Saturday, October 1, 2016

Voice Mail From a Journalist


“Hello, Mr. Pollock? Would you prefer Jackson?
I’m calling because I’m writing a story about mid-century art and I'm hoping to hit you and Norman Rockwell up for interviews. Please give me a call back at your earliest convenience. Thanks!” 
___________

OK, I’m not comparing myself to Lee Krasner’s baldie, and I’m certainly not comparing cider to fine art, but a situational analogy exists here. How many times do I get calls from journalists wanting to do a story on cider? And although I’ve tried and tried to illuminate the massive depths apples are capable of, in the end the final article is always just an all-inclusive survey of "the cider category." As though cider is a single thing- a single alternative. And if that's all you can report on, I would gladly retire to magazine obscurity rather than see my work, and the life of the trees I work with, reduced to a few sentences in short essay about contemporary commercial cider in America. 

If Jackson Pollock heard his art work put in comparative context with the customer-friendly, child-friendly, illustrations of Norman Rockwell I’m pretty sure some liver damage would follow. But the two “artists” were rarely in context with one another because there existed a separate world for "fine art" and "commercial art”. (Which is really commercial illustration and not art. Sorry marketing team: what you do isn't art!) 

But why is having separate worlds so hard to establish with cider? Why do the lines keep getting blurred when fine art and commercial art are content without mention of each other? The answers are multiple:
    -The small cider producer is too isolated and economically powerless to broadcast the truth; the big and medium-sized producers lie to the customer and steal the verbiage of the artisan producer; the customer is lazy and doesn’t hold producers accountable for their marketing misdirection; Americas apple farmers are complicit with the misdirection because they want their orchards to be viable to a ‘hot’ industry; and journalists lack professional integrity and personal faith in the subject-

I have tried to expose all those other problems with my cryptic and voiceless little blog here, but for this entry let’s focus on the latter problem, the journalists. Why not? You are part of the problem!

    Are you guilty of sweeping a call list trying to hit-up everyone that appeared under a search for cider? Are you trying to tie this story into another story like tourism, the fall season, new businesses in the area, etc., etc.? Does this "cider story" somehow reflect well on the ad space sponsors of your magazine (or maybe it's just plain about them!?) Have you already imagined how this story will unfold even before you made your first call? Is it actually written (!) and now all you need are some press photos from cider producers to add legitimacy your non-expert opinion?
   Does any of this sound like you? Um, That’s because you suck. You are just trying to use cider and someone's life endeavor to promote yourself or the magazine. Wake up! There is an actual story to discover if you stop making everything reflect back on yourself and your sponsors!

In contrast, let me tell you what good journalists do (and I’ve had the pleasure of working with some excellent journalists and writers over the years. You know who you are.)
   They call and set-up an interview expecting to study the subject, not direct it. A good journalist listens to the subject and isolates them without trying to tie them into every little trend happening in the world today. They trust their own ability to write the story with the found material and they do not have preconceived notions or the word-counts in mind while the interview is taking place. They also trust the subject will be news-worthy, but just as importantly, they ditch the project if the subject is not news-worthy! And a good journalist starts months (even years) ahead of time rather then calling 3 days before submittal.

OK, I'm getting a little side-track with my rant here. I don't know the problems you journalists face getting published but I'm tired of going over the same-old Cider 101 stuff with you. And I know magazines are not to blame for the lack of clarity between fine cider and commercial industrial cider but you certainly are not helping (save for a few good reporters) by blurring the lines for the reader. Dig deeper next time, the trees have. (Or should I say, the trees worthy of cider have.)

2 comments:

  1. You raise a really good point, but I also think you answer your argument with your own argument! Just like it'd be ridiculous to lump Jackson Pollock with Norman Rockwell, or Aaron Burr Cider with Woodchuck, the same dynamic exists in the "journalism" field. Ciders like yours represent such a small percentage of the market, and good journalists who understand that distinction and champion it also represent such a small percentage of the all the journalists out there. So seek out those journalists that do understand the difference and champion them! And, as I agree we should all do with all journalists (and indeed, most things in life), keep demanding more from the others!

    -Jeff Harner

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  2. For what it's worth, I recently transcribed our conversation from 2014. Perhaps it would help journalists understand why you're a fine artist and not a commercial illustrator. I try not to blur the distinction in my own work, since I do find myself writing about both small-scale and large-scale cider producers.

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