Tag Archives: advice you didn’t ask for

Five Things to Rethink the Newsroom: An Introduction.

“It seems to take a very unique combination of technology, talent, business and marketing and luck to make significant change in our industry. It hasn’t happened that often.”

That’s Steve Jobs in a 1994 interview with Rolling Stone. He’s talking about personal computing, but he might as well be discussing the state of journalism in 2010.

We’re at an incredibly exciting and incredibly dangerous time for journalism. The field that’s considered the ‘rough draft’ of history could soon be history — if it doesn’t start reshaping itself for the future. But where should innovation start?

Over the next week, I’ll be writing about five ideas that I’d implement if I was in charge of a traditional newsroom. You may not agree with all of them, and that’s okay.

But all journalists can agree on one thing: now is the time to do what great reporters do best: Question everything.

We can start by asking some tough questions of ourselves.

When You See Me Sprinting Through an Airport, Please Step Aside.

There’s this amazing moment in one of Carl Reiner’s and Mel Brooks’ “2000 Year Old Man” sketches, when Reiner is moving through a line of questions about the early days of man. He’ll get to the good stuff in a second — questions about Joan of Arc, questions about the secrets to longevity — but first, he’s got a softball. “What was the main means of transportation back then?” he asks.

Brooks’ response is classic deadpan, and he crushes it. “Fear,” he says. “You’d see a tiger, and you’d run a mile in a minute.”

We don’t have such sources of transportation inspiration anymore. Except for one, really: the fear of missing an airplane.

On Thursday, I was nearly confined to the multi-thousand square foot beast that is Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

So I ran.

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The last time I made the airport sprint was in San Francisco. My shuttle to the airport was late — by an hour. My flight was on time. From curb to last-call at my gate, I’d been given 14 minutes. But San Francisco International is a relatively easy airport. Each wing has its own security checkpoint, servicing just a dozen or so gates, and I didn’t have any bags to check in, so I butted in line, apologized profusely and then ran — my left hand keeping my pants up, my heavily duct-taped roller bag and belt over my head and waving behind me. I ran like Reggie Bush on a punt return, dodging travelers, spinning away from golf carts, my eyes upterminal at all times. I made it to the gate — the very last gate in the terminal, of course — in time.

I gasped.

I heaved.

But I was on the plane.

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My sense is that Americans, in general, love to procrastinate. We also love to be lazy, to lounge around and to waste time.

So it should follow, logically, that getting a few hours to kill at the airport would be an American pastime.

That’s how I used to feel, actually. When I was young, I’d to ride the subway down with my dad to National Airport in D.C., and we’d sit by the windows and watch the planes take off. Some fathers and sons went to baseball games or the zoo to relax; we went to the airport.

But most Americans don’t see the airport as a relaxing place. That’s why we have a phrase for the occasion: stuck at the airport. Or worse: stranded at the airport.

In all your years, have you ever heard anyone outside of a first class lounge talk excitedly about an extended airport layover? Don’t worry about me, honey. I’ve got four whole hours to spend at Boston Logan!

As a society, we are not claustrophobic, but we fear airport-based confinement, and all of its trappings: patience, non-reclining chairs and doubly-overpriced Starbucks.

Maybe it’s just the way we define airports. We break them up into sections — Terminals, we call them — but we view them with a lower case ‘T.’ As in: beyond curable. Beyond suffering.

As in: the stage just before the light.

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The first sign of trouble hit my inbox on Thursday. There they were two e-mails from Continental Airlines informing me that my flight to Houston had been delayed. I looked at the details. Both said my 8:35 flight had been delayed to…. 8:35. Whatever.

By the time I’d gotten to San Antonio, the departure monitors told a different story. The 7 a.m. to Houston still hadn’t taken off yet. The 8:35 was delayed until 10:15.

My connecting flight in Houston left at 10:30.

I’ll fast-forward for you: I got on a non-delayed 9:15 flight, due to land in Houston’s Terminal C at 10:10. The connection was over in the B gates, no. 75. High numbers are never a good sign, and when my San Antonio flight stalled on the runway for 10 minutes — broken radars in the control tower, the captain said — I wasn’t optimistic about getting to B75 in time.

But we touched down at 10:04, and I was sitting in row 8, and the flight attendant said that since so many people had been delayed that morning, please, for the courtesy of your fellow passengers, let’s have only the passengers with urgent connecting flights stand up when the plane stops.

