Tag Archives: journalism

I don’t think the past is better just because it’s cased in glass

Hello citizens of the Internet! I’m back (I know I promised in the last post that I was back, but now I’m really, really back!) and better than ever.

Along with the movies I’ve watched, the new music I’ve consumed (St. Vincent, Stromae, Run The Jewels, Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend — I KNOW, I’M BEHIND. I’M WORKING ON IT), the late nights laughing ’til my sides ached, I’ve done a couple big things.

(From left to right) Myself, Colin Robinson and Maurice Tomlinson at the Supreme Court of Jamaica during the court's recess on the first day of the hearing.

(From left to right) Myself, Colin Robinson and Maurice Tomlinson at the Supreme Court of Jamaica during a recess on the first day of the hearing.

In March I traveled to Jamaica to cover an immigration hearing for the Belize documentary. There I met Maurice Tomlinson, an absolutely outstanding Jamaican LGBT rights activist who explained the situation on the ground. Maurice lives in Canada — where he fled after he was outed without consent by a Jamaican newspaper — but returned to Jamaica to fight against immigration restrictions on homosexuals in Trinidad and Tobago and Belize. While there we explored Kingston, sat through the hearings and shot an interview that will help round out our film and put it into context with LGBT rights in the rest of the Caribbean, while simultaneously showing the plight of other activists.

Post-Jamaica (like immediately after, less than a week) I began interviewing for jobs in New York City. The job I wanted the most was the most prestigious. The interview spanned two days, and the second day was a grueling journalistic competition, to say the least. I was pitted against one international reporter, one University of Albany student and 10 (yes, 10) Columbia University School of Journalism graduate students. I felt like my odds were slim to none when I realized I was the only undergrad from a school no one had ever heard of. But the experience I accrued during my time working for Naples Daily News proved to be invaluable. I could speak to records requests, content creation and creative thinking, which was on par with my competitors. Although, apparently, none of us knew how to spell (which I still say is a dead skill at this point).

In April I was offered a position with this major international newspaper based in the UK. I’m going to refrain for saying which paper until I’m a little more established, but all I can say is I’m. So. Freaking. Excited. I’ll be living for approximately six months split between London and a soon-to-be-revealed city in England, working with a local bureau. Then I’ll return to London for a month before going to work in their Manhattan office. I guess dreams really do come true.

Dinner with my extended family after my interview in Manhattan.

Dinner with my extended family after my interview in Manhattan. I’m the one in beige on the far left.

The day I found out I got the job in London, I found out I was nominated for four Sunshine State Awards. I’ve been applying to the Sunshine State Awards for the last three years and I’ve pretty much set up a nice, little home in third place every time I apply. I’m nominated for College Journalist of the Year, Best Profile, Best Coverage of LGBT Issues and Best Coverage of Race/Minority Issues. I’ve always dreamed of winning College Journo of the Year, but the good news is the two other student nominees are not only phenomenally talented and beyond worthy, they’re also Will Write For Food alumni. It just goes to show how far a student journo can go if you trap them and their peers in a homeless shelter for 36 hours. If that sounds like something you’re interested in (and want to see a picture of me! — and read my contributions) click here. This year is an alumni year (crying forever because I will be in the UK and unable to attend), so new applicants won’t receive a spot. However, you can learn how to apply for 2016. Do it. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next College Journo of the Year.

My cousin Hayley and I at FGCU's Grad Bash.

My cousin Hayley and I at FGCU’s Grad Bash.

In May I graduated college. Anyone who knows me knows I have felt like college was a chain around my ankle, keeping me stuck in one place. A place I didn’t want to be. Well the chain is off, and I’m getting ready to spread my wings (oh, god. The cliches. I’m sorry.) and explore the world.

Before I move, I’m spending two weeks exploring Europe with my best friend. We’ll start in Berlin, head to Paris for a few days, then Amsterdam, and then I have to figure out a final city. I’m debating where I want to go, but let’s just say I have a few choices in mind.

