The Press Club’s Journalism Conference

On September 7, I attended the 27th Annual Press Club Conference on Journalism at NYU. As a former staff writer, and frankly, an American citizen, I appreciate the role of the press in a democracy. A free press is a pillar upon which this union stands and if the press crumbles, so goes the country. I’m not being old school here – responsible journalism and truth-telling is a civic responsibility. And, as Chris Cuomo says, “Let’s get after it.”

Journalism panel at the Press Club – more diversity, please!

The keynote speaker was Ross Buettner who along with Susanne Craig and David Barstow got after it when the New York Times reporters broke the story of how Trump inflated his ego (and flat out lied) by calling himself a self-made millionaire. Truth was he inherited, squandered, and exaggerated his millions. It’s curious why this story did not have legs, as they say. Maybe it’s that we, the American people, are bombarded with falsehoods every fricken’ day, including on this day, September 11, 2019 – has Trump (DT) no shame? — and we’ve become inured to this shady executive in chief’s penchant for falsehoods and exaggerations.

One question for the keynoter: “Is DT an outlier?” And the answer is, indubitably, “Yes,” the man is an outlier. We, the people, are so much better than this charlatan currently occupying the Oval Office.  

Investigative reporters like Barstow, Craig, and Buettner are my modern-day heroes. And like so many people of principle, they choose humility over self-aggrandizement. For example, Buettner admonished, “You always wanna’ be checking your own BS.” Wise words.

Also sage advice: “Don’t be afraid of sounding stupid,” said Alana Pipe in the workshop on Making Data a Routine Part of Your Beat, which featured two additional amazing investigative and data savvy reporters, Irina Ivanova and Will Bedderman, who specialize in using data to unearth hidden stories. These data and investigative stories take time to simmer so this kind of reporting requires patience, which is difficult for me. However, I remind myself to stay on topic and not chase side stories. I am so easily distracted: what’s the shiny new thing? Hey, I tell myself, follow the truth — but make it sparkly. After all, writers are competing for the attention of readers who might prefer shiny games like Candy Crush to the depressing news.  

Amanda FitzSimons listens to Hannah Bae’s wise counsel for freelancers.

The workshop on Workin’ It: Making It as a Freelancer was chock-full of advice. Hanna Bae  (@hanbae) was a fount of knowledge. Here are a few of her suggestions, plucked from my Twitter feed @MaryBethC

  • New voices, submit your writing to the WSJ and the Washington Post’s the Lily.
  • Use your interests. The topic of academic stress was interesting to Bae so she wrote about specialized high schools.
  • Reach out to local bureau chiefs in international settings for assignments and for professional development.
  • Peer mentors and friends are the best networking buddies!
  • Never pitch on social media; use thoughtfully worded emails.

In the conference’s opening plenary, panelists Zach Fink, Harry Siegel, Ruby Cramer, and Michael Calderone discussed The Media’s Responsibility in Election 2020. How can the press report differently (better!) this time around? Here again, my advice? Do not chase shiny objects!

On a discussion of whether journalists fear for their safety in a climate of hate-mongering from the president, both Ruby Cramer and Michael Calderone agreed that female and people of color journalists receive more hate on social media than their white male colleagues.

Zack Fink spun the current political morass as one that has sparked an uptick in civic engagement, a new “level of wokeness,” calling the current political climate “a backlash to elitism.”  

Still, there were calls for greater diversity in newsrooms (okay, that was me). Most of the audience seemed to be young people, women, and people of color yet the panelists and our media’s talking heads are often white, male pundits.

I think that the event was sold out because the Press Club supported college students and young journalists to attend the conference. We need these young people and we need the freakin’ press. Support your local journos.

To join the Press Club, I had to submit a few of my press clippings and pay my membership dues. Growing up, my father was a member of the Chicago Press Club and to me, there was nothing fancier than a night out to dinner with my parents and a bunch of press people. This is still true today!

On Twitter you can follow the thought leaders whom I heard from: @russbuettner @JenKayW @AbigailPesta @ZackFinkNews @mlcalderone @alanapipe @iaivanova @WendyJPollack @aefeldman @marypilon @rubycramer

They work in outlets such as: @CNN, @NY1, @BuzzFeed, @politico, @nytimes, @CrainsNewYork, @CBSNews,

Twenty-five Seven – Getting Published

 

my kids sleeping. when they were little.
my kids sleeping. when they were little.

  • Sleep in
  • Flip through a magazine
  • Lay by a body of water
  • Write more
  • Chat on the phone

This reminds me, I wrote an essay — a  tribute to sloth in an overachieving culture wherein I advise you to:

  • do less
  • stay off the grid
  • aim low

This appeared in this weekend’s Times Union commentary section. Proud.

