Thursday, November 8, 2012

Default Assignment in Case You Don't Have Any Other Ideas

Comment on just one of these dilemmas

You are interviewing
·        * The longest surviving heart transplant patient in the U.S. When talking about the disability pay he receives, he mentions he does a little bookkeeping on the side the income from which he does not report.
·        * A beloved radio weatherman who is about to retire and who mentions in passing he has a
Down’s Syndrome child and immediately says, “Don’t print that.”
·        * The family of a teenager who has just died after a long battle cancer whose mother says sorrowfully, “Noah died a virgin, and it made him so sad.”
·        * A sex researcher who has done an extremely popular book on various sexual matters who says – when you jokingly ask her who should appear in the movie version – that it should be you.
·         *A  family living at a restaurant/motel in the middle of the Nevada desert, the eight-year-old daughter of which tells you when her parents aren’t around that on weekends dad likes to get drunk and blow up the wrecked cars out in back of  their isolated business.
·       *  An interracial couple – she is Filipino and he is African-American – who are having a June wedding. At the wedding reception, his father tells you he is disappointed his son is marrying “outside the race.”
·        * A rather famous movie star who has just written a rather New Ageish book in which she writes that whatever happens to people is their own fault. You consider asking her about the six million Jews lost in the Holocaust.
·        * A nun as part of a story about a neighborhood that is undergoing a rash of burglaries. One of the buildings in the neighborhood is a convent for nuns who work in the community as teachers and social workers. After talking about precautions any sensible homeowner should take, she pauses and then explains that she was raped some years ago and makes some suggestions about how women might avoid situations in which that might occur.
·         *Construction workers on a downtown highrise who explain in some detail how they like to “party hearty,” with considerable detail about how much alcohol this requires many nights after work.
What do you do?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

How much do you really miss the 'good old days' of journalism?

Office of the Yukon Sun, the northernmost British newspaper in the British Empire, Dawson, Yukon, early 20th century

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling - Which I Adopt, Adapt and Improve

The 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar On Twitter, Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats has compiled nuggets of narrative wisdom she's received working for the animation studio over the years. It's some sage stuff, although there's nothing here about defending yourself from your childhood toys when they inevitably come to life with murder in their hearts.

 A truly glaring omission. #1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes. (This is a Franklin twist: Failure can be reframed into success)

#2: You gotta keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different. (If you have a knack for "fine writing" and the world recognizes you have that knack, you can wander off into stylistic pyrotechnics. That can make your stories superficial, though entertaining.)

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about til you're at the end of it. Now rewrite. (The important word here: rewrite. There is no shame in narrative clarity. No matter what modern poetry suggests, obscurantism is not wisdom.)

 #4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___. (Works for me.)

 #5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free. (Combine characters? Noooooo. These hints, after all, are about fiction. The rest of it. Oftentimes, yes. Not in the New Yorker, where digression seems to be a sign of intellectual honesty and courage in the face of contradiction. But a lot of the time. Yes.)

 #6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal? (See if life has ever thrown the polar opposite at them. It's a good question to ask. I can imagine a story based on how a person prepares for the challenge they think will come but isn't here yet.)

 #7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front. (I did this so seldom. It's such a very good idea for profiles. You may change your mind after you've gotten to that end, but it will focus your writing and move the process of deciding exactly that the story is about along more quickly.)

 #8: Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time. (The very definition of most journalism.)

 #9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up. (Nope. Can't figure out a non-fiction equivalent for that.)

 #10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it. (Yep.)

 #11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone. (Yep. Yep. Yep. Daydreaming ain't writing. Also, writing it down immediately makes clear how patchy your inspiration may have been.)

 #12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself. (No, don't discount it but consider other alternatives when it comes to "discovering" your profile subject. Sometimes first impressions are correct.)

 #13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience. (Draw your subject out. A loudmouth profile topic is a gift, though then you must challenge and push back. A truly unresponsive subject, like an undersized fish, should be tossed back. Never think: this person or nothing.)

 #14: Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it. (Yep. I urge you to find a person who in some way connects with your passions. And then you are faced with the task of reporting in an honest and balanced way and NOT propagandizing.)

 #15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations. (Ask. Share your own feelings and experiences. Is it manipulative? It can be. Does it work. Yes, it does.)

 #16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against. (You are looking for a subject against whom the odds have been stacked. But, of course, even the rich and beautiful have problems, or think they do.)

 #17: No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on - it'll come back around to be useful later. (I called it my boneyard, a collection of every story that didn't make it, every phrase or flourish that I or some editor cut.)

 #18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining. (I think she means at some point, even if you have time for infinite polish, you need to let it go. If you are writing on deadline for money, someone else makes that decision for you.)

 #19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating. (Except in real life. Franklin wants problems solved through the character's epiphany and subsequent action. But if it happens, it happens. But then your subject may have to deal with the fact an accident solved the problem and that awareness might be an epiphany? The power of the way you frame things is great.)

 #20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d'you rearrange them into what you DO like? (Works great for long profiles. Jump in and be aware of your reactions word by word.)

