Journalism and the price of progress

This is a guest blog by Judy Wieder, former editor-in-chief of The Advocate, the first woman to hold that position; and author of the memoir Random Events Tend To Cluster, a look at her life in the tumultuous years of fighting for human – and animal – rights. 
Research for Random Events Tend To Cluster

Necessity truly is the mother of invention. This includes the biggest invention of the millennium: the World Wide Web.  Slowly revealing itself as a miracle of communication—though one that’s hell-bent on replacing all other communications—the miraculous WWW has many sides, some bright as the sun, others murky as the night.

Officially established in the late 80s, by the early 2000s, a series of global catastrophes (natural and man-made) thrust the web into our lives like a speeding ambulance. Whether using its communication tools to find people lost amid the rubble of deadly terrorist attacks, or buried under the boulders of sudden earthquakes, or stranded on their rooftops after hurricanes, or swirling in the aftermath of  tsunamis—our need to locate and rescue each other made the Internet an information hub of unsurpassed  proportions.

Then the internet began speeding up the news coverage. The minute something happened anywhere, people knew about it everywhere. But is that always good? Something got lost in the immediacy of absolutely everything. And that something was our understanding.

Excerpt from chapter 10 of Random Events Tend To Cluster:

“Thankfully, amid Hurricane Katrina’s worst screw-ups in the history of emergencies, some agencies and individuals respond heroically. The Coast Guard rescues 34,000 stranded survivors. The Humane Society and other animal groups save more than 15,000 animals left behind by evacuees who thought they’d only be gone for a day.

From the ashes of government failures, new technologies for better crisis response are created. Emergency websites, maps, blogs, chat rooms, and help lines are posted and updated—all creating one online disaster community that will soon facilitate the rescue of so many people buried in 2010’s Haiti and 2015’s Nepal earthquakes; as well as those caught in 2017’s Hurricanes, Harvey and Maria.

As tech becomes the story of the new millennium, for me it becomes a good door through which I can leave my work of nearly 15 years. An LGBT Internet company buys our parent company. As with most online media, the “editorial wall” standing between content and advertising, blows over completely. Everywhere I look this once paramount wall is replaced by some mercurial gibberish ushered in by computers, the Internet, cellphones, tablets, and social media. The “highway of information,” as the Internet was once called, is now a shifty piece of work snapping up sound bites of things that have already taken place. For a nanosecond, we think we know something; we even pass it along to others who are grateful because now they think they know something. But, really, we’re all just echoes. What does it mean if we don’t understand it? And how can we understand it without context, backstory, investigation, questioning, and real analysis by professionals who know something to begin with and are willing to study to find out more? Without the connections that surround each breaking-news event, awareness goes on a very undernourished saga. Uncontextualized content is a moody, excitable thing that will leave us all anxious and starving.

Privately, I continue wondering how long we journalists are going to be okay with our content fighting for air amid a playground of advertising and product placement. Without authentic anything, who is going to be our Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye) who grabs the media before it plunges way past mediocracy and crashes hard into clear evidence of a society in the toilet.”

Excerpt (c)  Random Events Tend To Cluster

Published by Lisa Hagan Books, 2017 www.lisahaganbooks.com

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#writering: get jiggy with it

#writering is a random blog  by Beth Wareham, editor in chief of Lisa Hagan Books.

Memoir seems to fall from trees these days…and the maddening thing is that sometimes it’s by someone who hasn’t lived long enough to fill up 75 pages.

Not that I’m saying Judy Wieder is old; I’m saying she’s lived. Oh boy has she lived. She broke barriers left and right, including writing for Motown and becoming the first female head of The Advocate. She’s lived in some of the coolest places on the planet. Her human rights activism is renowned.

One of the reasons Lisa Hagan Books wanted to publish Random Events Tend to Cluster is the reason big box publishers did not. We loved the imaginative leap she took by including a look into important lives being lived in other parts of the world.

