Post no Post

Image result for new york post headless headlineShortly after I lost my job with the NJ Jewish News, I spoke with an editor at the NY Post. His family was a client of my wife’s veterinary house call practice and had told her to have me give him a call. It was just a courtesy thing, I told her, and sure enough there were no job openings. Which was fine, because while I needed a job, preferably in print journalism, I had no desire to work for the Post. Their reputation may or may not have been great as a business model, but as a model for questionable journalistic ethics, well, that was generally accepted. All this was reconfirmed by an article in the Columbia Journalism Review by Julia Dahl, a former writer for the tabloid.

Like Dahl, I had no experience in writing for a newspaper when I took the job at NJJN. All dues respect, I didn’t even consider weekly community enterprises like this newspapers. Like Dahl, I had to learn to overcome my shyness and fears in asking people questions I consider intrusive and an imposition. My first real story involved interviewing survivors of the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11. Another tough one was about suicide. But these were nothing compared with things the Post and its kind did on a daily basis.

There were a number of similarities between Dahl and myself. From the CJR article:

I DIDN’T GROW UP dreaming of being a reporter. My mom suggested I join the high school paper my senior year because I was “good at writing.” That was true. I got easy As in English…

And while this part never happened to me, it was quite an eye-opener:

But while I credit journalism school with imbuing in me a sense of the seriousness of my chosen career, it did not prepare me for the work I encountered at the Post – or, in some ways, for my work since. It didn’t prepare me for the kinds of compromises I was going to be asked to make in the name of sales (or “clicks”) and deadlines, or for a competitive story. [my emphasis added] It didn’t prepare me for the time my editor bought me a floor seat at a Knicks game and instructed me to hold up a giant sign that said “Fire Isaiah” until security kicked me out. (They didn’t kick me out. Instead, a news photographer “made” me as participating in a stunt, and I bailed, angry and ashamed I’d folded to the pressure to go in the first place. The next day, the editor who had sent me admitted the whole thing was a bad idea.) It didn’t prepare me to chase Paul McCartney’s new girlfriend through a grocery store for a quote.  And it didn’t prepare me for the dozens, maybe hundreds, of times people I talked to told me I was scum for doing my job.

Reporters are often found on the lists of profession most-hated. According to this source,

Idealistic young journalists look back on a golden age of journalism that may not have been so grand after all. Time and again, the same greats’ names are uttered breathlessly, with hushed reverence — Murrow and Cronkite, Woodward and Bernstein. The profession that once inspired so much admiration now regularly resides at the bottom of public approval polls. Unfortunately, for many people the lines between the bottom-feeding, sensationalistic blogger who can string together a couple of sentences and the trained industry professional have become almost indistinguishable.

In fact, a lot of the jobs that came up in my employment searches were for writers to put together a lot of short stories in a little amount of time for almost no money. You’ve seen these pieces, I’m sure: lots of links, often in the form of “slide shows” that make you click and click until you get to the actual heart of the matter.

This is what it’s come to, alas…

If you don’t want to watch the whole 19-minute segment (sadly, well worth it), try this, which appears at the end. But then you;re just feeding into the whole problem of shortened attention spans. Just sayin’.

Press brief blues

Don’t worry, not going to inflict another ukulele ditty on you…yet.

The nice thing about the new job is that it gives me a fair amount of time of during the week so I can watch the White House pres briefings on CNN.

When Sean Spicer was “in charge” (as if anyone can really be said to be “in charge” of anything in the current regime), there were the obvious missteps from the beginning, such as when he out-and-out lied when stating

It went downhill from there. Credibility — not that there was ever that much to begin  with — was a non-starter.

Now we have a new minion in Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who similarly can’t offer a straight answer to the simplest of questions. To be fair, I’m paying a lot more attention now than I ever did when it comes to these things, so I can’t say that previous administrations didn’t do the same things. But it doesn’t seem likely. Her attempts at humor are embarrassing, like that one kid in your high school class who was always trying to be funny but failed miserably. In today’s conference, Sanders was asked if Trump lied when he claimed to have received congratulatory calls from the leaders of the Boy Scouts and the president of Mexico, calls which both of the supposed callers denied.

