True to journalistic form, the communication forum dubbed #RealNews2017, didn’t bury the lead and hold off on what many considered the event’s main draw but, instead, after a few brief words from sponsors and organizers, put MSNBC’s “Hardball” host, Chris Matthews, front and center on stage, and from the audience’s resounding applause, the event seemed to be kicking off in a grand fashion.
Being a political commentator, an author, a talk show host, as well as a former speech writer with experience serving in the Peace Corps, Matthews brought a unique perspective to the forum as he doled out personal insights about the business to tomorrow’s future journalists.
Starting out, Matthews, in an obvious attempt to connect with his largely local George Mason University audience, decided to rhetorically fumble out of the gate and quote, not the man for whom the university he was speaking at is named, but for some inexplicable reason that must have seemed like a good idea in his “Hardball” mind, quote another famous Virginian by the name of Thomas Jefferson, stating, “… were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
One can forgive the obvious rhetorical faux pas, given the nature of the event but, although the quote was technically relevant, given the context of the forum, it still seemed like a negligent slap in the face to another founding father and drafter of the original Virginia Declaration of Rights — the basis for the United States Bill of Rights, in his own house.
Matthews continued on by making the point that access to newspapers and media is of paramount importance, but even more important is the general masses’ ability to interpret and understand what they are being told by the media.
Matthews then went on to list a series of newspapers and media outlets by name, in what seemed like a transparent attempt to stretch his keynote speech to a length permissible to forum organizers, before making an antagonizing reference to our president’s primary means of communicating with the public (Twitter), and asking the audience how they could possibly know where to go for, and what to take as, truth.
Continuing with his flawed approach to connect with his audience — this time with the youth — as an elderly, wealthy, white male, Matthews decided to explicitly paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson, and ask the audience, “What’s in your brain?”
Matthews went on for a few additional minutes asking a series of half-hearted rhetorical questions such as, “Who do we trust, when knowing the truth requires judgement?” for which he gave no clear-cut answer, but given his having a show on MSNBC, one can safely assume that he’d like his own program to be where the audience attending goes for said answers, if for no other reason than a quick boost in his ratings.
“We cannot automatically trust our leaders to give us the facts,” said Matthews, followed by a quick, what seemed to be, pandering recommendation list to the youth, of today’s most popular left-leaning political satirists.
Matthews then, in a blatant disregard for the environment in which he was speaking, asked his audience consisting of media professionals, college professors and journalism students, in a skeptical and condescending tone, “Do you really want to get into this world of media?” Further showcasing his speech’s out of touch and tone-deaf messaging.
Matthews wound down his speech by stating, “[In this business] you can push like mad, and you still need breaks.” He went on to confess that all the work he’s put into his career over the years, probably wouldn’t have gotten him as far as he’s made it if he didn’t catch multiple breaks along the way, due to pure luck — disheartening words for the future journalists in the room that have spent thousands of dollars, and were likely to spend thousands more, to get a leg up and be successful in a business that Matthews says, comes down to a few lucky breaks, if you’re fortunate enough to stumble onto them.
Although Ernest Hemingway never published a single work explicitly addressing his thoughts on, and approach to, writing in a single, cohesive format, one can scour his existing body of work, as well as personal correspondences, and find source material for what could become a fairly comprehensive look into the methodology of one of America’s most renowned and celebrated authors.
This is exactly what Larry W. Phillips and Scribner have done in “Ernest Hemingway on Writing.” By researching and extracting Hemingway’s most insightful and enlightening thoughts and meditations on the writing process, from personal letters, published works, and various other sources, what they have collected is a broad and revealing philosophy on the craft of writing, that both new and experienced writers can learn from and enjoy.
“… writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done. It is a perpetual challenge and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done — so I do it. And it makes me happy when I do it well.” This quote typifies the attitude of this collection, and embodies the approach Hemingway took in his writing and his life. Paired alongside quotes like that above, are reflections such as, “there’s no rule on how it is to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly. Sometimes it is like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.” It’s imagery such as this, that demonstrates Hemingway’s strong visuals weren’t reserved solely for his novels, but had a place in his everyday writing as well.