For now, I’m just wrapping up my time at Naples Daily News, and trying to remember what relaxing is. Am I doing it yet? And, in all sincerity, I’m the happiest I’ve been in a while. And it’s a really nice feeling and a great place to be. I haven’t felt this way in many, many months. But I’m here now, and while I know the tide ebbs and flows, I’m enjoying this moment.

Now we’re all caught up! As these next adventures unfold, be prepared to hear a lot more from me. Until then, safe travels.

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All that I know is I’m breathing

IMG_6008Forgive me for going almost a month without blogging. I hope your holiday was wonderful and the upcoming one is just as joyous. It’s been an increasingly difficult month for me, and I’m trying to just get one foot in front of the other at the moment. Baby steps. But, don’t worry. I’m here, I’m fine and we’re going to get through this month. Of course by “we” I mean “I” and by “through this” I mean “if you choose to read along you’ll come on this journey with me.”

My Juvenile Detention Center story is finished, and I’m emotionally all over the place about this. This project has been my baby for the past month, and it has been the only thing I can focus on for the last week. I can hardly explain how vaguely cathartic, yet frustrating revisions can be. I wrote the first draft of this story in early November after my first session at the JDC. I used bits and pieces of that first draft in my second write up after my second session at the detention center last week, and have since landed on my … I want to say sixth revision. I always feel like I’m going three steps forward and then, like, 14 back. It’s just this endless cycle of “oh, I like this,” “no, wait, this is shit.” “okay, this is much better … oh, no it’s not.” And on and on and on.

After draft number three I sent a copy of the story to my mom. I asked, “What don’t you get in this story?” It turned out to be extremely helpful, but she also didn’t sound captivated by the story, and to be totally, brutally honest — I was crushed. I’m glad that this happened though, because it pushed me to keep writing.

Another revision completed, my editor and I went over copy No. 4 on Sunday and he told me, “the parts of this story where you’re talking to me as Kalhan and you’re confident are captivating, but you get too formal and hesitant and it completely drops the momentum. You have a magnificent voice. You need to use it.”

And with that advice in mind I said, “You’re right. F*ck it.” And I stopped caring about menial formalities and words like “incarcerated females” or “garnered mixed reactions” and I just told the damn story. I still can’t tell if it’s any good (I’m standing too close at the moment), but I get the vibe it is. I sent a few chunks of rewrite to my editor to which he replied, “(now I) love it. That’s Kalhan talking, which is how it should be.”

I hope this does the girls justice. I’m so afraid I’ll have put so much into this story just to have it fall on its face. But, hey, learning or something … right? I guess we’ll see. The story gets its final read on Wednesday before it goes into the system for publishing on Monday.

I just keep reminding myself about those baby steps. Just get your foot back in front of the other, I think to myself. One breath in. One breath out. And the minutes go by. Once this story is in the can I’m going to need another big lead. Bigger than this. Bigger than Belize (not that Belize is done in any regard, it’s just so long term sometimes I lose sight of the next point of contact). Just bigger, more consuming. And I think the answer to that predicament is sitting in the bottom drawer of my nightstand.

I’ll let you know if I’m right. Next week on Seria — uh, I mean, what?

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Once in a lifetime we’re breaking all the rules

I’ve been writing obits like people are going to stop dying soon. I actually really love it, as morbid as that might sound.

It’s a privilege to tell someone’s life story one last time, to have a person’s family trust you with that story. The first few times I wrote obits it was kind of mechanical. The relatives would tell me what I needed to know matter-of-fact-ly, and I would put those facts in order with a few quotes to break up the monotony. But the more I write these obits, the better I must be getting because recently they’ve become more emotional for the families. They’ll apologize, embarrassed by their emotion and I have to remind them how appreciative I am for their earnest responses. I sometimes don’t know what to say except “thank you for the opportunity to share your loved one’s life.” Each time I write one and send it to the source, I get a gorgeous email response. It’s a really rewarding beat.

