This is your media life
A crossroads feeling … BD and AD (Before Dad and After Dad) … summer into fall … good girl into willful woman overtook me yesterday, September 9. We (my company, my department, my honchos and colleagues) hosted a memorial service for Walter Cronkite at Lincoln Center.
All kinds of media types showed up. And most notably, POTUS came. We were surprised he didn’t cancel. After all, he had that huge health care address to deal with later in the evening. Maybe he wanted a shot in the arm … muster up some extra journalistic goodwill. Regardless, I was seated all of 50 rows directly behind him on the on the center left aisle seat. Cool.
Three rows down across the aisle from me was Victor Navasky, publisher emeritus of The Nation. I did a 6-month internship there in 1998 at the height of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Victor was creaking along in a seersucker suit, which is how I picture him in my head, always. I remain grateful for that opportunity, though I always felt like a disappointment to that leftie bunch, having given up on the journalistic “good fight” to become corporate flack, writing earning speeches for EVIL BIG MEDIA no less. By the way, had journalism not paid so poorly, had it enabled me to get health insurance and move out of my parents’ house, I might have stuck with it. Instead I took a job as a marketing copywriter and ended up working directly with the top brass. The rest is history.
Right behind Victor was Howard Kurtz, whose writing I have read for decades and took particular interest in while writing my Master’s thesis at journalism school in the summer of 1999. At one point I saw him, all of 15 feet away from me, typing into his Blackberry. His Tweet posted to the feed displayed on my iPhone. Surreal.
The title of my yesteryear thesis: “Taking themselves to task: The rising role of media criticism in the American mainstream press.”It was 70+ page exploration of how the media views and reports on itself. If I recall correctly, my point was that the journalists are individuals, with flaws and strengths … viewpoints and emotions. There is no such thing as “just the facts” or one objective truth so let’s just acknowledge our biases already and get it out of the way.
That was before FOX News became a powerhouse thanks to Election 2000 and its dangling chads. Half the country felt their views were not being represented by the media. All the networks, all the papers seemed to start from the same premises and value systems. They purported to offer a mirror to “reality.” But many citizens felt oppressed and misrepresented by that reflection. Roger Ailes tapped into that discontent, creating a press outlet to cater to that large underserved market claiming, “we report, you decide.”
All around the same time, just as I finished up grad school, Napster was happening, Google was happening. Digital was changing everything. Content was unbound. People were unbound. Back then I couldn’t have imagined that I would go for weeks, months at a time without turning on a radio or picking up a newspaper. I used to read 5 or 6 papers A DAY. Now I just skim my RSS feeds and email newsletters and focus on the items that interest me.
Never could I have imagined ten years ago that I would be sitting in a room with all these guys, plus the (BLACK!) President of the United States, Bill Clinton, the CEO of my company, Barbara Walters, Brian Williams, Diane Sawyer, Charlie Gibson and so many other, listening, typing away on my phone, and pondering yet again what will become of our world of information (and just generally our world).
None of them seem to know. All they seemed to articulate was that something big is gone. That feeling of unified certainty. The reassuring notion that knowledge itself could be known.
One of the coolest parts of the ceremony was when Wynton Marsalis and five members of his sextet played an amazing New Orleans funeral procession song, circling the entire room. They walked across the stage, down the stairs, up the aisle, around the back, down the other aisle, and back up on stage. The sound was incredible. (When I die, get me one of those, please.)
On my way out I ran into my dear friend and mentor, Mary Jane Clark, who helped me get my first internship at CBS in 1996, and my first (short-lived) job in the newsroom in 1997. She is family to me. I have listened to her stories and watched her work over the years. I know that the industry she was so passionate about, that she built her first career on (she is now a best-selling fiction writer) has morphed into something unrecognizable. It must be a very strange thing to behold.
For me, only a decade or so into the game, the beat goes on. The journey in this world of media and information is just beginning. I don’t know where it’s headed either, and I have nothing to lose … no romantic attachments to “the way it was”. While I honor and respect those who made my current adventure possible, ultimately I’ve gotta go my own way. Onward pilgrim! Onward willful woman! The world awaits!