is ABC News doing to re-report these events, to figure out what went wrong and to correct the record for the American people who were misled?
Greenwald's columns also illustrate other questionable actions, such as the tip Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen received about taking Cipro to ward off deadly effects of anthrax. He accepted privileged information and used it for his personal benefit. 

Interestingly, Greenwald's column also sheds a bit of insight into the federal shield law debate. Readers of CI know that I am opposed to legislating reporter's privilege because I believe the First Amendment applies to everyone. The press should not receive a special privilege. As it's written the Free Flow of Information Act does more to protect journalism as a business (in other words the large media organizations) than it does to protect individual journalists. And there are enough exclusions and exceptions to render its protection meaningless.

Good journalism, particularly investigative journalism, is hard work and any notion that the government is helping to make that job "easier" is abhorrent to me as a journalist. Greenwald writes:
Source confidentiality is premised on a model of journalism where the media is adversarial to the Government, and safeguarding the anonymity of sources is the only way to find out what the Government is doing. But these days, so frequently, the media serves as an arm of the Government -- the Government uses the establishment media to disseminate propaganda and outright lies to the public (Jessica Lynch, Pat Tillman, Saddam's aluminum tubes) or even uses leaks to the media to commit crimes (as it did in the Plame case). When the journalists who are used to spread these lies or commit these crimes then conceal who it is who has done such things, they are complicit in the Government wrongdoing, key enablers of it.
By endorsing the sanctity of that Government-media relationship through shield laws and the like (which I've always supported in the past), it's actually -- perversely -- bestowing the Government with yet another tool to shield its misconduct from the public.
(Bold is mine.)

Friday, August 01, 2008

The top job, take two

Great piece on women (or lack thereof) in high-profile media positions at The G Spot. H/T to Jill for sharing the link. I wrote about the dearth of women in high-profile journalism positions recently here

Here are a couple of take-aways from the G Spot piece, but I hope you'll read it in its entirety.

"Liberal women, and especially liberal feminist women, are not particularly welcome in opinion journalism."

"Media outlets have gotten beaten up so hard by the right for their alleged "liberal" (ha!) bias that for a long time now, they've shied away from hiring strongly liberal columnists (and the ones that fall through the cracks, like Paul Krugman, seem to get there by accident -- remember, Krugman was hired by the Times back in the days when he best-known as a fan of globalization and the neoliberal world order)."

"The key to getting more women opinion columnists and more (salaried) women bloggers out there is … to keep on publicizing this issue, and need to keep the pressure on … Some of it is just plain laziness -- men considering only people they know through their own personal networks, who tend to be largely male. Or men having an unconscious bias in favor hiring others like them (same sex, same race, similar class or educational background, etc.) With the well-meaning guys out there who are sympathetic towards feminism, probably all they need is a little pressure, a bit of pushback. I'm pretty sure we can through to them. And if we make enough noise we can at least have some influence over the others."
Time is short today, but rest assured I'll be returning to this topic frequently.