Folks are always complaining about the weather…

In case you didn’t hear about it, the New York-New Jersey area was hit by an unexpected snowstorm on Thursday. Instead of the one-to-three inches predicted, we got — at least in my area — three-to-six. I was fortunate to already be home from work before the snows came, but my wife and daughter — along with thousands of others — not so much.

My wife, along with her mother and a cousin who was visiting from California, had traveled to Long Island for a mini-family reunion. They left there at 4 p.m. and didn’t get back until 11. Normally that’s a ninety-minute drive. My daughter lives in Manhattan and was coming for the weekend. Normally she would take a bus, but the Port Authority was overrun with commuters who had literally no place to go: buses weren’t running and there was no more room in the terminal.

Crowding at the Port Authority Bus Terminal forced closures on the second and third levels. (Photo courtesy Eric Espino)

It was a helpless feeling, sitting in the comfort of my living room, wondering how my family was faring, knowing there was really nothing I could do except stay in touch for updates. At 9, I headed up to bed since I had to get up at 2:30 a.m. to get to work for 4, allowing for some extra time to shovel and dig out the car. I woke up around 10:30 and heard my daughter downstairs. She had managed to get a train and make her way home from the station. My wife didn’t arrive for another half-hour or so, having been “gently” rear-ended (with no damage to person or vehicle) along the way.

Needless to say, the storm was the topic of much chatter at work. One of my colleagues almost ran out of gas on his drive, avoiding the fate of many who were stranded.

The reason for bringing all this up is not to complain (too late) about the storm, but to complain about the coverage of the storm, ignoring the fact that weatherpeople and sportscaster are probably the only two professions where you can be wrong half the time and still keep your job.

Andrew Silow-Carroll, my former editor at the New Jersey Jewish News included this in a piece on his experiences walking over the George Washington Bridge, rather than stand around and wait for mass transit to restart operations:

If you want to see the hollowing out of local journalism, take a look at my Northern New Jersey daily. They should have owned this story, with constant updates, blanket coverage, hard questions for the mayors and administrators who control the plows, the salt spreaders and the transportation. Instead, I got a measly story or two with some erroneous information. (Buses were not delayed by “as much as a half hour.” That is known locally as a typical day.) The local TV news wasn’t much better. Newsrooms have been hollowed out by layoffs and downsizing (losing 45 percent of their employees between 2008 and 2017).  If they can’t throw resources at a region-wide event like the storm, you can only imagine what other kinds of stories — about local corruption, environmental threats, corporate malfeasance — aren’t being covered.

Look, I know there’s really nothing you can do in a situation like this. Just try to be better prepared for the next time.

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Here’s another fine mess…

But I digress…

Haven’t been writing for a while, as you probably have noticed. (At least I hope you’ve noticed.) Mainly because I wouldn’t know where to start and another that I wouldn’t know when to finish. There’s a line from Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln in which he has the Great Emancipator, after a lengthy story, telling one of his famous stories: “As the preacher said, ‘I could write shorter sermons, but once I start, I get too lazy to stop.'”

These past several weeks have almost driven me mad. I come home from work and switch on CNN to find out what stupid/immoral/illegal/racist thing did our president do today?

Maybe that’s my biggest mistake. I spend (waste?) so much time wringing my hands and  sharing thoughts with the like-minded on social media. And stress-eating.

There’s one gentleman who writes daily thoughtful pieces on Facebook. I’ve asked him what the point of it is. After all, we’re pretty much preaching to the choir here. I would say the majority of our friends agree with our viewpoints. What is the good of all these posts? Nothing changes at all.

Much of what concerns me is the way our president treats the press. I don’t want to get into any psychological interpretations over the whys of his actions (he didn’t get enough love from his family and is looking for approval, etc.). It’s enough that he treats journalists like Jim Acosta and April Ryan with tremendous disrespect for doing their job, i.e., they point out his lies and don’t ask softball questions or fawningly praise him, which — by the way — should be just as unprofessional.

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I even took the unorthodox step of urging my colleagues to vote on our social media closed group page.

Never planned on being “that guy.” I was never even interested in politics before this fiasco. But to see some of the postings from Trump supporters is mind-boggling. Very few offer cogent arguments. Rather they insult and cajole and are generally in lock-step (goose-step?) with their hero.

A lot is open to interpretation. Trump held that infamous “tantrum conference,” as Stephen Colbert called, it in which he crowed about what a great election day the GOP enjoyed. When it was pointed out that the Democrats took the House, he had to point out that the Dems lost a lot of seats when Obama was president. Really? You want to play that game? What I did was bad (which he’d never say), but what Obama did was worse?

I wish I could stop; it’s like picking at a scab. But as I would say to the president: you want the press to treat you better? Stop doing stupid/mean/racist/immoral/illegal shit. Then I could get my life back.

 

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.

 

“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.

Image result for village voice, bob dylan

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.

Image result for trump arms crossedImage result for trump arms crossedImage result for trump arms crossed

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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?

Image result for what me worry?

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).