When it comes to injecting your own opinion into your writing, Hemingway has this to say; “as a man you know who is right and who is wrong. You have to make decisions and enforce them. As a writer you should not judge. You should understand.”
In conducting interviews, Hemingway has this advice to offer. “Listen now. When people talk listen completely. Don’t be thinking what you’re going to say. Most people never listen. Nor do they observe. You should be able to go into a room and when you come out know everything that you saw there and not only that. If that room gave you any feeling you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling. Try that for practice.”
Concerning punctuation, Hemingway states, “my attitude toward punctuation is that it ought to be as conventional as possible. The game of golf would lose a good deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green. You ought to be able to show that you can do it a good deal better than anyone else with the regular tools before you have a license to bring in your own improvements.” Placing emphasis on the bare essentials and basics of prose writing was a hallmark of Hemingway’s style, and can be seen from analogies through this collection — the quote above serving as an example.
Some characteristically brash advice, that some may find a bit harsh, but highlights Hemingway’s self-deprecating sense of humor, can also be found in “Ernest Hemingway on Writing.” Hemingway has this to say about the use of dictionaries; “actually if a writer needs a dictionary he should not write. He should have read the dictionary at least three times from beginning to end and then have loaned it to someone who needs it. There are only certain words which are valid and similes (bring me my dictionary) are like defective ammunition (the lowest thing I can think of at this time).”
“Ernest Hemingway on Writing,” is full of more interesting and provocative perspectives on the art of writing than can be expressed here. Neatly categorized, with sources for all quotations cited throughout, “Ernest Hemingway on Writing” is an essential addition to any Hemingway fan’s library, and a rare, focused glimpse into the mind of a master of his craft.
As an excerpt from the book’s preface states, “some writers, as Hemingway said in Green Hills of Africa, are born only to help another writer to write one sentence,” and in a strange twist of fate, for many aspiring writers, due to this book’s existence, Hemingway may end up being just that to a whole new generation of writers.
Let’s face it. We all have things to do, and limited time in which to do them. If you’re like me, when the sun goes down, your motivation to get to-dos done does as well.
Hat Hair Becomes Inescapable
To anyone who has a head of hair they’re proud to flaunt, good luck out there in the cold. You’re going to want a hood, or beanie of some sort to help keep you warm during the winter months — the price for said warmth — one voluminous, bouncy, luscious head of hair.
Dry Skin Becomes a Fact of Life
There’s a special kind of frustration that comes with getting out of the shower, getting ready and stepping out into the cold, winter weather, only to realize when you take a quick glance at yourself in the rearview mirror, that you need to make a pit stop at CVS to pick up some lotion for your suddenly, surprisingly dry face.
Runny Noses Are Virtually Guaranteed
Beards are a great, natural, way of keeping just a tad bit warmer during the winter months. But if you have a beard, you know the aggravation that a runny nose can cause when it tickles down into the hairs above your upper lip.
An Iced-Over Car Windshield Awaits You Most Mornings
Want to be able to just get up and go wherever you want at the drop of a dime? Don’t expect to do such during winter months. Get ready to build some muscle before hitting the road. For some, scraping the ice off their windshield can be quite the workout.
A Full-Body Freeze Breezes Over You Upon Waking
Your alarm goes off. Your eyes open. It’s still dark outside. You start to emerge from beneath your covers. You suddenly feel an overwhelming urge to hit the snooze button; you just felt a wave of cold sweep across your torso — a tell-tale sign you’re in the throes of winter’s miserable embrace.
Your Wallet Becomes Emaciated
Tis the season to go into crippling debt. If you don’t have a credit card ready and waiting for specifically this time of year, get ready to either get skimpy on your gift giving or be prepared to sacrifice a good stack of actual cash to save face in front of friends and family.
