I don’t know how clever it actually is, but someone planted a gallery-type card on some street furniture in Chelsea. It’s an old steam vent (I think).
He over-valued. Typical.
I don’t know how clever it actually is, but someone planted a gallery-type card on some street furniture in Chelsea. It’s an old steam vent (I think).
He over-valued. Typical.
Two weeks ago, a knucklehead muckety-muck at Forbes announced to TechCrunch that it was going to cut back paying journalists. It no longer wants to engage seasoned professionals to research and craft expensive articles. Instead, it planned to get its stories from a thousand unpaid bloggers. It’s going crowdsourced, the empty suit said, and “Forbes editors will increasingly become curators of talent.”
If Forbes has become so brazenly lazy as to codify its impotence into a mission statement, I can no longer assert that journalism is dying. It died when writers agreed, with no mass objection, to give their work away like that.
You’d expect a journalist to defend a journalist’s paycheck. But my biggest fears aren’t only about the future of quality work. Stories that are properly funded are properly done, yes, and career journalists have the contacts and access that trust creates. So obviously, that’s certainly a different debate worth having.
No, right now, my biggest objection is about quality of life for any fool who agrees to this arrangement.
I know of no researcher can sustain him or herself on a policy of “give it away for free.” I know dozens of young writers who are blogging at their own expense and losing money, or working for free or for too little. Most of them think that will get them noticed. Most of them will give up before it does.
People sometimes ask me how they can be a travel writer, and I used to suggest they work for free a few times to get some clips together. That advice is probably too dangerous now that publications like Forbes want to brutally rape the eagerness of starter writers.
The ugly truth is that when you work for free to help a publication inflate the public impression of its output and grab emptily at clicks, you won’t find the kind of editor oversight for you to learn much. You’re the equivalent of a firewoood chopper, not a reporting apprentice, and your efforts will be quickly thrown on the fire and burned up for an hour’s worth of fuel.
Each “clip,” or a sample of writing, is also devalued. It used to be that the publication that published you was a mark of the quality of your research and reliability. Now that Forbes, and other outlets, simply demand quick words to toss into the maw of their daily publication furnace, the imprimatur of their name means next to nothing. When you participate in “crowdsourcing,” the by-product is that you become indistinguishable from the crowd.
This new formula for payment cannot be sustained, and although many fledgling writers think they’re wedging their foot in the door of the career of their dreams, in fact, they’re the co-authors of a new literary underclass that they won’t be able to escape.
Over the past decade, the media has fragmented into hundreds of tiny shards. Where a city might have once had five or six major news outlets, now there are dozens, even hundreds. The size of the pie hasn’t increased, but market share has plummeted, and with it, resources.
So now Forbes wants to get away with paying contributors nothing or nearly nothing, and it wants to be applauded for justifying it with a fancy word like “curators,” as if this laxness somehow makes it cutting-edge.
Companies refuse to admit the game has changed. They cling to their glory days, and they want to appear to operate with the same output and esteem even though their accounts are harshly diminished. Harlan Ellison recently appeared in a video rant that chastises companies for trying to bleed artists of every level and stripe.
Ellison’s explosion is warranted, but theatrics aside, blaming companies is only half helpful. We are equally guilty because we indulge this charade. Backed into a corner by the recession and by the realities of a shattered media system, we accept nothing or nearly nothing for our hard work. The pillars of Versailles are rotting but we donate cans of gold paint to cover then up and make it look like we still dwell in an intact palace.
“Curators of talent”?
I’ll say. Increasingly, talent can only be found in museums.
Today, after countless satellite interviews, I finally lost my studio interview cherry to Kerri-Lee Halkett, a bright and friendly anchor at Fox Philly (Fox 29) in Philadelphia. I found it hard to be nervous after having walked the plank with an IFB in my ear so many times. It was also a treat to actually be able to see the face of the woman who interviews me almost every week.
Kerri-Lee told me afterward that she’s starting to get used to how we play together when we do our interviews. It was odd to hear that. It’s usually the kind of thing I’ve said to other people. I have always meant it, but it was still odd to hear.
