'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

For U.S. journalists, two good reasons to stop complaining

iran protest

Taking photos of the Iran protests landed countless journalists in jail. (Image by buridan via Flickr)

It’s a sad, woe-is-me kind of time for journalists. Newspapers shuttered! Internet ruining everything! No jobs! Ads disappearing! But two excellent stories in my favorite paper of record give a little perspective.

The first, from Iran, is the gut punch: Journalists there are not only losing their jobs at a record clip — 2,000 in recent months, by some reports — but they are being jailed, tortured, and exiled. The New York Times gets the story of one riveting escape, a photographer who made it to the comparative safety of northern Iraq:

For two months Ehsan Maleki traveled around Iran with a backpack containing his cameras, a few pieces of clothing and his laptop computer, taking pictures of the reformist candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi during the presidential campaign. He did not know that his backpack and his cameras would soon become his only possessions, or that he would be forced to crawl out of the country hiding in a herd of sheep.

The second, from a small town in New Mexico, is maybe equally inspiring. In it, we learn about the new life of the ex-D.C. correspondent for a now-shuttered western paper. Moving to tiny Guadalupe, M. E. Sprengelmeyer could either afford to buy a house… or one of the town’s two weekly newspapers. He chose newsprint over stucco:

Eight months ago, Mr. Sprengelmeyer, 42, worked as the sole Washington correspondent for The Rocky Mountain News, the Denver newspaper that went out of business in February, but his job these days is a far cry from the Senate press gallery.

In August, he embarked on a new life in this isolated little town as owner, publisher, editor, primary writer and sometime ad salesman, photographer and deliverer of the weekly Guadalupe County Communicator, circulation about 2,000.

Sprengelmeyer is actually making pretty good money, he says, and he’s even considering bringing his new paper out twice a week. “I couldn’t do this if I had a family,” he tells the Times. “But it feels like it matters, and I’m having fun.”

So as we mourn the apparently bygone days of Conde excess, Time Inc grandeur, Hearst munificence, and Times Co glory, don’t underestimate the scrappy reality on the ground.

For every laid-off Senior Editor in Manhattan there are 500 wildcats roaming foreign lands with pen and paper, braving FSB intimidation or Basij batons. And for every jettisoned Staff Photographer in L.A. there’s a wily entrepreneur doing it her own way in small-town USA.

Buck up! Others actually do die — or at least move to New Mexico — trying.

Extra credit: Check out Sprengelmeyer’s bitchin’, unapologetic story about owning two of Jack Abramoff’s old suits.

via Reporter Resurrects Career – Buys His Own Paper – NYTimes.com.

via Iranian Journalists Flee, Fearing Retribution for Covering Protests – NYTimes.com.

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Filed under: Don't be lazy, Economy, Jobs, Journalism, New York Times, , , , ,

Homesick again: Envying a rollicking, piano-banging gravestone benefit in NY

Duke Ellington during concert break at Jahrhun...

Duke Ellington woulda been jealous, too. (Image via Wikipedia)

If yesterday’s news that a Denver newspaper was hiring a pot critic made me homesick for America, this story describing a crowded New York nightclub made me desperately miss the Big City.

A definition of righteousness: about 75 people, crammed into the West Village club Smalls, watching a series of pianists play James P. Johnson on a grand piano in a benefit concert to buy a headstone for his grave.

I don’t know much about Johnson, but the set — which featured 12 different pianists slapping keys for five hours — sounds like it would’ve been an excellent introduction. Here’s critic Ben Ratliff’s description of the turn at the ivory taken by Ethan Iverson, of the excellent if sometimes overly nerdy Bad Plus, the band responsible for that jazzy cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”:

[Iverson] played “Carolina Shout” with sensitivity and clarity, keeping the stride rhythm steady in the left hand. Then he went off into his own updated, posteverything style, full of explicit dissonance, repetition and strange dynamics.

“The Charleston” was his killer: it started with deliberately messy tone rows, his two hands playing at cross-purposes, the left staccato and slow, the right flowing and medium-tempo. Inevitably, and with humor, he finished in the song’s proper style.

Johnson died in 1955 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Maspeth, Queens. When the concert promoters finally erect his stone, hopefully we’ll read about it and I can schedule some rainy afternoon to make a visit. I’ll bring my friend Tim, who’ll appreciate the trek, and I’ll tell him — as I’m telling you know — about the time in 1921 that Johnson and Duke Ellington stayed out hollering until 10 a.m.

Duke reportedly said a night with Johnson was worth more than a semester at a conservatory. Here’s to you, Mr. Johnson; may you teach us all.

via Music Review – James P. Johnson – Raising the Roof (and a Headstone) for a Giant of His Era – NYTimes.com.

Filed under: Don't be lazy, Homesick, Journalism, New York Times, , , , ,

Two reporters kicking ass in Africa

Image representing New York Times as depicted ...

Image via CrunchBase

When I heard that the excellent New York Times reporter Adam Nossiter was leaving his post in New Orleans to cover West Africa, I was devastated. There’s maybe no city out there that means more to me than NOLA, and it felt important that the paper of record had such an able body for the job. I needn’t worry.

Not only did the Times appoint a new reporter to cover New Orleans, Louisiana, and the south, but it sent the excellent Nossiter to a region that — and I had no idea — he would pretty quickly begin covering in profound and insightful ways.

Let’s take it to the page: Nossiter has hit several home runs just this week, covering the aftermath of bloodshed in the capital of Guinea. In several reports, he wrote a set of powerfully vivid — but restrained and appropriate — stories that recreated the day so many in the capital were gunned down. In the most recent piece, published Saturday, he took us straight to the top, where we meet the brutal, insane, and terrifying military captain behind all the horror:

Three days after the massacre Monday in which as many as 157 people died protesting Captain Camara’s military rule, he rambled on to a gathering of reporters till nearly midnight as aides fidgeted under giant portraits of their leader. Then he offered to send the reporters to nightclubs.

“Whatever you want, at whatever time,” said Captain Camara, clad in the fatigues he never sheds. “On my tab, as chief of state.” For some reason he added, “I am incorruptible.”

You should immediately begin following the work of Nossiter, whose upcoming books and magazine articles will no doubt also be stellar. But don’t overlook a second stand-out Times reporter in Africa: Jeffrey Gettleman, whose heroics in covering piracy off northeast Africa are only matched by the competence and comprehensiveness of his reporting.

Here’s a Saturday profile in the Times by Gettlemen, in which he discovered a 37-year-old Somali-born war-lord who’s taken his decades in peaceful Minnesota back to the bush.

Above the shimmering horizon, in the middle of a deserted highway, stands an oversize figure wearing a golf cap, huge sunglasses, baggy jeans, and an iPhone on his hip, not your typical outfit in war-torn Somalia. But then again, Mohamed Aden, the man waiting in the road, is not your typical Somali. The instant his guests arrive, he spreads his arms wide, ready for a bear hug.

“Welcome to Adado,” he says, beaming. “Now, let’s bounce.”

Stay tuned for more reporting, from what is probably our most difficult continent.

Filed under: Africa, Don't be lazy, Journalism, New York Times, , , , , ,