October 15, 2005

An insider's perspective: NYC at the NYT

Sitting with my legs crossed on a metal chair in Bryant Park, I tasted something sweeter than the fattening mocha cooling in my hand and felt something more uncomfortable than the dress shoes pinching my feet: a peek into what may come.

There's something about New York that gets me every time I visit. Is it the smell of burning hotdogs at the Times Square vendors? The slick suits and I-Pod carriers commuting to work? The honking of taxis? No, it's not really any of those things, but all of those things and many more that keep me coming back with enthusiasm. They aren't the taste of many from where I grow up, but me--I see a start there--a gritty beginning of something that may suit my taste. I really can't put it down, but it's there, nagging me with each turn of the now-familiar corners of Manhattan.

This trip, perhaps more than any of the previous trips, has shown me that maybe I do have a shot in NYC. Why? Because maybe there's real people there, not these mystical, impotent celebrity beings that they or we believe them to be.

Why the impression? In my case, it was several things times during my experience this time around.

My first downsizing of NYC happened the day of the conference, "Inside the Times", that Anne Stadler and I attended at the little publication on 38th Street: The New York Times.

We entered the building, which looked just like any other in New York, and were checked through security in a small area graced with NYT poster-size photography. No super-journalists with huge J's on their chests flying through the revolving doors. Damn--and at the same time--woo hoo.

While we were waiting in the lobby, I watched employees pass through the security checkpoint and noticed that they do the same thing I did every day at the Trib: pass their security badge over a scanner. Simple. Fast. Just on their way to work.

Later, when we--the 50 or so students from several private colleges from throughout the U.S.--were escorted to a ninth-floor auditorium, several editors introduced themselves on stage in their very normal-looking business attire. In my mind, I thought New York Times reporters wore Armani every day and carried a notebook around their neck...or something. How sweet it is to be proved wrong.

The second time was when I saw pics of Donald Trump plastered everywhere through the lobby of the Trump Tower. Why, oh why, that hair? How interesting that his wife looks like a model just down the street at Saks...or maybe Victoria's Secret. Ha.

But back to the conference. The day wasn't as intensive as I thought it would have been, primarily because I was expecting to be drilled on the Associated Press Stylebook or American journalistic ethics. Instead, the morning was surprisingly laid-back with some headline writing and copy-editing exercises.

My headlines weren't picked to be plastered on the overhead screen as "the best" or one of the comedic "bad" ones, so I was okay. A little humbled, but okay. ;) I would've liked one of the shirts or hats they were giving out, but no prob. I'll get one when I start working there. :-)

Later in the afternoon, several of the head journalists who produced the series, Class Matters, appeared at a panel discussion.

One of the presenters, Tamar Lewin, struck me. She talked about her experience with several interviews during her in-depth coverage of class, particularly in the context of one woman, Della Justice.

I felt a connection with the reporters when they talked about meeting with average Americans about everyday issues of income, education, occupation and wealth.

I did something similar this summer when I interviewed for a story on Clymer, Pa. The story isn't online, but I spoke with an elderly woman about her family's experiences in lieu of mine and brick company closings in the area.

I understood the importance that they placed on making several meetings so trust can be built, so that the reporter can understand the fullness of the life in context, and, essentially, so that the reporter can be touched, to impress upon others the importance of the subject.

Lewin also said that the issues that the reporter intends to take up are also important in the public's perception of the story. In the case of this series of stories, she said she knew nothing, so she had to choose carefully the issues of prevalence as the story's interviews developed her direction.

This is often the case: the interviews write the story.

The final component of the day's agenda was the advertising session. The manager of the ad department spoke awhile about ethical advertising, what is and is not allowed in the Times, and then distributed a packet of some ads not permitted in the paper. Nudity disguised as art lithographs, using company logos to bash a company through parody, and interestingly enough, homosexual advertisements--all no-no's for the NY Times.

I can't imagine having his job. One slip and he could have been gone--several times. However, maybe the perks outweigh the extra lines I didn't see on his face.

After the conference, Anne and I returned to our hideous hotel, The Manhattan Broadway, on 38th. We wanted to save money and still have a great location. Yeah, we got that, in addition to a room full of mirrors, hair on the sheets, a shower curtain with a duct-taped rod and some interesting caulked corners throughout the room. Thank God there weren't any bugs.

What an experience. But it wasn't as bad as Mexico lodgings and the front desk people were very nice when they weren't freaking us out about surveillance camera use in the hotel rooms.

One of my favorite about this trip was the train. The romance of a train track and the stations and the beauty of Pennsylvania and New York on a fall day captivated me. I didn't have to worry about filling my tank, parking, making a wrong turn or even if my car was going to die. The kind conductors took care of it all. Trains are roomier than planes or buses, and cheaper; I just don't get it why they aren't bigger in the U.S.

My mom and I are actually planning to take a trip to New York or Philadephia for a weekend train trip. She's adventurous. I like to think I have some of those genes.

I'll update with a photo gallery soon. I'm not off of my blog fast per se. This is sort of required fun blogging.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at October 15, 2005 11:35 AM | TrackBack

Aw, you make me miss home =)

Posted by: Johanna at October 19, 2005 3:55 PM

Nice to hear that it was a good experience, despite the hotel! I look forward to reading all your headlines in the future. You're going to make it, Amanda :-)

(I knew you couldn't hold out for a month... two weeks is what I took for a break ;-)

Posted by: Karissa at October 19, 2005 10:09 PM

Glad to hear the trip went well. Sounds like you got some good experience, too!

Posted by: ChrisU at October 19, 2005 11:36 PM
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