I’m also profoundly jealous of Kerri-Lee, because she gets a TelePrompTer — although I was reading along as she worked on Real News before our segment, and I noticed she tends to flesh out the script with impromptu additions that prove she actually follows and understands the news. That kind of versatility and quick-draw intelligence is what you want in an anchor.
It helps flesh things out when, oh, website editors show up during your hard newscast and start yammering about simplifying your kitchen by using cast iron skillets like your grandma did.
Anyway, it was fun. Thinking back on the time I was sweating cast iron bullets before my very first TV appearance, on CNN many years ago, I never thought I would ever be able to say that. And meeting my interviewer will make it much more fun the next time we speak via satellite. For both of us, I imagine.
I just got back from the grand opening events of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure theme park. I covered it for so many outlets that I don’t feel like typing those words together ever again. I wrote it up or shot it for Aol, WalletPop.com, Gadling.com, and The New York Post.
I also tweeted the daylights out of it. I’m in no mood to keep writing about it, so instead, I thought it would be fun to show you all the Twitter messages I sent about it, from the moment I left home to the moment I got back, minus stuff that had nothing to do with my trip to Orlando. Turns out it’s quite an epic.
When you see a link, try it — it goes to a photo I tweeted on the spot (six of them are included here) or even a little video I shot. I didn’t hyperlink them or this page would be a mess, so just cut and paste.
Here’s what I said about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (or #WWoHP in Twitter-tagese).
I’m at the grand opening week of the new Harry Potter land at Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando. Daniel Radcliffe is here somewhere! I’ll see him tomorrow. And ride the ride. And more. It’s one big party-cum-reds release in 97-degree humid heat. Even the fake snow on Hogsmeade village looks like it could melt.
Here’s my press access badge, which gets me into the Universal parks and lets me cut lines. The lanyard reads “I must not tell lies.” The media relations department is being funny.
Tonight, there’s a private party in the Wizarding World. They shut it down for everyone but us. Do cocktails and rides mix? Let’s find out!
If you’ve ever wondered what TV’s talking heads are looking at during satellite interviews, this is it. This is Fix News in New York City.
I get an earpiece and I stare at the black glass plate under the bright light. I can see the time and myself (and at this hour, another monitor showing Glenn Beck’s show, on air nearby), but I dare not look away from the blank glass, or I’ll come across as nervous and shifty. There is never a script or a prompter.
I used to assume that many Western Europeans understood English better than Americans do. I suppose that is still true (it’s definitely true for American current events), but I spotted the dreaded plural apostrophe everywhere, including at this menu in Berlin’s Sony Center.
Every city has its Penn Station. Every modern city, at some point, eats its young and then regrets the decision. New York wrecked its cathedral to rail travel. London knocked down Euston Station and tossed it into the swamps. And Berlin, ironically, had its Wall.
Yesterday in Berlin, I asked a wide-eyed German working on a laptop if the seat opposite him at the Windows cafe was free. That began a conversation about East Germany.
Ronald was born on what we consider the other side of the Wall, and he was 20 when the wall came down. (I should have asked him about the party.) Now he’s working on his Ph.D in political science, essentially writing about whether one of the vestigial parties from the old system now serves as a de facto spoiler for the new one, gaining no real power but ensuring that the country is held in check.
It was good timing. I had in my hand a guide book (Time Out, if you want to know), and I was preparing to take a long walking tour of the path of the Berlin Wall.
The Wall is indeed very, very gone. There’s a short, cleaned-up, as-it-looked fragment around Bernauer Strasse. I also found few broken panels overgrown with trees at a forgotten junction where a cemetery wall met an S-Bahn viaduct. Near a quiet canal feeding to the Spree, there’s an old guard tower in the forecourt of a new apartment building. A sign on the door says you can go inside, but it was locked. A third minor bit was in another cemetery, appearing more like a whitewashed sculpture.
