Lest we forget: Bob Wiener

When I joined the NJ Jewish News in 2004 after being out of work for a couple of years, I had a lot of mixed feelings. On the one hand, it was nice to be getting a paycheck again. On the other hand, I was a bit overwhelmed. While I had done a little bit of freelancing, that was pretty much on my terms. I had no formal experience in journalism. Plus I was expected to come up with my own story ideas; it was tough enough working on assignments.

There was also the situation of being the new kid in class. The “bigger kids” could have made my life fairly uncomfortable. But then I met Bob Wiener.

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Actually, I  had “met” him a few days before I actually started. He was the first one to greet me, sending a note to my home email address.

Bob — an award-winning writer for NJJN — was a veteran media producer, having worked for Court TV, MSNBC, and WNBC-TV as a producer.

Shortly after I came on board, I brought my daughter, Rachel, to work. She must have been about 11 at the time and Bob made her feel welcome, too. When he learned during their chat that she loved photography, he asked her to take a picture for him for an article he was working on, something he normally would have done himself. It was just a simple exterior shot of the Whipanny JCC, but it made Rachel — now a professional photographer — feel grown-up and, again, welcome, a word that circles back to Bob. He was always up for lunch with a co-worker or to just to schmooze. He had an impact on all his colleagues at the paper, as can be seen through the tributes on the NJJN Alum facebook page.

Bob wasn’t perfect. He was known to doze off at his desk from time to time and his computer interactions were legendary. You could count on hearing shouts of “Bob!” from the managing editor’s office, just a few feet away, and their back-and-forth (rather than conducting business more quietly over the phone). But these were all loveable foibles.

He could have retired years ago but he loved the work, loved to be around people, despite the difficulties commuting from NYC.

So long, Bob. Thanks for making things so easy for me.

 

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“I am Spartacus!”

Wouldn’t it be great if not only one person came forward to identify as the author of The New York Times‘ notorious “I am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” but multiple people? After all, as the writer notes, there are a number who believe they are conducting themselves to to greater good when they try to “guide” #45 so he doesn’t either destroy America’s standing position on the world stage (which has already diminished) or get us into World War III.

Instead of focusing on improving the country he’s supposed to lead, Trump has taken a deep dive — Captain Queeg style — to find out who took the strawberries, that is, who wrote the essay, calling on the Attorney General to launch an investigation, claiming it is an issue of “national security.” In his warped mind he believes “l’etat, c’est moi,” forgetting that the people in government work are — or should be — tasked with serving in the best interests of the country, not Donald J. Trump. Plus he’s practically demanding loyalty oaths from his staffers and otherwise going deeper into his black hole.

Trump and many of his followers have branded the writer a “gutless coward.” Show them they’re wrong. While it may have consequences in the short run, you will be hailed as a hero.

A Voice silenced

I was never an avid reader of the Village Voice when I was living in New York. Once in a while I would pick up a copy if I wanted to see about entertainment or, even more rare, if there was a feature article about baseball. I wasn’t interested in local politics or arts and culture at the time.

On the other hand, my wife and I were able to enjoy a second wedding ceremony because I won a Valentine’s Day essay contest in the voice

But I appreciated it for what it was: a piece of alternative press that gave a, well, voice, to the underserved.

The Village Voice located at 36 Cooper Square in New York.The Village Voice ceases operations, New York, USA - 31 Aug 2018The Village Voice, which was founded in 1955 and left an indelible mark on New York’s cultural and political landscape for decades, has finally faced up to its daunting business reality and opted to cease editorial operations.

Last week, the new owner announced that the Voice — which had already ceased print publication — was shutting down completely. According to Peter Barbey

In recent years, the Voice has been subject to the increasingly harsh economic realities facing those creating journalism and written media. Like many others in publishing, we were continually optimistic that relief was around the next corner. Where stability for our business is, we do not know yet. The only thing that is clear now is that we have not reached that destination..

The final print edition came out last September, featuring an old photo of Bob Dylan on the cover. Since then, as per this story, there were only 18 staffers left. Most of those were dismissed, save for a few who are being kept on to digitize the paper.

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Of course, I blame the younger generation (#Sad) because they can’t be bothered with reading on anything bigger than a smart phone or iPad. Kidding, not kidding. As you know if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, I’m a victim of the downturn. I might consider returning to journalism, given the perfect situation, but realistically I don’t think that’s likely to happen.