The times we live in shape us and so do the people. We read and take their stories inside. Here’s how Judy put it:

Why I wrote my memoir this way

Why did I write my memoir in this format? Why didn’t I just tell my own story? Why complicate each episode of my life by mixing in the stories of people whose only apparent connection to me is that we’re living in the same timeframe. If I wasn’t consciously connected to them then, why bring them in now? What will these layers add to my story?

Like anyone’s existence, mine did not unfold in a vacuum. The world and its commotion have been reaching out and into my life since I was born—whether I registered it or not. As I’ve aged, I’ve become more and more aware of all the influences around me and what I do with them. Watching the news can break my heart. Hearing a great melody can lift me. Getting a call from an old friend can make my week. My feelings link me to everything.

But even that kind of connectivity gets more subtle when, say, an emotion I can’t deal with during the day gets pushed away, only to come back in an unsettling dream the same night. Then that dream spills over and influences my spirit and behavior the next day, which, in turn, produces still another dream! Are my days influencing my nights, or are my nights influencing my days?

To me, it’s the chicken or the egg, and it doesn’t matter. Everything is bound together in some manner. Actions and reactions are taking place continuously throughout the universe in a very real, scientific, holistic, systematic way. Although it’s now impossible for me not to see this, the truth is, I didn’t have to see it for it to be happening all along. “It” didn’t need me to catch on. I’ve lived long enough to experience that things don’t always happen to me in the moment they occur. They “happen” when I comprehend them. That’s when the event finally “emerges.”

Although I have always been aware of—and interested in—significant occurrences taking place around me, never did I grasp the astonishing synchronicity of how the universe works until I sat down to write this memoir. Twenty-twenty hindsight allowed me to notice the historic events going on in the world during particularly meaningful episodes of my own life. Was that a coincidence? Was there a connection? Would my life have unfolded the same way if these other events hadn’t happened? I’ll never know.

Again, if you don’t consciously know about something, can it affect you? And what are the many forms “affect” can take? What if it’s affecting the people around you? Won’t that affect you? For example, on the day I was born in 1944, I had no awareness that my father was in Basic Army Training on the other side of the country from my mother, who was in hard labor with me in New York City. Like so many isolated WWII wives, my mother was surrounded by other anxious, first-time mothers whose husbands were God-Knows-Where, fighting in Europe or the Pacific. Or maybe they hadn’t even made it through the day’s battles?

From notes I’ve kept about details my father and other relatives told me, I am able to revisit what was going on while I was being born in a bustling midtown Manhattan hospital. But for me, a missing piece didn’t fall into place until I found my old notes from a trip I’d taken to Amsterdam in the 90s. I’d visited the famous Anne Frank Haus there several times, even making friends with a staff member. She let me see the actual pages surrounding the days of my birth, March 22, in Anne’s original Diary. From this information, I learned that Anne and her older sister, Margot, spent their long hours hiding in the secret Amsterdam Annex playing cards and talking about boys. Their “silly, banal” conversations about one particular boy hiding with them, distracted Anne from the unspeakable terror of the fast-approaching Nazis. It’s clear from her diary that Anne had no idea she and her family were only weeks away from being discovered, captured, and ultimately destroyed by the Gestapo. Only her father survived.

By understanding a little of Anne Frank’s day occurring at the same time I was being born 3,641 miles away in New York City, I can feel a much deeper understanding of my first day on earth. What was happening to Anne in Hitler-occupied Holland, was directly connected to the rising panic and dread surrounding me in that hospital.

Because there are literally thousands of historical events that take place every single day, what I picked from the world to write about in each chapter of my book, is not accidental. Naturally there is a great deal of information about me hiding in any of the story choices I made to layer each chapter. What we are drawn to says a lot about who we are. Like the friends we choose or the clothes we wear.

So why did I write my memoir this way? Because I believe it’s a fuller picture, a whole-r truth. My life, without something from the life of the world at the same time, is incomplete. And so, I have included a small selection of influences that I imagine were shaping me, as I was getting into shape to live the adventures I now share with you.

 

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