Monthly Archives: September 2010

Life in the Patch

The working conditions for local editors at Patch sites raise the question of whether this model is sustainable or about whether this is the reality for journalists working in this new media age.

Basically, the job is 24/7 with so far little support in getting any kind of time off — nights, weekends, vacation days guaranteed under our AOL contract. (Some regional editors do try to help; others don’t.) This time-off issue has become a major concern among local editors. You might hear about the 70-hour work weeks. Yes, 70 hours and more. It’s a start-up and all that, and I knew it would be hard work going in. But what is becoming distressing is this sense that I can’t get a break. I’ve worked in journalism for more than 20 years as a newspaper reporter, online editor, magazine editor, and I’ve never worked so much in my life.

Patch has a policy that it the local editor’s responsibility to find our nights/weekend/vacation replacements. And we must pay that person out of our freelance budgets. I’m just three months into this job, and I’ve heard from LEs around the country that this task of finding your replacement can be daunting, because it is hard to find qualified journalists who have that sort of time to do a vacation fill-in — who who will do it for what Patch pays its freelancers. I’ve been hearing that LEs who have been around longer, up to a year, are starting to question whether the job is worth it.

And, it’s not just being a reporter, but it’s also being a city editor/assignment editor/managing editor/copy editor, and it’s handling freelance payments (and freelance payment troubleshooting), doing videos, monitoring calender and event listings, doing some of our own marketing, and even HR. It seems the business model of this organization is to add tasks, traditionally handled by others in other organizations, to the plate of the local editors. More recently, I’ve been wondering if it would be possible, time-wise, to do the kind of enterprise journalism I would like.

Maybe I should be grateful I have a job and stop griping.

Hmmm, maybe I should be glad I didn’t get the job I interviewed for. It sounds insane.

Americans Want to Live in Sweden

Americans really think that society should be considerably more equal than it is, and that attitude has not shifted appreciably during the past thirty years. Yet our political system produces policies that make America more and more unequal, predominantly by cutting taxes for the very rich. Hacker and Pierson’s point is that there has not been an ideological shift toward conservative positions in the country at large (at least not on this issue). Instead, it’s the game of politics that has changed, so policy has become more disassociated from the preferences of the people.

You’ve gotta click over to the referring link so that you can see the chart. It will make you sad, but you should still see it. Knowledge is power, right? At least I hope so…

Adventures with press releases

Even though I’m not permanently employed by any media outlet, I get a fair amount of press releases. I’ve written things, my name is out there and somehow they manage to get my e-mail address.

A press release I got today opened with this line:

Did you know that nearly 40 million Americans decided not to fill a prescription ordered by their physician in the past year because of cost?

Now, it was actually not a traditional press release and it went on to tell a very nice (local!) story that did interest me to some degree. However, like I said already, I’m not employed full-time anywhere and am currently a bit busy with freelance work.

It also occurred to me that I’ve gotten more than one story like this in my in-box before and my response is always the same, even if I don’t share it with the sender of the message. 

So I decided to share it just this once in a comical manner I hope won’t be misconstrued. I wrote back thusly:


Did you know that millions of people with good stories to tell decide not to tell them themselves because they think they need to go through a reporter or editor first? :-)

If you’d like me to expand on what I mean, let me know.


Anna Tarkov

Think it’ll work? I’ll let you know here if I get an interested response.


Keep calm and carry on… the updated version


Thanks goes to for sending this to me.

On a serious note, can we as consumers spend our way out of the recession? Does anyone know? Who wants to volunteer to wade through the Ezra Klein posts? Anyone…?

UPDATE: From the always entertaining Tony Bosco comes this additonal entrant in the re-invention of the classic poster:


I might never have been born


Image via

Today my mother reminded me that I’m lucky to be where I am. Indeed I am lucky to even be alive. If not for what happened on a day in early July of 1941, I might never have been born.

You see, that was the day my maternal grandparents left Kiev for a small town near the Ural Mountains. It is a town that was previously notable for being the birthplace of Tchaikovsky, but to my family it became important for a very different reason. It was the place that saved their lives.

The town itself had little to do with saving anyone of course. It was simply out of the way enough to avoid mass slaughter. The slaughter I speak of is to this day a black mark on the calendars of Soviet Jews. It happened on September 29, 1941. Had my grandparents stayed in Kiev for two more months, they would probably have been exterminated with the others.

My mother had not yet been born. She would not come into the world until February 20, 1951 and of course would not have come at all if her parents had perished. Her two older brothers were still very small in 1941. One had been born mere days before the family left. The war had begun for the Soviet Union in earnest in June. Kiev was already being heavily bombed and the lights had at one point gone out in the maternity ward when my grandmother was in labor.  