Maybe if I had a second extra hour, I’d spend that time querying other magazines and newspapers with my funny, short essays.

I sent that essay to the newspaper as part of my challenge to query 7 places in 7 days. I may challenge myself with that again. But maybe in November, because in October my challenge is to post every single day. And besides that, I’m a little lazy.

Need. more. coffee.

This post is in response to the Daily Post:

Good news — another hour has just been added to every 24-hour day (don’t ask us how. We have powers). How do you use those extra sixty minutes?

BlogHer

“Don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself,” Ree Drummond advised on her keynote and then proceeded to sing Endless Love to her dog on the big screen. Host of the Pioneer Woman blog, a bunch of cookbooks, and the number one food show for women on Food Network, it all started with her self-deprecating stories on her blog.

This BlogHer Chicago conference is all about the power of a small story to make a big change.

I only have about 20 minutes before I run back to McCormick Place to hear Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In. I am sleeping on my mom’s couch. (Thanks!) Here are a few highlights.

Kathleen Sebelius gave the keynote on the first day. We are in good hands in this country with Sebelius as secretary of health and human services, rolling out the health care. “Women put their health last,” she said. Not me, I vow.

Sebelius drew applause when she talked about the need for mental health coverage. With health care for all coming soon in this country, “62 million people will have access to mental health that they don’t have it today.” And this, “Depression is real.”

Secretary Sebelius advocated for more women in decision-making positions, be it in corporate boards or elected offices.

“Take a risk,” Sebelius said. “Kick a door open. Put yourself in.”

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Yoga in Millennium Park, sponsored by Yasso yogurt, was awesome. The drizzle on my yoga mat stretched me. Then, I felt grateful when a bit of blue peeked through the clouds.

Other highlights for me were the panels on caregiving, podcasts, Instagram, and essay writing. Guy Kawasaki spoke at lunch. He gave the example of NPR as a place with great content that’s earned the right to host a telethon a couple of days a year. (Not to self: provide great content, only then host a telethon.)

Kawasaki is is a huge fan of Google Plus. He said it is for your passion, whereas Facebook is for your friends. And he referred to his four kids as “my four start-ups.”

I loved when Elisa Camahort asked Kawasaki, “Four kids, a lot of work — how do you do it all?” He acknowledged that he has three women making him look good — a wife, a nanny, and a @PegFitzpatrick, who happens to be my #blogchat Twitter friend.

And that reminds me, for more updates, you can follow me on Twitter at MaryBethC for more on BlogHer. But right now I’ve got to run back to the conference and lean in.

Freelance work

I am working on a very short novel. I am working on my business. I am working on myself. I wonder if any of these things will work out.

I believe that I already have everything I need. I try to know, deep down, that all I want will come to pass. Yesterday I announced that I’m going to lead workshops for the International Women’s Writing Guild summer conference and in May I’ll be performing on Mother’s Day with the Listen To Your Mother Show. These are dreams that have come true for me.

Still, sometimes I think it’d be a heckova lot easier to just get a job and show up every day. And do what’s asked of you and then go home.

Sometimes believing in myself is a lot of work.

Speaking of work, I have a freelance assignment due tomorrow. A small part of me does not want to do it. Okay, a big part.

I like doing what I like doing, promoting my own workshops. (Come to the Adirondacks for a writing and collage art getaway! May 16-19) and my new biz (Am getting my new website up and running.)

I like my own stuff. But once I throw myself into something, even someone else’s something, I get into it. The problem is the throwing myself in. It’s like when you’re standing on the edge of the pool, hesitant to swim. You just have to jump.

About freelancing, here’s my truth — I love accepting a job; I love interviewing people; I like collecting the check. All the middle part, after the interview and before the job’s complete, all the writing and rewriting and fact checking, that’s a pain.

Imagine
Remembering to take time to imagine. (I was in Central Park on Sunday. So restorative!)

Happiness on Social Media

Life has been a bit of whirlwind. Only today does it feel like the the dust has settled. And it’s a rainy, dreary, depressing day.

After the kids’ and my spring break trip to Chris’s cousins in Boston and Nantucket, I led a blogging workshop at the Indiana Writers Center and a social media workshop at Religion Communicators Council, both in Indianapolis. Then I visited family in Chicago. It was all great.

I went solo on this recent trip to Indy and Chi-town. And the adage is true: you travel faster when you travel alone. But maybe fast is not always best.

Since taking this MOOC with MIT and last week’s keynote from Daniel Sieberg (I dig Bill Aiken’s summary of Sieberg’s Keynote), I’m asking myself these questions about my social media habit:

Is social media really making me more creative and connected?