Cyclists rode through a gap in it. A couple sunbathed in the grass next to it while, a few feet away, a man repainted the letters on a memorial stone for someone who had died in the 1920s. For nearly 30 years, the Wall ran right over his remains.
The Berlin Wall is so absent, in fact, that I spent the better part of the afternoon trying to wrap my head around where it had been and what it must have felt like. On Bernauer Strasse, there was a swath of unbuilt land that I quickly came to realize was not actually unbuilt, but had been stripped of civilization to make way for the militarized zone wrapping around West Berlin.
Overnight, the Wall’s membrane was created. The buildings and shops along the street were razed except for the first floor of their facades, and for a while, these bricked-up stumps formed part of the Wall, before a better design was made permanent. Eventually, even those reminders of the old neighborhoods were eliminated in favor of a no-man’s-land of dead space.
Today, that dead space looks like a strip of empty lots. They have not been rebuilt upon. In one of history’s wistful ironies, the Wall was mostly crunched up for road fill, just as the Nazis had done with the headstones from Jewish cemeteries.
Without romance, there is no way to conceive of Berlin as it was. Imagination is required to reconstruct the great stone buildings that were first bombed, then burned, then left to crumble, then completely ripped out by the Communists in their vain efforts to reshape the world into something utilitarian. Within about 25 years, the city became something foreign to itself, and something no longtime Berliner — those who survived — would have recognized, having woken from a long sleep and gone outside.
The Berlin Wall wasn’t a single wall, you see. It was kind of two, one inside the other, with a marrow of barbed wire and other obstacles to prevent easy penetration by anyone foolish enough to try to slip through. Yet in Berlin, when occasional markers on the ground indicate the location of the Wall, what they really mean was the path of the outermost one, the one that East Germany put up in order to hem the West Germans in and make life difficult for them.
Berlin has a reputation as one of the world’s most liberal cities. An arch-conservative might even describe it as debauched. Having seen the path of the Wall, I can begin to understand how this abandon integrated into the DNA of its citizens. Imagine growing up with such a powerful sense of control and with the ever-present threat of violence and deprivation.
You can go here but not there. Do this and you will get shot. You may not see what lies at the base of that building whose rooftop you see every day. There are voices and noises coming from over there, but you may not know who they belong to, or what is happening to them, even if you might be related to them. Living with that kind of furniture in your life will almost certain create a kickback, and in Berlin’s case, it was the pursuit of ultimate freedom and pleasure, an impulse that perhaps had its seeds during the Wiemar Republic days.
It happens. When the Black Plague happened in the 14th Century, most Europeans died. Imagine how the survivors must have felt, having seen everything they knew upended and those they loved dispatched without rhyme to gruesome deaths. When the storm passed, they partied like there was no tomorrow, because to them, there might as well not be. Life itself had revealed itself as a passing nightmare. Why not dance and sing and screw and live for today? Things got so rowdy, the church found it necessary to tighten its control over the people to get them to pay their indulgences and keep the economic order. It was the orgasmic, post-apocalyptic release after the Black Plague that gave the church much of the power it holds onto today.
It was the same with the Berlin Wall, and who can say how long its effects will last. New York City is one of America’s most permissive and diverse cities, while Boston is one of its most straight-ahead and starchy. I believe this can be directly traced back to the fact that the Dutch, a society that values diversity, formed the nucleus of New York, while Boston was English from the start. The Dutch only held New York for a lifetime, but that’s all it took. So Berlin’s chilly sensuousness may last for centuries, even if the Wall itself is now only a tale.
“There’s hardly anything left of the Wall,” Ronald had said with regret. Kids today, he lamented, barely understood what happened in those times. He blamed parents and the schools.
I understood. I myself could barely re-assemble the political jigsaw that caused it to happen and caused the Wall to go up and then to fall, and now, placing it on the earth as I walked in its former shadow, I had trouble imagining its very existence, too.