 #21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can't just write ‘cool'. What would make YOU act that way? (Ah, this is a profound one. Let me tease one idea out of this. In our class, at least, your interests will determine whom you seek as a subject. How do you deal with it so you can be fair? I want you always to be fair, no matter how slippery the term. And if you are satisfied that you are a journalist and not an advocate - not only an advocate? - do you need to communicate your world view to the reader explicitly, or do you think the reader will be sharp enough to figure that out on his/her own? Let's get USFish here. What is the moral and/or ethical way of dealing with the fact you have values that are going to shape your story?)

 #22: What's the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there. (Are we talking outline? I think we are.)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Storytelling for political economists

Here's some solid feature-writing from Max Nisen, a recent Pomona College graduate with a degree in economics.  Drawing upon a recently published report for his primary source, he explains how free-markets lead to democratization, and back again.

Political economy is a the term for studying production, buying, and selling, and their relations with law, custom, and government, as well as with the distribution of national income and wealth. Political economy originated in moral philosophy and is a foundation for any serious contemporary economic journalism.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Over-the-top Dishes from SF Eateries

The link to the whole story
Glutton_chicken__web_fixChicken and waffles has fast become an American standard, but chicken and cupcakes? Turns out it’s equally fantastic and even more sinful. AtAmerican Cupcake, the Red Velvet Fried Chicken ($16) gets a luxurious bath in red velvet cake batter and then coated in red velvet breading before it’s tossed into the fryer to crackle away. The result is the epitome of the best food the Deep South has to offer. The chicken is juicy and perfect, its crispy coating as light as air and gently chocolaty. Served on a pillow of cream cheese mashed potatoes and garnished with a crunchy cocoa slaw. Because why not?
Glutton_totchos_web2The tortilla chip is the least important, least exciting part of a chip-based snack – a mere conduit for salsas, dips, melted cheeses. Replacing them with a tastier, more substantial item as a foundation for something like nachos is a no-brainer for carb whores and flavor freaks. Enter the tater tot! Specifically, the Tot-chos ($7.95) at Bullitt. This is fat kid slumber party food: crispy tots drizzled with creamy cheese sauce, sour cream, and guacamole. It all ends up swirled together like a delectable Tex-Mex fondue. A confetti of diced black olives, onions, tomatoes, and jalapeños adds color and a little bit of crunch. The accompanying pile of napkins adds dignity.
Barely edging out Justin Bieber as my favorite Canadian export? Poutine. If poutine was my boyfriend, I’d never let it go. Instead, I’d put it in my mouth all day long. You would too, hater. Fries buried under puddles of gravy, piled with squeaky cheese curds? Come on. Yeah ya would. AtCitizen’s Band, the Poutine ($6) is a perfect marriage of Canadian specialty and American gluttony. Golden fries having a polyamorous romp with homemade curds, rich mushroom gravy, and pork belly that crackles between your lips. Oinkaroo.
Glutton_gamja_web2_fixCompleting the potato-based trifecta of temptation is the Korean-American glory that is the Gamja Fries ($6) from Namu. The food truck cranks out some seriously good fusion fare, and these fries are like manna from hangover heaven. Hand-cut potatoes loaded with tender diced short ribs (you can choose chicken, but why would you?), spicy kimchi relish, green onions, and gochujang, a jammy condiment made with red chili and fermented soy. By the time you get to the bottom of the cardboard bowl, your tongue is on fire and your heart is singing. Or screaming for mercy. Whatever.
Some people would say that the cheeseburger-donut combo is on the verge of culinary cliché. To those people, I would say a fucking cheeseburger served in between two fucking donuts is masterful and excruciatingly delicious. So tasty that it’s painful to your tongue buds, your bloodstream, and to your nutritionist. The Ringmaster ($11.75) at Straw is a gorgeously spiced burger smothered in cheese and snuggled up between two fluffy glazed donuts. But these aren’t your typical insulin-busters – the donuts are light and bready, only barely kissed with a sugar glaze. They translate more as donut-shaped burger buns. Maybe that’s what they actually are. I would have asked but I was too busy tongue-banging my lunch.
Glutton_pie_webPie and ice cream is the classic American after-dinner combo. But aren’t forks such a pain in the ass? So much easier if buttery crust and fruit fillings can just be blended into a cold and creamy state, then consumed with a straw. At Chile Pies & Ice Cream, you can customize your own Pie Shake ($8). That’s pie blended into a milkshake. Cue the choir of chubby angels. Pick a pie, pick a flavor of Three Twins ice cream, and pick your jaw up off the floor when you realize that you have to suck it all up with a triple-wide straw. Flavors vary: The day I went, my pie choices included apricot berry, lemon buttermilk, banana cream, green chili apple, and chocolate peanut butter. I went with the apricot berry, blended with chocolate ice cream. And I nearly died of happiness. And from overworked cheek muscles. Sucky sucky.
Glutton_diyGorge yourself into oblivion at Sweet Maple (2101 Sutter St.), American Cupcake (1919 Union St.), Bullitt (2209 Polk St.), Citizen’s Band (1198 Folsom St.), Namu Food Truck (Ferry Building on Thursdays 10 a.m.–2 p.m. and Saturdays 8 a.m.–2 p.m.; Fort Mason on Fridays 5 p.m.–10 p.m.), Straw (203 Octavia Blvd.), or Chile Pies & Ice Cream (601 Baker St.). Antacid not included.