From TalkingPointsMemo.com:

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders listens to a reporters question during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, July 31, 2017. Sanders was asked about President Donald Trump's decision to remove Anthony Scaramucci from his position as communications director after 11 days and other topics. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)Asked about Trump’s claim that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto called him to praise his border policy, a claim Peña Nieto disputed on Monday, Sanders said Trump was in fact referencing “a conversation that they had had at the G20 summit.”

Trump on Monday [Aug. 1] claimed specifically that Peña Nieto “called” to give him “the ultimate compliment” on his border policy. Peña Nieto’s office on Monday said he had “not recently communicated with President Donald Trump by phone.”

Sanders also defended Trump’s claim that the Boy Scouts called him to praise a speech he made at the organization’s national jamboree.

“In terms of the Boy Scouts, multiple members of the Boy Scout leadership following his speech there that day congratulated him, praised him, and offered quite — I’m looking for the word — quite powerful compliments,” she said.

“I got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them, and they were very thankful,” Trump claimed in an interview with the Wall Street Journal (Politico published the transcript).

The Boy Scouts told Time on Tuesday that they were not aware of any call from the organization’s leadership to the White House.

“But the President specifically said that he received a phone call from the President of Mexico and the leader of the Boy Scouts,” a reporter said to Sanders.

“They were direct conversations, not phone calls,” she replied.

“So he lied. He didn’t receive that’s a phone call,” the reporter pressed.

“That’s a pretty bold accusation. The conversations took place. They just simply didn’t take place over a phone call. He had them in person,” Sanders said. “I wouldn’t say it was a lie.”

Yes, Sarah, we know you wouldn’t. But this is representative of the type of non-information we’ve come to expect from these little get-togethers.

And if Trump can’t tell the difference between talking to someone on the phone and in person, well, that’s worrisome. Of course, he could always clarify his comments (not offering an apology, heaven forfend), but you know he won’t.

Thanks for nothing, NY Times

Well, hi there. Been awhile. Hope you’re doing well. A good deal to catch up on but first, my latest rant.

I was recently in Manhattan for the 47th Annual Convention of the Society for American Baseball Research. It was nice seeing old friends and meeting new ones made via social media for the first time face-to-face. (You can read about it on my other blog, Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf.) One of the high points for me was interviewing Claire Smith, formerly of The New York Times, who will receive the Baseball Writer’s of America Association’s Spink Award this summer at the Baseball Hall of Fame. That honor is bestowed for meritorious contributions to baseball writing, so kudos, Claire. What a gracious lady. I’ll be posting that after the holiday.

Another highlight was a session about Jim Bouton, author of the seminal Ball Four, the book that changed the way we perceived our athlete heroes. Sadly, Bouton has been in poor health over the past few years. He and his wife, Dr. Paula Kurman, were going to announce the he was suffering from cerebral amyloid angiopathy at the session because they considered SABR a part of their family.

Unfortunately that sentiment was made moot when the Times published this article by Tyler Kepner — which appeared in the print edition on Sunday — on their website on Saturday, a few hours before the program. Ultimately, it was a very bittersweet moment with Bouton receiving the praise he so richly deserves for his contribution not only to sports literature, but to literary culture in general.

I’m guessing the Times did not know about the Boutons’ plans, that this wasn’t an effort to “scoop” the competition. But it does annoy nonetheless. This was news that should have come from “family.”

It’s a very poor analogy, but it’s like letting slip to the guest of honor that he’s getting a surprise party. That almost happened to me when my wife said something on the way to a Mets game at the beginning of last month. She had arranged for a bunch of friends to join us and no one said anything to make me suspicious until she and I were on the train to Citi Field and she mentioned that she had told one friend the wrong subway stop. This was someone who would have absolutely no business coming to a baseball game, so I thought it odd for a moment before focusing my intellectual energies on something else.

Hey, I wear glasses!

Image result for bulliesIs this something else I need to worry about: getting body slammed by some politician who is seeking to have the honor of serving the public? Maybe I’m not part of that public. Maybe, being a champion of the alt-right, he sees me as the enemy, either because I’m a member of the media or perhaps because I’m a member of a non-favored religion. Although, to be professionally fair about this, here’s what the JTA wrote: “There was no indication that Greg Gianforte knew or cared that Jacobs was Jewish when he allegedly threw The Guardian political reporter to the ground on Wednesday evening and broke his glasses, leading to misdemeanor assault charges. But that has not stopped online commenters from making the connection on platforms frequented by the alt-right, a loose right-wing movement that includes white nationalists and anti-Semites.”

