You know those jobs that you think would be really fun to do? The ones where you want to be on the other side, to step through the looking glass and see how the strings are attached?
It's not really fun as a "job", not something you'd be doing for thirty-odd years. But it certainly has its charm. When I was six years old, I did professional theater; my dad wrote an adaptation of Brothers Grimm tales for a big theater in Capital City and I got to play the little bastard in Emperor's New Clothes who screams "The king is naked!". I had two entrances and one line - took a bow at the end - but it meant that I got to blow off kindergarten and hang out at the theater. I was no stranger there, both my parents were involved, my mom even had a fulltime job for some time as a literary advisor. But it felt so good to be backstage, to be part of it.
And it was the same thing with newspapers. I wrote my first article for a mainstream publication when I was 11. (OK, my dad made it happen - but I was good! A hell of a lot better than some people with college degrees in journalism, even back then.) I never spent much time at the newsroom, and to be honest, it was nice but not that nice. No, what I loved about that gig is the authority. The way you could arrive at a venue and get in for free, take advantage of the hospitality stuff, walk around and ask questions... To this day I think photographers get the best sensation - the reporter needs to talk to people, to interact, and they might not be in the mood to talk to them; plus you need to think of something original to say, and that means anxiety. (I was never a fan of writing by a formula; in my mind, an article is only worth a damn if there's an original, or at least fresh, thought in it somewhere; if you have nothing to say, don't bother.) But the photographer can be indifferent. All the people around you are there for some important thing, but not you - you're just working. You get to wear jeans and a sweater as opposed to everyone in a suit and tie, walk out in front of the podium to get a few shots in, and most of the time you even have the power to stop an important person mid-stride and have them pose for you. I did a bit of photography for various papers, never had the equipment or skill to do anything outstanding, but by God, I loved every second of it.
But like any dream job, it's only fun if you're not serious about it. I was just watching The Paper, an excellent movie - Michael Keaton, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Marisa Tomei - and it does capture the essence of the job very well. I actually felt nostalgic. I might end up in the journalism business again some day, but for now, I'm glad I got out of there. Not only because of the constant pressure of coming up with something good before the deadline.
In the movie, Duvall's character tells a story. It's about how he was covering the '68 Olympics in Grenoble, and a bunch of the reporters went out to a great restaurant. They had a really good time, invited people over, etc, until the check eventually came to nine thousand dollars. (1968 dollars, mind you.) They were starting to panic, and then... An old man in the corner of the restaurant called up the waiter, drew a couple lines on a napkin and handed it to him. Then he winked at the reporters. The man was Pablo Picasso, and with the napkin, he's paid their bill.
The moral of the story: "The people we cover? We move among them, but it's not our world. It's theirs."
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