In the meantime, a fond farewell to a New York institution.

 

NBC needs to answer Trump’s charge

I may not be aware of the legal implications here and maybe I’m just reacting impulsively, but if I were in charge of NBC, I would have to do something about Donald Trump’s accusations that Lester Holt “got caught fudging my tape on Russia.”

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As usual, Trump offers no actual, you know, proof to back up his claims.

My fear, as many pundits have already expressed, is that we’re becoming inured of all of these things, passing it off like, “Oh, there goes crazy Uncle Donald again, that old scamp. He says a lot of crazy stuff, but he’s really harmless.”

Except it’s not harmless. Just like when he “predicts” that there will be violence in the streets if the Democrats win in the mid-term elections.  This isn’t “Manny being Manny.” Nor is it Abe Simpson.

I know it’s too much to ask for the Republicans to take a stand once and  say this is crackpot behavior that cannot be allowed to continue, but a boy can dream, can’t he?

“Stop googling yourself, stop googling yourself…”

One would think the leader of the free world wouldn’t have the kinds of time it must take to carry one such a paranoic pursuit, by Donald Trump — who has already spent more time (and money) golfing than his predecessor(s) — seems to find such opportunities.

At a moment when he should be doing all sorts of things — from paying tribute to the late John McCain to not paying the increase in the wages of federal employees — Trump’s latest whine concerns the perceived unfair practices of search engines which he claims are stacking the deck against him and his conservative cronies. According to his very scientific surveys, they purposely rig searches to lead off with the most negative stories about him. Uh-huh.

To be honest, I watch CNN and read The New York Times and, yes, the overwhelming majority of stories could be considered “negative.” But whose fault is that? Maybe Trump based his information on this.

I think #45 wishes he had the powers of an Anthony Freemont. Don’t bother googling; here’s the connection. Trump already has his people “looking into it” and making veiled threats.

“Ask me no questions…”

By the way, ever notice during one of his staged chats that whenever he wants to end the proceedings and not answer any more questions, he goes into defensive mode? He does that a lot. Just an observation.

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Art imitates life…again

Image result for Lodge 49Been watching Lodge 49, a new series on AMC. Summer fluff, but in the third episode, Connie, one of the characters who works for a local newspaper in her California town, receives the news that she’s being let go just after she pitches a series of stories to her editor about a major local company that is shutting down.

She laughs for a moment in disbelief, obviously thinking this is a joke, but the editor explains, “With this buyout, we’re doing a pivot to video thing and there’s no way around it…”

“Wait, you’re serious?” asks Connie, played by the actor Linda Emond.

Image result for Lodge 49, linda emond“Yeah. I’m sorry. Look, here is a press release with more info.”

Connie put on her glasses, glances at the paper, looks askance at her editor, and begins to read. “In an age of accelerated transformation, our mission is to become an industry leader in the curation-optimization and monetization of hypercontent.”

She laughs. “What does that even mean?”

“It means thing are moving fast, so. On a personal note, I will really miss your story of about the old news rooms…”

Did I mention that Connie is “middle-aged” and the editor is thirty-something?

So naturally this hit home with me, another reminder that it was almost two years ago when I got the axe from my paper. Only the new owner wasn’t as far-thinking a jargon-driven.

Although I’ve been hearing about the major outlets that are pulling back, such as the NY Daily News, I haven’t been keeping up with the hundreds of smaller papers, so can someone tell me how accurate this scenario is? Drop a comment.

 

 

 

Paging Dr. Rivers

Apropos of an entry from last week, I am reminded of what that great philosopher and former major leaguer Mickey Rivers once said (supposedly):

Image result for mickey rivers ain't no use worrying

I hate to disagree, but there are a ton of things to worry about, especially if you have no control over the situation.

Image result for tv gogglesI mentioned the tenuous situation in the area of print journalism. That is extending into all media as new methods take over. Just look at the DVR. It’s made commercial breaks optional. You can zip through them or use the time to take a snack or bathroom break. Streaming services such as Netflix have also changed the way we watch, just as cable TV did to the networks and local stations a generation ago. And while I haven’t done the studies on any of this, I imagine podcasts are changing the radio industry. (I chuckle every time I forget that I can’t rewind while listening to live radio.)