Many Jews were obviously not lucky enough to get out. Many believed the story that they were simply going to be taken somewhere or made to work. Many respected the German people as an intelligent and genteel nationality and could not believe that they would sanction mass killings. Many were simply too trusting.

My grandfather very nearly became one of those people. The factory he worked in was being moved to this Ural town and his department was scheduled to be transported soon. His boss called him into his office a few days before and said that he was making a list of people who would be leaving for the new factory. He felt that my grandfather, with his wife and small children, might not survive the journey or that it would be exceedingly difficult. My grandfather came home to tell his wife that perhaps the man was right and they should stay in Kiev. My grandmother, who I remember to this day as one of the strongest women I’ve ever known, was already packed. We’re going, she told him. 

Other Jews in Kiev soon realized that they should do the same, but at a certain point, my mother told me, it became too late. All the roads and all transit out of Kiev were blocked by the Nazis. The noose was tightened and escape became virtually impossible. Some Russian families hid Jews. They too would be put to death. And even their numbers were far too small. Though at war with Germany, Russians were historically not friends of the Jews by any stretch of the imagination. Still, many Gentiles died in the slaughter. 

That this happened only a few generations ago is still difficult to fathom at times. We tend to, if not forget these ugly atrocities of history, then at least not think of them often. Sometimes though… sometimes it’s good to be reminded. 

Years later, American Jews made it their sacred mission to get Soviet Jews out of the USSR. No one had been allowed to leave the Soviet Union for nearly five decades. Eventually, another summer day, June 20, 1989, saw my family ending our journey to the United States by landing in New York City and then, Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

My father, my mother, my older sister, my paternal grandmother and both of my mother’s parents stepped off the plane and into our news lives. We were finally free.

A cheating man? Obviously the wife’s fault. Who says? THE WIFE!

In the beginning I thought how could Jesse do this to me? Our children were so small. I immediately began to question myself. ‘Did I work hard enough? Had I not sacrificed enough helping his career? Was it my stretch marks? My pouchy stomach?’

Can anyone tell me what is wrong with Sandi Jackson???!!!

Whites only at magazines?

Washington Post Company CEO Donald Graham stung by Shalit’s piece, once suggested “Looking for a qualified black since 1914” as a motto for The New Republic. I don’t know the magazine’s employment record in regards to people who are not white, but I do know that the magazine field–political and otherwise–is probably the whitest field in all of journalism. And not simply American white–but privileged, coastal, Ivy League white. (I include my present employer in that assessment.)

The article that this comes from is completely not on this topic, but this stuck out for me.

If high-profile magazines are mostly for pampered Ivy Leaguers, then you could probably see how this flows down the chain of media from glossy national magazines to the humblest community newspapers.

Overall, journalism and/or writing of other kinds are often pursuits for only those that can afford it. That is a tragedy.

ChicagoNow commenters don’t want to respond. Will you?


I recently read a blog post by a ChicagoNow blogger. I wrote a lengthy comment in response. Since then, there have been other comments, but no one has specifically addressed what I wrote, not even the author of the post, Stephen Markley.

I’m not used to this. On Windy Citizen, commenters talk to each other all the time. We get into really great and interesting discussions on a semi-regular basis. Certainly, in fact especially, a long comment like mine wouldn’t have gone completely unnoticed. Maybe Dave Winer is right and no one reads lengthy comments anymore (even though I have proof that this is not so). But no matter.

Maybe a community feeling doesn’t really exist on ChicagoNow or maybe it just doesn’t exist on that particular blog. But I know it exists here.

With that in mind, here’s the original post that I commented on

And here’s my comment:

Stephen, I think this is really well written and you make excellent points, but I think that Ryan [Ryan’s comment is this one] also has a point. There has to be a happy medium in there somewhere.

As great and fun and life-affirming all your adventures are, getting married, having children, owning a home and other trappings of “adulthood” can also be a great adventure and a challenge. Also, who’s to say that it has to be a McMansion and an SUV in the suburbs? I know lots of young, married couples who are not living these lifestyles at all, even the ones with children. They are managing both the “adult” aspects of their lives while also traveling, staying informed, reading a lot, going out with friends, etc., etc. About the only difference is the number of sexual partners about whom they can share stories with their friends. But if you think the sexual lives of married people are boring, you’d be wrong.

I ask you also to consider that while you’re gleefully declaring culture wars to be “bunk,” you’re creating a new one. The new war seems to be between people like you and people like me (and other people I know around my age). Though I am 30, I got married at 25 and while we don’t have kids yet, we have purchased a home (in the dreaded suburbs of which you speak, after being in the city for 10 years) and are fairly settled and “adult” in many ways. But it doesn’t mean we’re dull and boring and it doesn’t mean our whole lives revolve around consumption. People think getting married, buying a home, etc. has to mean that you have to change the way you feel and the way you behave. It doesn’t have to be that way and it isn’t that way for many people.

