Guest Opinion

My Foray into “The New Journalism”

Driving back towards town, it's greener than I remember it. My kid says we've gotten more rain. Picacho Peak looks like broken beer bottle glass; the sun low on the horizon smoothes out the landscape as the saguaros disappear into the shadows.

It's been 6 years, but then what's a little time between friends? I left Tucson for a bunch of reasons, primarily divorce, but what was almost as bad, menopause. In 2009 it seemed like everything was stacked against me and with hot flashes coming every 5 minutes and the impending Tucson summer bearing down on me like some demon from hell, I just woke up one day and proclaimed, "As God is my witness I will never be too hot again!" I fled to Seattle.

An interesting town, Seattle. Good music scene—I met some nice people there-- excellent coffee but it rains all the friggin' time and there were days I pined continually for just a little bit of photosynthetic warmth like a calf pining for its mother. Sun, just break through for a minute. Pretty please with sugar on top?

So I gave Los Angeles a try. Now before anyone jumps to overly harsh conclusions, there was method to my madness. I was born in Hollywood. My mother still lives in the same house she and my father bought on the G.I. Bill in 1957. I wanted to hang with her, but also to see if Thomas Wolf was right, whether it is true that you can never go home again. He was. Going back to L.A. after a 25 year absence was like having momentarily left my seat in a crowded movie theater only to discover when I returned that not only had someone else has taken it, but that I must have been crazy to have ever imagined it was mine in the first place. I did a lot of things in L.A. Worked as an extra in the movies, met David Duchovny, Antonio Banderas, and had a lovely chat with Fabio, who tried to sell me his new line of vitamins. I worked for a Nazi anemic vegan at a vegetarian restaurant who kept throwing hissy fits because he didn't like the way I sliced the bell peppers.

Then one day something happened. There I was looking at my Facebook page and I noticed a college professor friend of mine advertising a Master's program in journalism at USC. He told me he thought I had a swell shot not just of getting in, but of getting an Annenberg Fellowship, which translated into a full ride and a 20K stipend. Seems he was a fan of all the boffo work I'd done with The Tucson Weekly a few years earlier.

At USC I learned about "The New Journalism," which mostly has to do with Twitter and blogging. That part I understood well enough; it's like starting a religion. You do your very best to get as many people as you can to follow you, then blog at them until they believe everything you say. In addition I learned about "backpack journalism." This involves installing Adobe Premiere Pro on your computer, getting a camera and some mics--although an I-phone will do--and taking them with you everywhere you go. One of my teachers told me he got his best stuff from watching for accidents on the freeway. Once they have it blocked off, walking back up the off-ramp and getting all the footage you want is easy. The police hardly ever bother you because they're so busy writing tickets and helping the firemen load shattered bits of humanity into ambulances that they don't have the time. Plus, they hate arguing with "the press." All that pesky First Amendment stuff. Once you've got the material, including an interview with a bystander if you can swing it, you get into the back seat of your car, produce a piece as fast as you can and try to flog it to CNN or FOX News. CNN pays better, but FOX buys a lot more of the gory stuff.

But the most interesting thing about "The New Journalism" is that since it's nearly impossible to get a job in old style journalism now, the focus is on how to write advertising copy. The hitch? You have to convince yourself that what you're doing is not selling out but being "entrepreneurial." I had to take a class called, "Monetization and the New Media," but I found a loophole and got out after two sessions in which the guest speakers were brokers who pimped out writers to work for corporate publications. Dell, for example-- although all major corporations have them-- has a monthly "news" magazine that explains all the innovations you can stuff between a couple of glossy, polished covers. The Monetization instructor was happy to see the back of me. I kept asking questions like, "what if the corporation that pays you is doing something bad and you want to write about that instead?"

By the time my son and I roll into Tucson it is just about dark. We unload the U-haul and after consuming a bag of cheese crackers and a couple of beers, I find my pillow and blanket, locate my mattress and after feeding my dog, fall fast asleep. The next morning I remember I've promised to feed my friend's cat and as I hit the intersection of Speedway and Alvernon, I watch as a short, stout sixty-ish woman in faded black spandex shorts, a basketball jersey with no bra, a can of Mountain Dew in one hand and a cigarette in the other, crosses in front of me. Nobody looks at her, nobody cares. I am back in Tucson.

I turn the air conditioning up inside my car. Home Sweet Home.