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One of the things I worry about and over which I have no control is how future generations will get their news. Look at what happened in the 2016 elections. It’s not an opinion that Facebook was compromised by forces that sought to have a hand in the outcome and is still a concern as we approach the mid-terms. That millennials don’t read is what helped kill newspapers in the first place. We have to hope that these young people will take more of an interest larger events around them and not just in their own little self-absorbed Sex in the City or Search Party. Not to be overly fatalistic, but many of us won’t be around when things really go south so it’s up to them to become educated on the issues and step up without waiting for something tragic to transpire.

Wake up, sheeple!

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What, me worry?

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You’re damn right.

As I mentioned in the previous entry, I’ve been out of the writing for a while, but not totally out of the loop.

There are two main things to worry about, which I will just touch on briefly now and write in more depth at a future date.

The first is the continuing pattern of Trump coming out against the media: fake news, the enemy of the people, calling for violence against reporters, if not overtly. Just look at and talk like that. More on this anon.

The second is the continuing pattern of newspapers laying off staff writers. About two weeks ago, the New York Daily News dismissed half its staff. I was surprised to learn just how few :newsroom employees” they had there in the first place — just 85.

Tronc starts swinging the ax at the Daily News

Yes, we always hear about declining ad revenues because people aren’t reading print anymore (blame the young people; I don’t know if my daughter has ever read a newspaper if she didn’t have to for a school assignment). A number of newspapers and magazines went through this purging process.

It certainly was different “in the old days” in which newsrooms were always overcrowded and bustling. Just look at this list of movies about the industry, some of which were based on fact, others fictionalized. Here’s another list. And one more from IMBD.

  • All the President’s Men
  • Citizen Kane
  • Zodiac
  • State of Play
  • It Happened One Night (there were a lot of newspaper-based movies during the Depression)
  • His Girl Friday (A different take on The Front Page, which had several iterations)
  • The Paper
  • Absence of Malice
  • Ace in the Hole (a number of newspaper films have to do with phony or embellished stories to make the writer look good)
  • Deadline USA
  • The Front Page (see above)
  • Spotlight
  • While the City Sleeps
  • Call Northside-777

Of course, you know my personal situation. If you don’t here’s a brief recap: started as a freelance writer with the NJ Jewish News. Looking for something more regular, I went in for what turned out to be an interview in the spring of 2006 and wound up leaving with a reporter’s position even though I had never done that sort of work before. After a few years as a writer, I was promoted to Arts and Features Editor during which time I established my eponymous blog, Kaplan’s Korner (which was selected as Blog of the Year for 2014 by the New Jersey Press Association).

I thought working for such a niche publication that I would be immune from the scourge that was plaguing the print journalism community but alas I was too naive. Sure enough, the paper was bought out and I was considered to have a redundant position. Not even the sports angle could save me.

Looking for work in the traditional world was pointless. A lot of my colleagues, who are far more talented than I, were in the same sinking boat. All I could find was freelance offerings that paid next to nothing and offered no benefits. Which is how I came to be at Trader Joe’s (and more on that later as well).

I have a note…

If I’ve made any impression at all on my loyal readers, they might have notice my absence for the past few months. It’s okay if you didn’t; I know you all lead busy lives.

Image result for funny excuse noteI only have an excuse for the past several weeks: I was working with a gentleman from an Arab country on his memoirs. I was recommended to him by an intermediary who thought I could help brush up the English. I took the job with the understanding that this was all I would be doing but at some point, the assignment changed dramatically and I was basically re-writing the whole thing with him.

Since I had never done anything like this before, I had no basis of comparison, but I’m guessing the way we did it was not normal for a 21st century project, at least according to several writer friends. After finishing a full day at work — either a 4 a.m. to noon of 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift — I would go home for an hour or so then go to him at his Air BnB, which was thankfully not too far from my house.  There we would sit side-by-side in a stifling house for three hours, huddled over his laptop (which had had Arabic as well as English characters on the keyboard)  and argue about the minutiae of his life, IMO. Why he was doing a memoir I can’t say. I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist, but I’m guessing a good deal of this was a cathartic exercise (as is this blog entry, I suppose). Also IMO, this will never be anything but self-published, if he even decides to see it through to the end; when we finished because he had to return to his native land, there were still dozens of pages we hadn’t gone over.

