Friday, May 22, 2009

The Journalist as Activist

A Rwandan victim of Hutu-Tutsi conflict (James Nachtwey).

For the last three years, I have not been allowed to participate in any activist or political activities whatsoever. This was a requirement of my job as a public radio journalist. The management explained away any qualms we might have with this requirement through the noble goal of "unbiased journalism."

As a former student activist, I found giving up activism in the name of journalism a frightful idea. What is journalism, after all, but one of the oldest forms of consciousness raising and empowerment? What is journalism if we take out anything controversial -- anything with victims or perpetrators?

While I love journalism, I am frustrated by those who continue to deny any link between being an activist and being a journalist. That is why I was so excited to see this TED talk by renowned photojournalist James Nachtwey about his life as a war photographer. Nachtwey will receive an Internews Media Leadership Award on June 2nd.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Slow it down, DJ

A funny thing happened today. A female cardinal flew through the courtyard with a twig in its mouth. As I bent my head back to watch it soar across the courtyard I realized that I hadn't looked up in a long time. Darting every morning from the apartment to work to the gym and then back home again, I didn't have much time to look at anything beyond what was directly in front of me. Mike talked a little about using this time to reevaluate how we see things, and for me that means slowing down. Slowing waaay down.

For the better part of the last three years I produced and directed a daily international news show. That meant that no matter how my morning started, the team and I always put together an hour's worth of programming by noon Monday through Friday. I found this schedule strenuous when I began, but the high-paced mornings and the meticulousness it required grew on me. I found the process of producing the show exhilarating, and I always left work with a sense of accomplishment. Looking back, I think that daily act of creation was exactly what I needed after four years of "The Life of the Mind" at the University of Chicago.

When my contract ended at the radio station on May 1st, my biggest fear was that I would miss that lifestyle-- miss the satisfaction of producing something every day for the world to hear. Two and a half weeks into unemployment, I can tell you that this fear was misplaced. I have yet to miss the grind of daily show production. And I am rediscovering ways of experiencing that sense of accomplishment sans my old rushed routines. This blog will be part of that. So will the freelance journalism and creative writing I do in Korea.

No doubt our time in Asia will be filled with many adventures and travels. But I also hope that in the fervor of discovering a new culture, I can maintain this slower pace. And remember to take the time to look up.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Korean Bogeyman

Much has been written about the Korean belief in "fan death", or death caused by sleeping with a fan left on. There's a substantial Wikipedia entry on the issue. Basically, the idea is that a fan will eventually suck all the oxygen out of the room, dehydrate you, or suffocate you (or some combination of these things) while you are sleeping, resulting in death. I've heard that this idea was created by the Korean government to help the population conserve electricity, but I've never confirmed that. Anyway, whoever made the concept up has done quite a number on generations of Koreans.

My parents, who are from Korea and have lived in the US for about three decades, still believe in the idea, even though fan death is unheard of here. After lunch with them yesterday, I brought up the subject, to which my Mom nodded vehemently and said, "Oh yeah. You will be dead. 100 percent." I asked her, derisively, how exactly one dies from a fan being left on in a room where one sleeps. She tried hard to untangle the logic, weaving together something about the fan creating a vacuum in the room and sucking out all the oxygen, leaving only carbon dioxide. Or was it pumping carbon dioxide in the room? Anyway, it was in the newspapers in Korea every year, 10 people or so dying from this. I could only laugh and turn to my Dad, who I thought would be more rational on the matter, and ask him, "Do you really believe this?" He smiled coyly, paused and admitted, "Yeah."

Mind you, both of my parents are doctors. One has a PhD and the other is a pediatrician. And qualifications aside, they're my parents. For most of my life, they've explained how the world works to me, and most of the time they were right. It's hard to look those same people in the eye one day and realize your universes don't line up. Now me, I don't believe in fan death. It's a crazy, old Korean myth. But I'll never forget the affirmation -- the blood red conviction -- in my parents' eyes that day. And I guarantee you the next time I try to go to sleep with a fan on I'll see those eyes, and that conviction. And maybe, just maybe, in spite of the oppressive heat and humidity, I'll switch the damn thing off.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Unemployment: The Gift and The Curse

I collected my last paycheck from my former employer today. Two weeks worth of work plus about 13 days worth of vacation days paid out. It was a healthy check. Makes up for the guilty feeling I've been having from not working for so long.

For about four and a half years, I worked for a public radio station in Chicago (that pretty much gives it away right there) in various capacities -- producer, reporter, host. When I first started working there, I thought I had the best job in the world (next to being a rock star). Runnin' around the city covering the mayor, the murder trial for the infamous Brown's Chicken Massacre of Palatine, and parts of the fiasco surrounding our now former governor. Well, I should correct myself: by the time the Blagojevich scandal arose, my heart wasn't in the work anymore. The daily grind of working in a local newsroom had gotten to me. I'd come to feel like I was just another blabbering voice in the incessant, 24-hour news culture, overanalyzing political minutiae and spreading a mix of fear and sensationalism. Unfortunately, that's what a lot of the news business has become.

It's time to take a step back. And that includes catching up with friends and family, getting back to my longtime love of music and having cocktail hour in the middle of the day. For about a week I'd been seriously depressed from leaving work, something I had not expected at all, but that's passed. Now that I'm enjoying myself -- staying up late, watching too much TV -- I have a creeping sense of guilt over having all this fun. In about a week, I'll be playing a CD release party for my first EP. I'm really excited about that. And later we'll be going to our friends' wedding, Nissa's brother's graduation and the Yeah Yeah Yeah's. In between all that, loads of food and drinks with the people we love. Good thing we only took a month off. I could get used to this.