Bad Drivers Are Made Worse by Hazardous Driving Conditions
Are you bothered by bad drivers? Get ready to have that aggravation doubled. If you thought people sucked at driving in optimal conditions, wait ‘til you get a load of how they drive when the roads freeze.
Your Dieting Efforts Become Moot
Did you spend all summer sculpting and perfecting your ideal beach bod? If so, get ready to have all your hard work go unnoticed and unappreciated by the general public. Winter necessities like sweaters and coats are going to bury any trace of midsection maintenance you want to show off.
Frigid Nights Stall Your Social Outings
Ever get home from work and feel the sudden urge to call up some friends for a night on the town? Think again if it’s winter. There’s a decent chance that neither you, nor anyone in your social network, will feel compelled to brave the cold for the sake of an impromptu rendezvous.
Dempsey Hamilton opened Mobius Records in Old Town Fairfax, three years ago this past August. Hamilton is the owner, and main operator, of the small record shop devoted to being a mainstay and stronghold for vinyl and music lovers alike. Anyone curious enough to take a spin around Hamilton’s laidback record shop, will have to make the trip down to Old Town because, like many gems in Old Town, there’s only one Mobius Records.
“I spent roughly 20 years in the music business as a sound engineer. I worked with a lot of bands, toured a lot, but after a while, I was looking to get out of that lifestyle,” says Hamilton.
Restless and wanting to make some time for himself, Hamilton scouted out opportunities to unwind in between gigs. While enjoying some downtime, Hamilton was struck with the inspiration that would ultimately spur him to open his shop.
“During my time touring with bands, whenever we’d finish sound check, I would find a local record store — whatever city we were in, to kind of have my Zen — to get away from whatever band I was with, and just kind of get lost in the music and artwork and that kind of cool stuff that comes along with a record store. I wanted to recreate that, for myself somehow, and kind of live in that Zen,” says Hamilton.
Uncertainty plagued Hamilton when he first opened to doors of his record shop. Not being able to afford extra hands meant long hours and only a few, if any, days off. But Hamilton stuck it out and weathered the choppy waters of starting a small business, and over time, business began to pick up.
“In the beginning years, 2005 or 2006, I’d be the only guy working in the store on weekends. Towards 2007, 08, 09, traffic in the store started to pick up; there were a lot of folks coming into the store, and I was like, ‘okay, maybe there’s something to this,’” says Hamilton.
Staying on the public’s pulse and keeping an ear to the ground is a way of life for a small business looking to stay in the game. It’s important to know your customer. A small business needs to care about, and invest in, what makes their customers happy.
“New release day is Friday of every week. We tend to cater to our clientele here; what they like is what we concentrate on getting as far as product goes. There’s a lot of record stores. Some of them dabble in new music. Some of them don’t. We primarily focus on reissues of older albums and whatever current artists are putting out these days. We do sell used records, but they make up only about 15 percent of our store’s inventory, as opposed to 85 percent of our products being new,” says Hamilton.
Knowing what sells where is an important aspect of owning a small business. Hamilton knows that his business mainly comes from walk-ins. But that doesn’t stop him from maintaining some kind of presence online for collectors with more particular wants and needs.
“We have a small online presence we use to sell our rarities records, which are typically from our collection of used records, but we do most of our business by people just coming in and having the experience of looking around and flipping through the bins,” says Hamilton.
Hamilton is lucky to have struck the iron while it was hot, as far a vinyl is concerned. Younger generations are rediscovering what older generations have known for decades. Vinyl has a character all its own, and enriches almost any listening experience for almost any listening audience.
“Vinyl is coming back big time; It’s a billion-dollar industry this year. Our demographics are all over the place — I’m talking 13 to 75 years old. Being a sound engineer, I have my own theories as to why vinyl has come back so strong. There’s nothing that sounds quite like analog. You get a full depth of richness and texture with it, but there’s also the visceral aspect of it. Holding this textile thing in your hand, and looking at the artwork, being able to look at the liner notes and see who was involved with the record, where it was produced. All those kinds of things, a lot of music nerds like myself dig diving into,” says Hamilton.