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Matty J

Sep 5, 2012, 6:08pm
I'm proud(?) so say I've tried three things on this list, and they were all as delicious as you describe.
BTW, tortilla chips are more of a substrate than a conduit.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hi everyone -


I was very impressed by this piece, a very powerful kind of you-are-there journalism. 

"After completing two tours of duty as a Marine combat correspondent in Iraq, I traveled to Afghanistan as a civilian war correspondent in April 2012. The following story features a spur-of-the-moment mission that saw one Marine injured and more than 20 Taliban fighters killed."
 Here's the storyHere are the photographs 

Michael Edward Lenert
+1 646.245.6200

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A USF J grad is a key player. A USF prof is an original investor.

We have reached out to Chloe Schildhause. Please come talk to our class, we said.


Decades is a magazine covering food, fashion, gore and intellectualism. Decades is for the reader who enjoys watching reruns of Welcome Back Kotter and has a morbid curiosity.  For those who enjoy in-depth reported features and appreciates fashion and the arts. For those who love to cook lavish meals while donning Rick Owens and Yohji Yamamoto (or fashioning their own versions of haute couture by piling on every piece of black clothing they can find in their closet. Fire hazard be damned). And for those who have a fascination with the beautiful, bizarre and unsightly.
Our first issue is The Beet Stain Issue, which we will distribute at independent bookshops throughout San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. There are three main features: the history of Disco in New York, the story of a modern-day Witch, and an article on the science and adult use of breast milk.
We also publish shorter features, travel notes, poetry, art and photos. The BS Issue will include an essay on why cupcakes are obscene, an interview and a recipe from San Francisco chef Brandon Jew, an illustrated tool-kit guide to philosophy, a chola’s guide to San Francisco, a photo collage of life in Israel, and photographer Olivia Coffey’s portraits of a hoarder. 
Issue one will also features two fashion editorials. One: A Beet Stain fashion spread, in which a glamorous woman is in her kitchen, devouring beets in agony.  The image embodies the Decades message by blending a beautiful woman in a gorgeous outfit, with the delicious root vegetable of beets. The beets take a morbid turn when they are squeezed and falling out of her mouth as if it were human flesh. Two: A goth inspired shoot staring artist Quintessa Matragna.
All together Decades is 60 pages of wonderful writing, photography, and art, printed on thick high quality newsprint. A treasure to hold and present on your coffee table.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Playing with audio slideshow

We can do this kind of thing using several different kinds of software. This is photostory - simple, stupid and easy. It would probably be more effective to lose the music, put a little spoken word under the pictures and also lose the Ken Burns motion. But it's fun to play.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Wrestling with Jon Franklin Again

The SFChron Hups (Higher Ups) have given editorial writer Caille Milner a Saturday column, which I have only just noticed. Today she shows some disrespect for the arch and precious David Foster Wallace, saying the new DFW bio presents the late author as one who bears:

... a striking resemblance to that horrible guy who was in your college creative writing class - you know the one I'm talking about - the one who never stopped interrupting the teacher and one-upping his classmates; the one who wanted to be a writer because it was good for his ego but who held nothing but contempt for his readers.

"Fiction for me is a conversation between me and something that May Not Be Named - God, the Cosmos, the Unified Field, my own psychoanalytic cathexes, Roqoq'oqu, whomever," Wallace once wrote in a letter to the writer Jonathan Franzen. "I do not feel even the hint of an obligation to an entity called READER."

Remember that guy? I choose the comparison for a reason - Wallace spent his entire life in academia, and one of the biggest problems with literary fiction is that it's now written overwhelmingly by writers who live in academia and write only for other people who are there, too.

People who slave away at soul-crushing jobs, only to come home and slave away at running a household, do not want to spend their precious free moments slogging through 1,200-page novels whose chief purpose is to demonstrate the author's superb understanding of the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

These readers want novels with people, and yes, plots, and it is in no way unchallenging or demeaning for authors to offer these things. I wouldn't have gotten through childhood or adolescence - and I sure won't be getting through adulthood - without novels, and I know there are many others who feel the same way.

She's talking about fiction, but without too great a stretch we can imagine a connection between her critique of novelists who are too smart for the bourgeois masses and Jon Franklin's notion of finding a silver sliver in the most depressing real-life events and turning it into a tale.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Doc Lenert is in the House

I welcome you, Dr. Edward Lenert, Esq., as a contributor to this blog. Your expertise in media law, your advocacy for entrepreneurial journalism in an uncertain time, your advocacy for the best of new and old when it comes to shaping and delivering that thing called news - if it weren't for the Rule of Three, I'd go on.

But you get the point.