From a story in The New York Times.

After Greg Gianforte, the Republican House candidate in Montana, was charged with assaulting a reporter for The Guardian on the eve of Thursday’s special election, public reaction ranged from rank disgust on the left to mild chastening, and amused mockery, from many on the right.

Mr. Gianforte’s behavior, at his campaign headquarters Wednesday night, was either “outrageous,” as Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House minority leader, put it, or “totally out of character” — the tempered assessment from Representative Steve Stivers, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “We all make mistakes,” he added.

The Guardian reporter, Ben Jacobs, was deemed “a pajama boy journalist” by the right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh, who said the reporter acted “insolent and disrespectful and whiny and moan-y.” The conservative host Laura Ingraham wrote on Twitter: “Did anyone get his lunch money stolen today?”

Bullies will always find a way to blame the victims. Perhaps it’s because Jacobs might look the part of the milquetoast journalist, who, unable to be a “real man” and make a contribution to whatever, has to content himself by observing from the sidelines and making snarky comments in an attempt to compensate for his perceived shortcomings. (I wonder if it would have made a difference had this incident taken place in New York of California rather than Montana.)

Image result for 99 pound weakling

At least I can take comfort in knowing that I spent the extra bucks to get the unbreakable variety of eye-wear.

Save

Public Enemy #1

If you don’t hear from me for a while, it’s because of this call I received TWICE today:

“Hi. This is the tax crime investigation unit of IRS. The reason you are receiving this prerecorded message is to notify you that IRS has issued an arrest warrant against you. Right now you and your physical property both are being monitored and it’s very important that I do hear back from you as soon as possible before we proceed further in any legal manner. My direct callback number is 918-215-9125. Again the number is 918-215-9125. Thank you.”

First of all…”Hi”? Really?

Image result for irs phone call scamsSecond of all, I so want to call that number and see what the deal is. But as I know this is bullshit, and I don’t know about their technological capabilities, I don’t want them having my number come up on caller ID. Perhaps from a payphone…

No exaggeration, the phone must have rung at least eight times today. Thank goodness for caller ID; I never answer 800 numbers and pretty much have the same attitude towards any number I don’t recognize.

I have long lamented the state of society these days in which every other advertisement on the all-news station to which I listen seems to be some way of separating the listener from his or her money. You know the type (paraphrasing here but the sentiment is wholly accurate):

  • “If you have been injured, we can get you money…”
  • “If you have been offered a settlement, we can get you more money…”
  • “We can cure your pain from fill-in-the-blank…”
  • My old favorite: “If you or someone you know has died…”
  • My new favorite: “If you’re suffering from cancer and are running out of money, we can give you up to 50 percent of your life insurance death benefits…”

One person I find particularly annoying is Patricia McCann, a “radio personality” in the New York area. According to the page on her via cbslocal.com

Patricia McCann is the personality commercial spokesperson for 1010 WINS. She has endorsed product on the station since 1992. Her delivery is uniquely personal and credible – she only advertises product she has tried and believes in – a McCann family tradition.

“The personality commercial spokesperson?” Is that what she puts on her resume? Does the “the” mean she’s the only one? The New York Times did a profile on McCann back in 2004, delving into her impressive radio pedigree and noting

For her commercials, which are occasionally broadcast in other parts of the country, she says she samples and researches every product. She has lost eight pounds on the Zone Diet, guzzled Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and stopped at an Aamco shop in New Jersey to learn that a car transmission has 700 parts. “How’s a girl to know?” she asked.

Pretty neat these days to have the same job for 25 years. Needless to say, she’s done numerous other ads since 2004, from replacement windows to painting services.

I don’t want to get into demographics here, but I’m guessing the audience for the news station I listen to is not comprised of millennials. Perhaps McCann is a soothing voice from the older listeners’ pasts.

I’m also pretty sure the reason phone calls like this come during the day is that the companies behind these schemes are counting on the recipients to be house-bound, retired, or older and, perhaps not as hep to scams.

Image result for irs phone call scams

And I’m not even going to go into all the phishing that goes on via emails. I don’t know how many times I’ve told my family to never ever click on a link or download an attachment that looks suspicious, even if it’s from someone they supposedly know well. When I was working at the newspaper and saw something that looked a bit out of place, I would always send a note back to the originator asking if they had indeed sent the email and what was in the link/attachment. At least half the time, these were bogus missives.