The plane stopped. The first eight rows stood up.

One guy was connecting to Kansas City. Another to New York. Someone else to Albuquerque, I think.

The doors opened, and we ran.

We ran through the jetway, where the emergency alarm had sounded when the gate agent had goofed in a rush to open the doors for us. We ran through the noise and into….

…Terminal E. Not, as I’d been told, Terminal C, only a quick one-hop subway connection away from my B gate. Instead, I was in the third-to-last gate in the terminal farthest away from where I needed to go. I’d have to cover over a mile of airport in about 12 minutes.

Naturally.

But my next gate hadn’t changed: B75. At least I knew my destination.

Houston Intercontinental Airport

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There are three keys, in my opinion, to surviving the airport sprint:

1. Use the Reverse Jinx: Sitting in San Antonio International on Thursday, I knew two things:

A. If I didn’t eat, I’d make my connecting flight but not have enough time to grab a bite in Houston, and I might not eat anything until 2 or 3. That wouldn’t do.

B. If I did eat, I’d miss my connecting flight and have three hours of waiting in Houston, with plenty of time to eat. And I wouldn’t be hungry, because I’d already eaten. That wouldn’t do, either.

So I grabbed a sandwich and secretly hoped to reverse jinx my way into the perfect scenario: eat early and make my connection. (Spoiler alert! It paid off — except for the part where I had to sprint through an airport terminal with a belly full of McMuffin. But more on that later.)

2. Be Loud: When you’re running, make sure people hear you coming. Be loud, and people will clear a path for you as you run. An airport sprinter is a wrecking ball-in-waiting, so make your presence known. Yell, holler, wear clogs — whatever it takes. There’s a reason those airport golf carts have sirens on them.

3. Look Desperate, But Don’t Panic: If you only take one piece of advice here, take this one. When you’re clomping down a terminal, you want people to look up and instantly know which person is rushing to a flight. Your face needs say, Please, for all that is holy, don’t make me stay one second longer than I need to in this place. But internally, you’ve got to stay poised. I’ve seen roller bags go flying out of control in airports. Stay in control, and let your legs do the rest.

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I ran right, then left, then across a moving walkway. My roller bag skidded behind me; the duct tape on the handle seemed to be holding things together nicely. I wheeled past the international terminal, passengers from Guam and Guatamala looking both groggy and very much not on high alert for me, this 6’6” thing cannonballing into Terminal D, where I could catch the inter-terminal train. Up the escalator, passing a couple on the right — sorry! — I made it to the train.

If the Google Maps tool over at WalkJogRun.net is to be believed, I’d just sprinted just over a quarter mile. In sandals. While wheeling a bag and hauling another one over my shoulder. Through an international terminal.

We reached Terminal C at 10:19. I had a chance, but the train pulled away slooo….. ooowwww…. wwlyyyy. We inched along. Terminal B arrived at about 10:22. My gate was just closing, if I was lucky. Maybe the airport door hadn’t shut, too. I had two minutes, tops.

Out on the platform, there were two escalators, both headed down. The guy going to Kansas City was a step behind me, and I beat him to it. I was in full-on “American Gladiators” mode, demolished the escalator and spun onto the main concourse. Lesser airport gladiators would crumble at the sight of the Houston Intercontinental eliminator; I hung in.

I should say here the floors in Terminal B are different, older. They’re a thin layer of carpet over concrete, and I was running in sandals. The thwap of each step echoed behind me, like “Riverdance” in snowshoes.

Terminal B opened into a square-shaped area, with four corridors leading out from each corner. Gates 76 and above were up on the side next to the train.

Gates 75 and below were not.

So there was another run, this time through the square, past another food court and to the right. It was the home stretch, the last tenth of a mile sprint through the B concourse, and my legs sagged. I wanted to quit. I wanted to stop sprinting. I was defeated.

And then, the tunnel turned. There was light.

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“Breathe, honey, breathe.”

I continued to pant, gasp, sweat. The gate agent, Rosetta, printed out my boarding pass. “Oshinsky? Coming from San Antonio? No way I thought you’d make it. Where’d you come from?”

E22.

“That’s amazing.”

The airplane door hadn’t closed yet, so she walked me down the gateway. I was still sucking for air. She mentioned something about wishing that she had my speed, and I laughed. No one had ever called me fast before.