Hamilton has observed a sad trend in today’s culture of workaholic behavior that robs people of the time and tranquil state of mind necessary to slow down and enjoy what his store offers.
“In this age that we live in, of instant gratification, most people who don’t invest in music, will just buy a song, and then have it shuffled in with the rest of their other music. So, you don’t really get to know the artist’s interpretation of how their record was supposed to be heard. There’s a lot of thought that goes into what track is first, what track is last, and everything that falls in between,” says Hamilton.
“To be able to sit down in a chair and take the time out of your day to put on a record and listen to it from start to finish is a thing, I think, the hustle and bustle that most of us live in these days, doesn’t call for in our lifestyles. So, to be able to take out that 45 minutes to listen to a record is a pretty special thing these days — at least in my eyes,” says Hamilton.
When it comes to being an owner of a small business, Hamilton has a unique perspective. He didn’t graduate from some ‘fancy’ business school, or get handouts from wealthy parents to start his business. He’s seen the ups, downs and in-betweens of being your own boss.
“I’m constantly learning. I don’t have any background in retail. I also don’t have a business education. I don’t have any education past high school. Not having a boss is a great thing, but it’s a great challenge as well. I think it’s provided me with a lot of joy, and stress, in my life. But the joy definitely outweighs the stress,” says Hamilton.
“Now that we’re in our third year, I’ve been able to have more staff and delegate some of my duties. In the beginning, I was working six days at the store and closing one day a week to have a day off. It was all consuming. It was very difficult to maintain the juggle of having a family and running a small business at the same time. I was never truly off the clock. Even now, it never stops. My days off are usually spent in my basement doing orders, or talking on the phone with my employees. I don’t ever really get away. But that’s okay. It’s what I signed up for,” says Hamilton.
Some unexpected surprises came about as a result of Hamilton’s store opening, that even Hamilton himself didn’t foresee. He knew that his store would enrich the community around it, but what he didn’t realize was that his ‘baby’ would bring people together for more than just listening parties.
“The number of bands, as well as friendships, that are formed in here, just solely based on conversations, it’s pretty special. It’s a cool aspect of opening the store that I never really thought would be part of the journey, or at least, I didn’t see in the beginning,” says Hamilton.
Challenges arise all the time in a small business. Supply and demand is a make-or-break concept. Hamilton has had to make tough calls recently, that a couple of years ago, weren’t even options to choose from.
“I think keeping up with demand is definitely one of the hardest challenges in doing this. When I first opened Mobius in 2014, although vinyl was on the cusp of making a comeback in a niche market, the releases were not as abundant. On a Friday, we’d have maybe four releases that I would buy for the store, out of, maybe, a selection of 20. Now, when I do my orders on Monday, I’m choosing from among 200 to 300 records that will be released the coming Friday,” says Hamilton.
“So, now I have to think, ‘okay, do I know who this artist is? Is this artist going to do well in the store? How many copies do I buy of this artist’s album? How many people do I think are really going to buy this album?’ The game has completely changed in the last three years,” says Hamilton.
Hamilton gives back to the musicians who patron his store by offering a place for them to get together and play gigs every month. Bands and musicians don’t have to have an album out. They don’t have to negotiate with the house. All any act has to do is go up to Hamilton and ask if the store has an opening to play coming up.
“We offer opportunities to play shows here for bands that shop in the store. It’s our way of giving back to them. All of our shows are always charity based. We don’t take any profits from them, and neither do the bands that play. It’s more or less, to give them a place to perform and get some new fans,” says Hamilton.
“We’re always open during the shows, so people can still come in and shop if they want to. We typically try to have a show once a month on Saturdays from 6 to 8 p.m.,” says Hamilton.
When it comes to advice for anyone thinking about opening their own small business, Hamilton has some choice words for prospective entrepreneurs.