I was going to write about this topic anyway after the Times ran this item — “From Wells Fargo to Fyre Festival, the Scam Economy Is Entering Its Baroque Phase” — in the May 21 Sunday Magazine. But today’s phone calls gave me added motivation.

On the other hand, if I am about to be arrested by the IRS, please look for an entry about where to send the cake with the file inside.

What are YOU worried about, Charley Pierce?

I “discovered” Pierce several years ago as a panelist on the NPR quiz show Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and later as a commentator on the NPR sports show Only a Game. Of course, since then I’ve read his as a political commentator for Esquire. Here’s his latest.

Among his more eye-popping remarks:

What fresh hell greeted the sun on Friday?

There is no question in my mind that Richard Nixon is now and forever history’s yard waste. But, at the very least, he tried to bury the White House tapes. He didn’t go on CBS and do a half-hour with Walter Cronkite to explain how he’d erased the 18-and-a-half minutes. And it’s impossible to imagine the old crook’s capping off a week in which his primary descriptor was “Nixonian” by adding another count to the indictments—Witness Intimidation? Obstruction of Justice?—with a tweet like this one.

 Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 7.02.01 PM

At 8:30 a.m.? Is somebody running the country?

The more I think about it—and I’ve been thinking about it a lot—the more I think that the hard criminal core of this whole episode may have something to do with money laundering or something like it.

Sure, why not? It’s a good an explanation as any.

One of the things I will miss when I start working full time again is plopping down in front of CNN and watching “breaking news” and “developing stories.” These past few days have been especially mesmerizing as I watched the daily briefing with Spicer and Sanders, two of the oiliest personages I have ever seen trying to defend and deflect, continuing to bring up old, irrelevant issues (oh, and welcome back Kellyanne; I need to exercise my optics with eye rolls again). Of course we all know that who they work for so you give them a modicum of leeway, but after awhile, no, it’s them. They are low-level loathsome as they sneer at reporters.

Is it just me or is this whole “loyalty” situation sounding more and more like something out of The Godfather saga?

Image result for trump as the godfather

Paper or plastic?

Had an interview a couple of weeks ago with a major grocery chain which was opening a new store not too far from home.

Stop rolling your eyes. Sorry, but I do not have the cachet of some of my colleagues, who have a great network, can make a couple of calls, and find themselves a new situation in short order.

I could keep holding out for a pie in the sky job in journalism that is going the way of the dodo, or I could suck it up and just try to get some “meaningful” work. I go back and forth between being embarrassed and needing to fulfill my responsibilities as a family man. Pride goeth before the fall.

Image result for rejection

I first had a phone interview with this company — deemed one of the best in the country — that went very well. The questions were fairly cliché: “What would you do in X situation?” “Do you consider yourself a team player?” “Give me an example of x.” “If you were a tree…” (made that last one up). I gave what I thought were good (scripted) answers and sure enough, a few hours later I received another call from the company to set up an in-person meeting the following week.

I arrived at the office a bit early. I was so out of step in preparing for an interview, I left my wallet at home. Fortunately, I wasn’t asked to produce ID at the security desk, because there wasn’t one. (Also, driving without a license makes you extremely cautious.)

Image result for police interview roomAfter a brief wait in the reception area where a video of the wonderfulness of the company was playing on a monitor, I was greeted by two young women wearing company polo shirts with name tags. S and M (not their real initials) escorted me to an office that was totally devoid of character. By that I mean there were three chairs and a table. It reminded me of those interrogation rooms you see on TV crime shows. All that was missing was the two-way mirror (although I couldn’t swear there wasn’t a hidden camera someplace). In fact outside of the large front room, the rest of the facility, from what I could tell, was empty. That seemed a bit odd since the company had been in that location for several years.

Image result for bad interviewS and M — whom I would estimate to be younger than 35 — were equipped with clipboards and questionnaires, from which which they took turns, a few at a time, taking down — literally — everything I said. Perhaps one was making observational notes; after all, what would be the point of the redundancy? Even though they had my resumé, they followed the script precisely, asking me things that had absolutely nothing to do with my former employments. There was no independent thought on their parts, no reaction to anything I said that I believed might warrant a smile or even a chuckle. No curiosity. When I mentioned that I had been busy preparing for the release of my new book… nothing, like they have published authors coming in every day to work in the produce department, which I was informed was the position for which I was being considered. There were long silences as they scribbled on the papers, heads down. Awkward. Like what am I supposed to be doing for two minuts while you’re trying to catch up?