Am I using social media only to market my stuff? Or do I really want to get to know you and your stuff too?

Am I oversharing with all my blogging, tweeting, Facebragging, instagramming?

See, I bumped into a friend on the street yesterday and she asked me how my spring cleaning was going. My first response was embarrassment. How did she know I was spring cleaning? But then I remembered my joke on my FB status. I’d updated, “While spring cleaning this morning, I found $3 – who says housework doesn’t pay?”

I felt a little flattered and a little naked. Truly, I write so people will read me.

So, on one hand, I worry if no one will read me, and then, on the other, I worry if people will read my stuff and react. (I write like I dance, like no one is watching me.)

In our last MOOC session on motivation and learning, Natalie Rusk mentioned that the keys to happiness are purpose and belonging. That these lead to personal growth. Maybe social media is for the social good when it encourages all of us to belong, to be purposeful, and to grow together.

Maybe when the rain stops and the dust settles some more, I’ll figure it all out.

Until then, here’s where I market my stuff on my social media — I’ve still got room in my Writing Retreat 4/25-4/28. And I need a few more good writers to make the weekend happen. We can discuss our digital diets over a nice long, leisurely dinner together.

One hour off technology

Writing and Mothering and Listen To Your Mother

pink buds blooming
Across from my apartment, things are starting to bloom.

Fixing the Problem

What problem does your business solve?

My friend Jolain told me that when she started her clothing line years ago, her goal was simply to make beautiful clothes. She said that wasn’t enough.

“A business has to solve a problem,” Jolain said.

When Kelly and I launched our new biz, we figured offering first-class writing workshops at non-luxury prices would answer a writer’s problem.

A writer’s challenge includes the need to:

  • be a part of a community
  • get published
  • find a sanctuary for dangerous writing
  • make time for writing
  • nurture creativity and beauty in a society that overlooks the arts.

Our biz does all that.

We use Field Notes to keep score when we play cards.

This morning I listened to a podcast about traveling salesmen (at Field Notes Brand, a company my brother co-founded). Ron Solberg praises the tenacity and brilliance of the early traveling salespeople who often sold books. And the customers appreciated how the salesmen delivered news, as well as products. They liked the free samples.

“The trick really was volume, the number of stops you make,” Solberg said.

And more winning advice: “Take advantage of the moment.”

In a sense, when I started the biz, I wanted to make and nurture beautiful writing the same way Jolain wanted to make beautiful clothing. But I am learning to sell as well as to create.

As a small business owner, I need to sustain my biz, so I must do both sales and art. And for both, I need to value beauty, tenacity, hard work, and being in the moment.

Secrets of a Freelance Writer

the view from my old office, yesterday.

During yesterday’s long lunch with Hal, he mentioned casually, “You should be making about $2,500 a week freelancing.” Gulp. I reminded him that unemployment pays $405 a week. Next to my computer sits a book from my sister a few Christmases ago: Secrets of a Freelance Writer: How to Make $85,000 a Year by Robert W. Bly.

Since that 2nd edition, the third edition’s out. A potential freelancer’s pay’s shot up to $100,000 a year. Okay, great, let me get going.

I cracked open the book, looking to get on that $2,500/per week thing. Here are some tips (based on Bly’s book):

  • manage time well
  • be concise
  • get to the point
  • keep the client satisfied

All good. And here are some of my tips:

  • let go of the guilt for asking for any pay at all
  • make your promotional material pretty (like website, biz cards)
  • turn it on time
  • network well
  • give clients more than they asked for

I added that first bullet point, because I realize I have guilt for making money and guilt for not making money. (In yesterday’s post, I admitted to feelings of guilt for indulging in any activities that please myself only and do not please others.) Thus, I have to let go of all guilt, even about gilt!

I am letting go of my excuses for not pursuing the almighty dollar. Yes, yes, I was born a girl, raised Catholic, worked for a Christian group. I have believed (even unconsciously) that money was the father’s job. That the pursuit of money made me selfish or materialistic. That other people had greater need than me so let the poor suckers have my money. That I am artist so I must suffer and live in poverty.

Be direct and unemotional. This book advises you not to make the same mistakes she did.  I love and relate to her honesty.

None of this is true. And I felt affirmed in my quest for asking for top dollar after reading Mika Brzezinski’s book, Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth. Mika faced and overcame the same problems I have with money. Her advice is:

  • be yourself
  • sponsor or mentor one another
  • stay matter of fact (don’t get emotional, apologetic)
  • I should have told Hal what I really think about making money. Money is just energy. To make more of it, just insert yourself into the energy’s flow. I buy that.
  • And I will get on it, right after I finish reading another book. And blogging.