Monday, June 22, 2009

a museum for everything, including me

World-class museums are certainly one reason to live in D.C. I have a lot to still visit, but between the Smithsonian and the Newseum, which I spent five hours in on Saturday, I'm beginning to think I could spend every day wondering exhibits and never get tired.
The Newseum was the first not-free museum I've seen. (I still got in for free though because our program adviser bought tickets.) It was amazing. Taking into account that I work as a journalist— and the Newseum is basically a giant, love-memorial to journalism — I still believe it's an amazing collection. For history buffs, the museum feels like a playground. One giant hall features original newspapers dating back from the 1400s, chronicling all of the most significant events — think of the cliche newspaper-spinning transition used in old movies (dodidodidodido "WAR DECLARED"-type scenario).

There was also an extremely poignant 9/11 exhibit, telling the tail of how reporters covered the event and the physical/emotional challenges they overcame. It was heart-ripping.
Both live at the museum and on their website, the Newseum also collects the front page from newspapers worldwide, providing a great comparison tool on how news is covered in different areas and cultures.
Of course, everything also held an air of the nostalgic, hinting at the looming demise of newspapers. It's so frustrating to hear people debate the pros and cons of newspapers folding, always lamenting the lack of "pure, investigative journalism," yet continuing to promote fluffy, entertainment news. The industry has developed an unsettling double standard: seek truth and justice, but only so long as readers tune in, call in or click on it. When that fails, things get ugly.

I don't care if newspapers fail so long as the idea of good journalism survives — the attention to quality and depth not yet seen in any other medium. That's what makes working in a newsroom so exhilarating — watching coworkers debate issues and rewrite articles late into the night to ensure correctness and completeness. There's a sense of civil service, a sense that we're providing people with something important: the COMPLETE truth. And while no legitimate news organization lies, the sift in focus from objective importance to rating-controlled content — particularly when the audience seems to place little value on objective news — casts a lot of doubt on that mission.

I hate to cast generalities; some news operations — my favorite of which is NPR — do a great job. But when you sift through the information, you realize that even NPR gets most of it's deepest stories from the paper. Listen to any of their news shows for a few minutes and you're sure to hear "according to the New York Times..." or "The Washington Post reports..." No other medium to date has the staff or resources to do the job right, and if we loose that, I want no part of where journalism is headed.
Some say journalism is the only noble profession, where truth and quality are valued above all else. I doubt that has ever been true — from yellow journalism to the muckrakers, corporate interest has always held the reigns. But, at least for the individual writers and editors making bottom-level salary, it's the illusion of that noble cause that keeps late and sane.

I think that's why my Newseum trip was so great: the overpowering, sometimes cheesy, feeling of journalistic duty.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

faces of the fallen

I spent a lot of my day working on The Washington Post's Faces of the Fallen project, which tries to gather photos and a short bio for every American soldier killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It makes for morbid work, but at the same time, it feels very significant.

As I edited the head shots, I couldn't stop imagining how the soldier's family and friends would react. Would they be proud or angered by the project? Would they pull up the site alone or with others — share grief or experience it solely for themselves? It's a mind-boggling thing to contemplate.

It also put pressure on me as I searched for and edited photos. Each face — the enduring image of a loved one, of a father/mother, of a friend — wouldn't be a botched job on my part. I probably added 20 to 25 people to the list today (I lost count). It certainly puts a human face to the war.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

an intern is an intern

I just finished my second day with The Washington Post. It's a lot of getting accustomed to new systems, content management and coworkers. But, I got my first pseudo-byline today! (click on the credits button in the lower-left side; yeah text editor!)

Working at The Post has already been a lot different from The Arizona Republic, my last internship. The general newsroom attitude remains the same — relaxed, friendly but fast-paced and demanding — but The Post feels much bigger and a bit less personal. I can tell it's going to be a battle to stand out and get the opportunities I want from this internship, but I'm willing to sacrifice (I'm already sacrificing my summer at a no-pay internship). What it comes down to is the recognition that, while the name looks impressive on a resume, The Post will prove a more challenging place to find work. And as an intern, I WANT to work — work enough to get noticed, work enough to accomplish something, work enough to further my skills.

I'm optimistic, and with 10 weeks to prove myself, I feel like I have time. It's just going to be a whole lot of paper-pushing.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

life in the capitol

After being in New York City, living in DC is a bit like moving your bed from the closet to the backyard — everything is wider and luxuriously spread out. I love my apartment and the city, while not quite the same charm as New York, still feels immensely impressive.
I've been incredibly busy getting oriented, learning the overwhelming amount of projects I must complete this summer — at The Washington Center — and getting ready to start at The Post tomorrow. All the remaining time has been sight seeing. I've already seen most of the national monuments at night and toured two Smithsonian museums — the National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of the American Indian.
I just did the Native American Museum today, and it was incredible. Not only was the history and story telling fascinating, but in particular, an art exhibit by the controversial Indian artist Fritz Scholder blew me away. It was great to learn about his work, mostly done in my home state, Arizona. I had no knowledge of his art or the steps he took to advance Native American culture.
Another definite highlight was the all-authentic, Native American food hall. It was delicious. My girlfriend practically demanded we eat there, and while not culinarily complex, the food was very flavorful. It is segregated according to its region of origin, and many of the ingredients are grown on-site using traditional native farming techniques.

Like I mentioned, tomorrow I start interning with The Washington Post. I expect it will be a lot of training and getting oriented — again — but most first days are.

Friday, June 5, 2009

last night in the city

I'm headed for DC tomorrow.

It's been an awesome three-week vacation in New York City. My girlfriend and I hit the Guggenheim, Metropolitan, and Whitney museums; I spent SO much money on SO much ridiculously good food; and I got to feel like a city native for a while.

A definite highlight: eating the most phenomenal pizza at Keste in the West Village. Their Pizza Del Re — mozzarella, mushroom, prosciutto, and sweet, glistening truffle oil — was amazing.

I'm pretty psyched to start my internship at The Washington Post on the 10th. It will take some getting back into the saddle. It's going to be a busy — hopefully rewarding — summer.