I tried to tell her that, but it came out something like, “Eyyyee [gasp] mmmm not [gasp gasp] thaaat fass [gasp] ttt.”

I was boarding a puddle jumper, so my roller bag had to be checked plane-side. My breath was coming back, and I asked Rosetta if airport employees had a word for what I’ve just done.

“You know, we used to call it — well, before the trial — we used to call that the O.J. sprint.”

I looked back at her before I board the plane. I got here, I wanted to tell her. But I won’t go there.

Dear Fans: Please Stop Storming the Court After Inconsequential Wins.

I’m sorry, because this doesn’t concern either journalism or my mother (1), but this is too much.

At right, delirious Michigan fans are celebrating a win that happened just this afternoon over the University of Connecticut Huskies. Most years, a win over UConn would be a huge deal. But not this year.

This year, UConn’s best win to date is over William & Mary, a Colonial Athletic Association team that has never made the NCAA Tournament. (2)

And I simply cannot stand by while college sports fans are storming the court after their team beats a team whose previous best victory was over a team that has never played in the NCAA Tournament.

Luckily, I happen to run in the kind of circles where such thoughtless court storming is frowned upon. A friend, Ryan Meyer — who you should get LinkedIn with here — started a chain of e-mails last week after the Clemson Tigers defeated his North Carolina Tar Heels, leading to a storming of the court from Clemson fans. He argued — and most agreed — that UNC wasn’t good enough to deserve a court storming.

What was decided upon is that there should be a set of rules for fans to abide by before storming a court.

Those rules are:

1) The opponent your team just beat is ranked in the top 10, and your team is unranked.

2) The opponent is ranked #1 in the country (your team can hold any ranking below #10).

3) Your team wins on an incredible buzzer beater.

4) Your team wins the conference championship. (For example, Siena fans storming the court as their team clinches an NCAA berth.)

5.) Your team was ranked as a 20-point underdog by Vegas oddsmakers.

6.) It’s a massive rivalry game that your team hasn’t won in more than decade.

7.) Your team erased a deficit of 20 or more points during the game.

A combination of several of the above can also justify a court storming. Take the last court storming that I was involved in: Feb. 9, 2009. My Missouri Tigers were losing by 14 points at the half to the Kansas Jayhawks, a hated rival; KU was ranked in the top 15; and Mizzou hit a game winning shot in the last three seconds for the win. It wasn’t a 20-point deficit (rule #7), or a top-10 win (rule #1) or the end to a decade-long drought (rule #6). But the combination of the three puts it over the top:

  1. Which, as you’ll note from the header here at danoshinsky.com, is the main focus of my blogging efforts
  2. N.B.: UConn has beaten two teams that have beaten Top 50 RPI opponents. William & Mary has won at Wake Forest and at Maryland. Notre Dame has beaten West Virginia at home.

A Brief Word of Advice For Those About to Start Their First Job.

I’ve been gainfully employed for nearly four months, and I’m finally starting to understand a few truths about life inside a conglomerate. When you’re the new guy at a big company, the flowchart of power feels a little like one of those multi-piece Russian matryoshka dolls: you’d like to think you’re important, but if you were to peel away the layers, you’d find that you’re actually one of the tiny dolls hidden deep inside.

In my time at the office, I’ve learned a few things about the corporate life that seem pretty universal. So here are three pieces of advice for anyone about to start their first job in a new town:

1. Ask for a comfortable chair: Sure, it seems like an odd thing to do. And yes, it’s also a line out of “Jerry Maguire.” But if you’re starting life as a cubicle jockey, chances are you’ll be sitting more than you ever have in your life. Your chair might be the most important piece of furniture in your life.

2. Find a good mechanic: At some point, your car is going to break down. For me, the headlights on my car just stopped working a few weeks ago. And you do not want to go to a dealer to get the problem fixed. So if you’re moving to a new town, take a few minutes and find someone who won’t rip you off when your car breaks down. I’d recommend using the ‘Mechanic Files’ over at NPR’s “Car Talk” page. As an added benefit, this might just keep you sane when things go completely wrong.

3. When in doubt, ask: I’d worked at big companies before, but I’d never actually had to navigate a massive corporate bureaucracy before this job. So I’m learning that such places aren’t very good at keeping track of personnel. There’s a sign above the copier at work that speaks to this. “You may be essential,” it reads, “but that doesn’t mean you’re important.” It’s up to you to ask and to make sure that you don’t get lost in the bureaucracy.