There’s an information center, where the photos taken in the 1980s (New Wave graffiti, bleary Communist palette, constant threat of rain in the sky) brought back high school memories of my geopolitical anxieties. Atop the center is an observation tower overlooking a few blocks of an approximation of what the layout of the guard zone was like. It’s scattered with memorials to people who died trying to escape and to the unmarked graves the Communists plowed the wall over, and includes a few patches where the earth below the zone revealed foundations of the bustling city blocks that once towered there.
But the swatch isn’t much larger than a supermarket might be. History has been quarantined to the small patch over Bergstrasse, where the Wall was begun. There are signs promising expansion next year, but for the most part, there is now a wall around the Wall.
The minute the Wall was no longer needed, it was ripped out the way stitches are discarded after surgery has healed.
Slabs were shipped here and there (some are at the Newseum in Washington) and a few were set up in Potzdamer Platz as a minor, missable tourist attraction. That area was once one of the city’s great intersections, but by the time the Wall went up, it was a field. Now it’s a great intersection again, remade in metal and glass, with a few graffiti-splashed concrete panels stuck incongruously in the middle. A 20-year-old who wasn’t alive in 1989 would probably think it’s some kind of urban art installation. If they leaned them over, they could skate on them.
That wasn’t to mean Ronald loved the Wall and what it stood for. But having it there, even in fragments, would perhaps have been better for the Germans.
I agree with Ronald about how sad it is the Wall wasn’t left at least in patches, or running through yards, but I understand why it was so quickly discarded. Germany had been through so much that for a half-century, Berlin’s tendency was to spit out anything distasteful about its past. Even now, most museums talk about World War II in terms of what “they,” meaning the interloping the National Socialist party, did. That was the only way it could come to terms with the misery it inflicted and then endured as it failed to gracefully put the pieces back together.
But that happens, too. After all, what’s left of the slave markets in the South, or of September 11 in New York?
We had both witnessed history, I told Ronald. “You were there when the Wall fell, but I saw it on television,” I said. “You saw 9/11 on television, but I was there.”
It took the quick dismantling of the Berlin Wall to make the country hesitate, and to begin to embrace all that had made it what it is today. After New York destroyed Penn Station, it took a horrified step back and said, “Never again.” Londoners still dream of sifting through the marshes for chunks of their beloved Euston, and consequently, changing so much as a coat of paint on a historic building requires navigating nearly as many obstacles as existed between East and West Berlin.
Now, Berlin will be more careful about honoring its past. It already has been, with its modern, eco-sensitive reinvention of the Reichstag. The wounds have healed enough, and the people who sprinted from painful memories have been replaced by those who see the value in legacy, even horrible ones.
The energy of the Wall still lingered somewhat, though, like the phantom pain of something amputated. I can’t say for sure if I was sensing the razed buildings or the echoing tension of the barricade itself, but I felt something. It felt like slowly registering the faraway sound of birds singing as you wake up in the morning — resolute, inevitable, ritual, and continuing on despite the tumult of the dreams you might have had.
Although it’s gone, you can tell where the Wall was. There’s still hesitation in the air. Long stretches of ground remain unbuilt for local political reasons I don’t understand.
I asked Ronald if he had ever visited New York. He said no. He said he wanted to, but that he had a problem with America when George W. Bush was president, so he refused to come.
I told him that Dubya was gone now, and the trouble he caused is hopefully being slowly cleaned up.
“I don’t know quite how to say this,” I told Ronald. “But I think that as a German, you know that a leader of a country does not always represent its people.”
He smiled and nodded. He said that yes, he will come soon. And he asked for my e-mail, so I guess my words were well received.
“I wonder if they have Ed Hardy up here.”
“How did I learn Italian? I came for study abroad.”
To a gondolier: “Where in the river do you go?”
“This place is like a jigsaw puzzle. I’ll show you.”
“East of the Mississippi, there are more deer now than in 1607. Whaddaya think of that?”
“It’s already on Facebook.”
“Ninety percent of people think this is the only Italian food there is.”
“Oh, if you go this way you have to pay. Figures.”
“Nowaitwait! Yeahyeah! Picture picture!”
“That looks like a military thing. I wouldn’t mind seein’ that.”