Let us also not forget that the choices we’re talking about here are largely non-existent for large swaths of Americans. Only if you, your parents or your friends have the financial means can you gallivant around the country or the world without giving much though to a regular job or much less a career. Only if you were very lucky all your life to go to good schools and a decent college and actually graduate from them do you have the skills, knowledge and connections to get hired fairly easily for even part-time or temporary jobs. Only if you didn’t have children out of wedlock or in general, at a very young age, can you freely roam about without worrying about having mouths to feed. Only if you can afford it are you able to move to a different part of the country and experience a thriving metropolis and everything it offers. Only if you have a great, stable family can you remain a “non-adult” who doesn’t have to care for a younger sibling or an ailing grandparent. So let’s not pretend like all people of a certain age have the same choices to make about whether to succumb to adulthood or not.

Finally, as much as people poo-poo what we think of as adulthood, it does truly have the power to be a stabilizing force in society. People who have children are less likely to be reckless. Children also are a great way to learn patience and compassion. Home ownership creates stability as well. Having a career or even just a job benefits society in the sense that more taxes are being paid and more wealth is being created (which one can use anyway one wants to; donate it all to charity if you’d like). And nothing teaches one DAILY how to consider someone else’s needs above your own like a marriage.

Overall, I think a lot of this back and forth boils down to a pressing need to justify one’s lifestyle to others. You alluded to it by saying how many people e-mailed you that article. But while this war makes for great NYT articles or blog posts, is it really necessary? In fact, one of the hallmarks of adulthood might be learning to be self-possessed enough to NOT need any outside validation. Here’s hoping we can all at least reach that milestone, if not the others.

I look forward to your thoughts.

Image credit: Zazzle

The Good Men Project

This is what REAL social influence looks like


I’ve been on Twitter for a long time and thus, when lists were first introduced I got put on a bunch of them and continue to be added to lists every now and then. I’m currently on 237 of them. By the way, if you think that’s a lot, it isn’t. Here’s just one example of someone I personally know (someone who is a regular person i.e. not a celebrity or prominent journalist) being on a great many more of them.

The fascinating thing for me about lists is not how many you are on, but how many people follow the lists you get placed on. What I mean is, when someone makes a Twitter list, if it is public, that list can be viewed by other Twitter users. Subsequently, other people can follow this pre-made list even though they weren’t the ones who put it together in the first place. The reasons a person might do that are numerous, but one of the reasons is surely that you trust the judgment of the original list compiler. Thus, you trust that this person has truly made a good list and that everyone is on it for a good reason. You might also trust that they will continue to add and subtract from this list as necessary. 

I actually never thought much about how many people follow others’ lists until I got put on one that is followed by a lot of people. Once that happened, I started to think about it more.

I started out by looking at the lists I was on. I don’t have time to view all 237, but I looked at the 50-60 most recent ones. Most of the lists are followed by 10 or fewer people. Other than this one very special list that I’m going to get to eventually, the largest numbers I saw where in the 20s or 30s. Here’s one example of a list I am on that 29 others follow. Here’s one with 39 followers. So we see that most lists aren’t capturing the attention of a huge multitude. What would it take for a list to have 100 followers? 500? 700?

Apparently what it takes is for the list-maker to be extremely influential in their niche. It also doesn’t hurt if that extremely influential list-maker publicizes the creation of the list ahead of time and asks for nominations of people to be put on it. Then it doesn’t hurt if this list-maker announces the final formation of the list, of course not precluding adding additional people to it as the need arises.

That’s just what happened when Jay Rosen created his list of young, smart newsies. Remember when I said that 20s and 30s were high numbers of followers for lists I was on other than this very special one? How many followers do you suppose this list has? If you guessed 857 and counting, you’d be right. And this isn’t even the most followed of Jay’s lists. Here’s one with 1,728 followers.

Jay is not alone in this. Here’s a list by Leo Laporte, an extremely influential Silicon Valley guy, which is followed by 722 people. Here’s a list put together by a New York Times staffer of breaking news feeds which is followed by 637 people. You might say that this happens because the people who create these lists are followed by many people on Twitter in general, but I don’t think that’s the case. For instance, the NYT staffer who put together the list I just mentioned is Patrick LaForge who has 9,232 followers. While that is certainly a high number, it’s not exactly ridiculous. We also see that influentials with large followings can make lists that are followed by a somewhat small numbers. Here’s a list made by Dave Winer who has 32,854 current followers. Only 68 people follow this list.

So what makes a list such that it is followed by a large group? Whatever that magic combination of factors is, having such lists to one’s name equals true social influence.

Image credit: social sim