“Life is short. If you think you have an idea for a business that could possibly bring some enrichment to your life, and also create a customer base that would sustain the business, just go for it,” says Hamilton.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of fear and doubt going into anything that’s unknown, and for me, starting this store was a huge unknown. I used my own retirement and took a gamble on my family to start this store, but my biggest motivation throughout the ordeal was the thought, I would much rather fail, than to never have tried at all,” says Hamilton.
Old Town Fairfax afforded Hamilton a place to grow his business, clientele and sphere of influence in his community. It allowed Hamilton to take a passion of his, and turn it into a means of living.
“I wanted to create something that would speak to high school, college and neighborhood folks alike. A place of their own they could go to hang out, shop or just chill and see a band. Luckily, Fairfax city is still growing, so the rents are cheaper than most places I scouted out. I don’t know if I could have made Mobius a reality anywhere else,” says Hamilton.
A virtual treasure trove of cultural artifacts and memorabilia awaits those fortunate enough to wander into Collector’s World. From baseball cards, to signed football apparel, to Pokémon and Magic the Gathering merchandise, one can find a vast array of products and services at this local diamond in the rough.
When it comes to the actual experience of working for a small business, the General Manager of Collector’s World, Luis Guzman, says that being a small business employee allows him to have more freedom and creative control in his daily activities than he would if he worked for a corporation or big-box store, such as Walmart.
“The thing that I like about [working for a small business] versus the big stores, is that I get a lot more freedom as a manager. I get to make more decisions, and it allows me to be more involved, versus just having to respond to questions from corporate. You actually get to have a say in what goes on [in a small business],” says Guzman.
Guzman says he enjoys aspects of his work, such as cultivating good relationships with store regulars and seeing the business grow organically through word-of-mouth, rather than spending thousands of dollars on television advertisements or other non-organic means of growth.
“A big difference between working for a small business versus a big-box store is, you tend to develop more of a relationship with the customers. You get to know them better on a one-on-one level. Here, they come in, you get to chat with them, figure out what they like, what they’re into, and then steer them in the right direction. We’ve had customers that have come in once, just to check the place out, you get to know them a little bit, and now they’re customers that we’ve had for two, three, four years — very steady, very loyal guys and gals,” says Guzman.
Collector’s World has maintained quite a few of its staples over the years, such as their regularly updated wall of comics, and their extensive back catalogue of rare and hard-to-find comics. But with changing trends and technology, Collector’s World, like many other businesses, has had to find new ways to showcase their growing inventory to bring a new generation of patrons not only through their doors, but to their corner of the digital marketplace as well.
“We have to keep up with every trend. With the eBay mobile app, I can do a listing in two or three minutes, and then, BOOM, my item is up for sale for anybody in the world to buy. Why limit myself to Annandale, Falls Church, Fairfax and the surrounding area, when I can reach some guy in California, who needs that one baseball card to complete his set, or that one comic book to complete his whole collection? I just don’t see how any small business like ours can survive without an online presence these days,” says Guzman.
The times are changing, and what it takes to run a small business successfully is changing as well. Collector’s World knows what it takes to stay in the game these days. For those curious enough to take a trip down to Annandale to discover this gem of a store for themselves, the experience and environment will, more than likely, be incredibly rewarding and well worth the effort.
“All the President’s Men” is a film that follows the events that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency of the United States. The film, as well as the events it portrays, took place in the 1970s. The time period does a lot to highlight the challenges journalists faced back then and the methods they had to use to communicate effectively.
In today’s world, we’re used to texting each other, emailing colleagues, searching library databases in seconds, and rarely take a moment to look back to appreciate how far communication has come since the days of yelling as loud as one could to be heard, or using the pony express to get a message to someone.
“All the President’s Men” has two main characters, Woodward and Bernstein. They are the two journalists responsible for bringing the Watergate Scandal to the public’s attention, and exposing the corruption of the Nixon administration. Through following their activities, viewers gets a glimpse at how it was to be a journalists not too long ago.