Truth be told, I became a bit bored and got a bit more expansive and dramatic in my answers, hoping to make a good impression and tell them what they wanted to hear. After about 45 minutes later, they escorted me out, saying they’d be letting me know, one way or the other, in one two weeks by phone, email, or written correspondence, again not wavering an iota from their script.

Image result for rejectionThe email came a few days ago. Thanks, but no. No explanation why not, just no. Could it be my age? Could it be they thought I would jump ship after they invested time and trouble training me to stack oranges? Wish I still had the original from which I could cut and paste.

On the one hand, I was kind of relieved. Hate to say it, but I could see some in my circle giving me the cold shoulder once I changed my collar from white to blue. They can’t understand how someone with my background and accomplishments can’t find a job. So this rejection eliminated that possibility. For now.

On the other hand, I still don’t have a job and no immediate prospects, which gets more depressing each passing day. The only thing that brings a tiny grin is that the book is still new so there are author appearances, interviews, and reviews to keep my mind engaged.

Image result for depressed in bed

 

 

 

The agony of defeat

So much for applying to ESPN for a job. According to TVNewser on Adweek.com, “ESPN is Laying Off 100 Staffers, Primarily On-Air Talent.”

Image result for no espnThen again, I wasn’t looking for an on-air deal. Nevertheless, I can’t say I’m really surprised. Compare ESPN — which falls under the ABC umbrella, hence the reference to half of the slogan of the old weekly favorite Wide World of Sports — with the single-sport MLB Network. Aide from airing games, the latter saves a lot of money by using the same material over and over, whether it’s replaying their wrap-up shows or documentaries of feature films. I’ve been trying for years to get them interested in a half-hour weekly program about baseball and pop culture. Can’t imagine it would cost that much, but they seem content to just keep doing the same-old same-old.

According to the article, “These layoffs come as parent company Disney is getting ready to unveil an ESPN subscription streaming service. ” I don’t get that. If they’re losing an audience, do they really think they can save their bacon by charging for what people aren’t using for free? What’s the subscription fee gonna be, $1 million?

I’m not their demographic. The only show I watch regularly is Pardon the Interruption, with co-hosts 68-year-old Tony Kornheiser and 58-year-old Michael Wilbon, a couple of grumpy old men. I’ve been a fan of Kornheiser since his days as a columnist at the Washington Post, going back some 30-plus years; when he’s not on, I kind of lose interest.  I hope they don’t get cut in the layoffs.

Save

Golden hour

Image result for golden hour

“Golden Hour” is a term used in film and photography to define that short amount of time when natural lighting is just perfect for what the director/photographer is looking for to set a mood. It’s usually at dusk and you will definitely know it when you see it.

For me, however, Golden Hour occurs every day, shortly after nine o’clock in the morning. Because that’s usually the time I get good news, relatively speaking, on the email account I use strictly for professional purposes. If you don’t use one, I strongly advise it to keep the tons of junk mail and spam away from the important stuff, so just give that address out to special and trusted sources.

I’m usually on the computer earlier than that to post the doings from the previous day in Jewish sports. But come 9:15 or so, I keep my fingers crossed that there will be some news about a job or something from my publisher regarding an interview or review of my new book — Hank Greenberg in 1938: Hatred and Home Runs in the Shadow of War — which just launched yesterday.

But each day just seems to bring more disappointment as Golden Hour passes and I hear no “dings” to alert me that “you’ve got mail.”

jacketIn the meantime, I’m preparing for an interview tomorrow. The good news is that I’m very familiar with the location it will be held, just down the road a couple of miles from my last job. The bad news is, I don’t know what I’ll do if I don’t get it, even though (or perhaps because) it’s unlike anything I’ve done in the past. Things are getting fairly desperate. Yesterday I submitted an audition audio for a voiceover service and was rejected because my equipment was not professional grade. I wonder if I could rent studio space… Too bad; I have been told by several people that I have a good voice for that type of thing (“In a world…”).

The interview is in mid-afternoon, so there’s still time earlier in the day for that amazing job offer to come through. Here’s keeping my fingers crossed for that Golden Hour.