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He had been working with what he called a ghostwriter, although I can’t be sure that’s what it actually was. (He frequently would look at something in the document and ask “What is this,” as if he never saw it before, or it was something I should know.

As frustrating as it was to work this way — he frequently repeated stories; fretted over changing names (and keeping them straight); and alternated between what he said really happened and what was made up — it was an educational experience. It’s amazing how ignorant I am about life in the Arab world. Oh and did I mention the very spiritual/philosophical component? Very far beyond my ken.

We’re supposed to resume when he gets home but I have no idea how that’s going to work, given how we started out. Like my mother used to say, if yes, yes. If not, not.

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Anyway, I had to give up a lot of my own reading and writing to do this. Much has happened, journalistically speaking,what with all the “fake news” and “enemy of the people” bullshit. I will be addressing that in the days and weeks to come. Hang in there.

And once again,

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And the beat goes on…

Or does it?

I was flipping through the dial recently (kids, that’s an expression that means looking at the guide channel on my Comcast) and chanced upon His Gal Friday, a 1940 remake of The Front Page, itself a remake of the 1931 flick about the newspaper industry. It’s amazing how many classic films involve with the power of the press — The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington come immediately to mind — that plays such an important role in influencing and educating the public.

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Where does that come from now?

Image result for the power of the pressNot traditional newspapers. Those who have been following this blog for awhile know the reason I started it was to whine after losing my own job as an editor/writer when my employer got bought out. Probably the main reason I haven’t been able to find something similar is that so many of my contemporaries — many of whom are far more experienced and talented than I — are in the same situation and there are only so many jobs to go around?

What about TV news? I don’t watch the local fare, pretty much relying on ABC as my go-to network. Problem is, they follow the same pattern night after night: breaking news (and isn’t it always breaking? Seems like somewhat of an oxymoron: if it’s not breaking, is it really “news?”). You got your latest Trump debacle; a police manhunt/case mishandling; and there’s always some severe weather, whether it’s a hurricane, tornado, or volcano eruption. That’s all good for about 10 minutes. Then you get teasers followed by 30-second stories with constant commercial breaks. I have gotten into the habit of DVRing the program, skipping through the intro, and deleting when the first adverts come on.

Image resultThen there are the all-news cable stations. I’m a snowflake, so I watch CNN, but even that gets old. I realize there aren’t many people who sit and watch it all day long, so I shouldn’t complain about the constant repetition, but I have to agree that it does get to be a bit much. The stories seem to be about the most salacious items (Dr. Bornstein, Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen flipping, Comey’s book, the madness of Rudy Giuliani). These come at the expense of the less dramatic but ultimately more important issues that don’t have great visuals, like tax reform and health care. Yes, you get the initial information/lip service, but that gets supplanted as soon as someone else in the administration quits or gets fired (how is Giuliani still there, by the way?)

Despite all the stories about all the lies Trump has spewed since taking office, there are still millions who don’t seem to care.

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What does he have to do? He has said he’s so popular, he could kill someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose voters. Seems there something to that. Just look at his base when they’re interviewed on programs like The Daily Show and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. And, yes, I know there’s editing involved to pick out the biggest, but at least they’re real people, not like the teenage actors hired after that Parkland shooting (#that_was_sarcasm). Trump fiddles at NRA conventions and campaign rallies while the country burns with poor international relations, poor climate, poor infrastructure, and a diminishing respect in the eyes of the world.

There are those intrepid journalists who would like to work on these stories, but it’s become more and more difficult to do that outside The New York Times and Washington Post, and a handful of other outlets, and they seem to have all the writers and reporters they need. A few enterprising types have sought to start new news ventures and I wish them well. But such opportunities are not for people like me; they’re for those just starting out, those wishing to make names for themselves who can afford not to make a living in the short run. I looked at a few jobs that paid as little as $15 for a 5,000 word article. They might be a great launch point, but they weren’t anything I could afford, what with a mortgage and bills to pay.

I really worry what people of my daughter’s generation and younger will do for their news. Here’s wishing them well. Assuming that the country is still viable after four years of the current leadership.