One thing that stood out in the film, was just how slow things moved back then. Perhaps the movie had a pacing problem, if so, that’s the editor’s fault — but that’s beside the point. They had no mobile phones that put effective communication at their fingertips. They had to either do their work physically in the same space, or wait until they saw each other again to share what they uncovered.
Landline phones were another conspicuous presence in the film. It was bad enough that someone had to actually be physically home to talk to someone not in the room with them, but the cord on the phone served as an additional chain to the home or office.
Libraries were both a place to be dreaded, and a treasure trove to be riffled through, back in the 1970s. There were no computers one could go on and search a few keywords to find what they were looking for. Journalists had to search through card catalogues and numerous clips to discover what they were looking for. I could take hours, maybe even days, to uncover anything of value to them. Every second you spent looking through hard copies of old publications, resulted in time lost trying to beat a competitor to a story.
Toward the end of the film, Woodward and Bernstein realize the apartment they are in, is possibly bugged. In today’s day and age, we would text each other what we wanted the other to know if we couldn’t talk to each other directly, but Woodward and Bernstein had to actually sit down at a type writer, and type out what they wanted to tell each other, while the other looked over their shoulder.
Perhaps I would have gotten used to the pace of things back then, and not minded the slower and more rudimentary forms of communication, but having been raised in the internet age, I can’t imagine what a miracle today’s world must seem to those who actually lived through the technological dark age of the mid 1900s, and have a living memory of how it used to be.
A watchdog, a martyr for ‘the cause,’ an advocate for the truth, and an occasional speedbump under some type of slow-moving bus — a journalist can be, and often is, all of these things and more. In a perfect world, journalists would be able to expose hard truths, bring unscrupulous behaviors to light, and be held up as heroes for doing such. In today’s world, journalists are more likely to be thrown in a jail cell for pursuing the truth, than be celebrated for their investigative research, especially when who they seek to expose happens to sit on a significant pile of cash.
Integrity isn’t cheap, and neither is an education, therefore journalists often face the dilemma of caving to what their employers need from them, or not being able to keep the lights on in their studio apartments. To be a journalist in today’s day and age, implies one will almost certainly be torn between two worlds: being true to their morals or being the best at ‘getting the scoop;’ telling it like it is or telling it with a ‘spin;’ putting their two cents into their story or turning a blind eye to blatant wrongdoings.
In many ways, America is steeped in an ‘opinion economy.’ Everyone has something to say about everything. To be a journalist, is to be inherently counter-culture. It can be lonely. It can be frustrating and, at the end of the day, it can lead one to ask oneself, “why did I choose a life so culturally isolating and socially ostracizing?” Freedom of speech is only valuable if you have the freedom to speak — but about what? Certainly not your opinion — if you’re a journalist.
We fight so tenaciously for a right we can’t fully enjoy if we do our job faithfully. What an interesting dilemma to which we condemn ourselves. The public is losing faith in us. The president denounces our profession. Pundits are passing themselves off as ‘one of us,’ and the public either can’t tell the difference, or cease to care. What went wrong? The money seems to be a major contributor to the downfall of objective and effective writing.
Traditional newspapers are seeing their sales fall. It’s harder to find ways to monetize our medium, and those we’ve vowed to police, are buying the channels through which we are supposed to be policing. Capitalism is both a blessing and a curse, a poison and a remedy, a hero, but one with a corruptible conscience, and in the information wars, the people are voting with their dollars and their clicks, and hard-hitting journalism is losing — badly.
What can we do? I don’t know. Most journalism seems to be turning into public relations, and when it’s not serving some corporate interest, it occupies its time by spewing out pop culture opinion pieces, both of which are, from what I’ve been taught, the antithesis of good journalism. The line between good and bad journalism is blurred, now, more than ever, and future journalists have their work cut out for them trying to distinguish where, and if, the line is going to exist in the years to come.