Something I’ve become more aware of lately is how many people are with their partner for 50, 60 and (more often than you’d think) 70 years. I hope I am lucky enough to be with the person I love most in this world for 70 years. I look up to all the couples who have fought through the struggles and the hardship to make it that long together. So often I hear “they were my best friend” from the survivors. Of course, they’ll always tell me it wasn’t perfect. They had their fights, their bad times. But they never gave up on one another and reveled in their golden years together.

I’ve wondered: would I rather spend my life exploring alone — loving often but not long — or spend my life exploring with another person, sharing my story with one person who loves me unconditionally and unequivocally. I used to think I wanted the former because who would want to put themselves in that kind of danger and follow me around the world? I now know the latter is the life I want. When I come home from each adventure, I want to turn to this person and say, “well, that was fun. Where to next?”

These people are the lucky ones and we should all hope to love someone for 70 years. To have someone who spends a lifetime loving us, fighting for us.

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Who is an honest man?

So many fun things going on!  I’m dying to talk about my latest projects, but sadly I can’t say much at the moment. What I can say is that I think this is going to be my first real investigative piece. I’m really excited and hopefully within the next two weeks I’ll be able to elaborate more about its contents. Stay tuned.

Let’s talk podcasts. I hope you’re listening to “Serial.” This brand new series comes to us from This American Life and NPR. It’s got all the elements to keep you coming back each week: phenomenal reporting, flawless editing and — like any good story — it’s impossible to put down.

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 11.50.50 PMSERIAL: Sarah Koenig is investigating the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, a popular, beautiful, athletic high school senior in Maryland. Adnan Syed, Hae’s ex-boyfriend, was charged with and convicted of her murder. The only problem: there’s no physical evidence brought against Adnan. None. The conviction was purely based on circumstance. What I gathered from the podcast is Adnan was the only person with a motive in killing Hae. Supposedly Adnan also told this guy Jay (who knows way too many details about the murder to not be involved, but that’s just my opinion) he was going to kill Hae and he needed Jay’s help to get rid of the evidence. Jay apparently assisted Adnan in disposing of the body to some degree, but was never charged with anything.

Anyway, Adnan still proclaims his innocence and all his family and friends say he was a model child; Homecoming prince (or court), leading prayers at the community mosque, an EMT, popular, friendly, with good grades. So it’s hard to figure out who’s telling the truth and who the liar is here.

Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you what scenario my money is on. I think Jay definitely is involved in the murder, and while I want to think Adnan is innocent (and I hope he is), it’s entirely possible and plausible he’s a really convincing liar. Also, I get the feeling we haven’t met all the players yet. Right now, “Serial” is on its fifth episode and Koeing is still in the dark about a lot on this series, too. Like how many episodes there will be or how the series will conclude.

Koenig said in an interview on “The Gist” that she is still actively reporting on the case and that each episode is still being edited just hours before it’s released. She also said she’s about 66 percent sure she knows how it will end, and therein lies what I love about this podcast. We’re essentially listening in real time. It’s gotta be daunting if you’re in Koenig’s shoes, but what an incredible challenge. Her reporting is so good and thorough. In one instance she talks to at least five sources to confirm or debunk the existence of a phone booth at a Best Buy in 1999. This woman is dedicated to her craft.

Episodes are released every Thursday morning and they’re free. Listen and tell me your theories.

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Let us shine for what it’s worth

I need a moment to gush about my job.

I hang out with interesting people, listen to their stories and share them — then I get a paycheck. (Okay, so I won’t be a millionaire any time soon, but who cares when you love what you do? Right? Right.)

Also, I just so happen to be in a tremendously lucky position. I work with phenomenal editors, who trust me, which is infinitely invaluable, I assure you. Without that, I wouldn’t have 80-plus stories filed in the last eight months. I wouldn’t have my first pitched and produced story published. I wouldn’t have lasted this long.

Spending the day with a person, getting to know a piece of them and then conveying that is an especially rare and precious gift. It’s so intimate and the pressure is immense, but when you do it right — there’s nothing like it.

My advice: if you can tell stories for a living, do it. If you can tell stories for a short period of time, do it. If you can tell stories forever, yours just might end up more interesting than those you tell.

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