Monday, May 19, 2014

Vanity Fair's Lost Opportunity with Scarlett Johansson

Vanity Fair, for me, usually gets the gold star when it comes to jaw-dropping-no-stone-uncovered research that reveals savory details to set a foundation for lusciously written prose.

So I was pretty excited to see that the magazine had a feature spread on Scarlett Johansson, who I consider to be our generation's Marilyn Monroe on steroids. If anybody could do Johansson justice -- if anybody could give this starlet depth of respectful journalistic coverage like a down white blanket over the glittery sex kitten persona -- Vanity Fair could.

Right?

Wrong.

I was hugely let down by this story, and I felt it deserved a blog entry, because it's the epitome of the mistake that every single person who claims to be a "journalist" should avoid at all costs:

Inserting yourself into the story.

Right out of the gate, we weren't reading about Scarlett, but about this writer's penchant for playing it cool with celebrities and then being awestruck by her dazzling photo shoot in a posh hotel.

We get a play-by-play of lustful thoughts, as the writer struggles to regain composure and concentration for the interview.

Then, we see the writer's feelings hurt, as Scarlett "firmly" (the word used in the article) refuses a glass of wine before the interview begins.

(Seriously???)

The writer then veers off course to give us background of the actress's career, which, under normal article-writing standards would be just fine, except that we're still waiting for the "main event," as it were -- the actual INTERVIEW.

Finally (finally!), the writer allows Scarlett to speak.

But by the time we get to her thoughts, we basically are reading a shallow discussion, as the writer continues to wrestle with thoughts about how Scarlett now resembles more of a graduate student than a glittery icon. The depth of content is as scanty as the negligee this writer has been conjuring since setting eyes on her.

I put the magazine down feeling like I'd just picked up a wanna-be-Playboy-article -- but definitely not something worthy of the prestige of Vanity Fair -- and definitely not something that could have given this bright young talent the respectful narrative she deserved.

And it got me thinking about people who call themselves journalists but are more like voyeurs who happen to have a gift with words.

See .... once you put yourself and your feelings and your thoughts in a personal profile piece, you've lost the entire game. Your job is to give the reader an opportunity to live vicariously through you. They should be the one sitting in your interview seat, hearing the words through your ears, seeing the subject through your eyes, but not seeing you.

That's where we have to strike the balance as journalists. We bring the person to life on a page -- magicians who are unseen, conjuring the images and emotions with a masterful pen stroke that gives the reader the intimacy they crave without knowledge that we were even in the room.

Have you ever gotten in the way of a story?

I know we're all tempted to do it, and I'm sure that when faced with a larger-than-life persona, our own egos fight to let the world know that we were there with them.

But if the reader gives you enough respect to take a few moments to read words you have written, at least give them the respect they're due. Get your arrogant ass out of the way, and let the interviewee step to the forefront.

In this case, the writer for Vanity Fair basically shoved Scarlett to the wings of the stage and took its center. Her spotlight receded, while this person's waking wet dream jumped up and down and screamed for attention.

OK.

It got my attention.

But this story's writer -- and whoever edited this drivel -- didn't win what they were seeking:

A reader's respect.

And I have to wonder if Scarlett Johansson cast the piece aside, thinking much the same thing.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ideas, Ideas, Ideas!

People ask me all the time:

"How do you come up with your ideas as a freelancer? Do editors assign you stories, or do you have to come up with things by yourself?"

Both. I do get assignments from editors. But before that can happen for any freelancer, you have to establish a rapport with those editors to receive unsolicited work.

And how do you go about doing that?

Send them a list of ideas that will appeal to their readers.

Believe it or not, it's not as difficult as it sounds. Here are a few things I do regularly online to come up with no-fail pitches:

1. A simple Google search: I know you're going to laugh and say, "It can't be that easy," but here we go: Go to the Google search box and type the type of market you are pitching along with the word, "issue." For example, I write for military magazines. Yesterday, I needed to come up with pitches for a publication that is read by members of the U.S. National Guard. So I went to Google and typed in, "National Guard issues." Voila, up came lists of news stories that affect my readers. I drilled into those to advance them into timeless ideas. You can do this with any market. One of my other magazines reaches pizza restaurant owners throughout the United States and Canada. I do the same thing: "waitress issues," "front of the house issues," "back office issues," "entrepreneur issues" ... you get the idea. I know, I know, I know, it sounds too simple to be effective, but you'll be amazed at how many things you can find that can be expanded upon into great feature stores.

2. Subscribe to blogs and e-letters focusing on your personal interests: I have varying interests and hobbies that are separate from the types of trade magazines for whom I write. I practice yoga. I'm a single mom. I'm dating. I'm an antique lover. I dig British history, everything from Richard III to the Regency era. And I love experimenting in the kitchen. Attached to all of these interests are blogs that I hit periodically. "Well," you might say, "what do any of those things have to do with a military magazine? Or an entrepreneur magazine? Or a Realtor magazine?" Sometimes nothing. But sometimes I'll hit a blog entry pertaining to single parenting that can also be applied to military spouses whose husbands or wives are deployed. I might read a blog about the history of a battle in the Middle Ages or weaponry and spin that into an article about how ancient warfare tactics apply today. Or I might hit a yoga blog about building a yoga teaching business -- and the concepts are similar to what a Realtor can do to advance his or her operation. Or I might see something about Victorian architecture, which can also be applied to home sale stories for Realtors. Last year, I saw a blog about recipes for people with allergies, and that led to a story about marketing to people with allergies for pizza restaurant owners at my pizza magazine. Basically, it's taking your personal interests and thinking outside that box to see how those interests might dovetail into your niche readership. Yes, it requires a bit of brain pretzel twisting, but it's worth your time and effort. And, frankly, it's fun!

3. Keep an eye on trends in social media. I have about 4,200 followers on Twitter and 300-some on Facebook. Besides my addiction to Candy Crush (it's pretty bad, but I digress), I use social media to chat and keep my radar up for issues that concern my friends, which always translates into something that concerns my readers. On Twitter, I follow a lot of parents who have children with Asperger's Syndrome, which my child also has. Again, that leads to story ideas. I also have met great PR professionals on Twitter, who tag me when their clients have stories that may interest my readers. Facebook is another treasure trove, because my inner circle friends will discuss things that I may not otherwise hear on the more public Twitter forum. This week, we were talking about the differences between Internet Service Providers, because I'm moving to a new house and am shopping. The discussion led to an idea about customer service and marketing tactics for people moving into new homes, which I will pitch to my Realtor magazine.

The bottom line is, if you have a computer, tablet or phone, you can find ideas. The trick is using the tools online effectively to constantly think creatively and intuitively. Your editors will thank you, and your bank statement will balloon in no time.


 

Friday, December 13, 2013

My Favorite PR People

Whether you're a journalist or a PR professional, you already know about the unspoken tension between the two camps. I've been doing my job now for 24 1/2 years, and I can tell you that there are times when I shake my fist and curse the existence of PR people and others when I thank God in Heaven for putting them on planet Earth.

And how do I show thanks to those who make my life easier?

Well take this morning as an example: I had a new story assignment. Rather than put it up on Profnet.com to the masses of PR professionals, I contacted one who keeps in touch with me regularly. This person follows me on Twitter, takes time to ask how I'm doing and this week had lined up a stellar source for two of my stories. I gave him first dibs on this new assignment for one of his clients. If they pass and don't have anyone who fits the bill, then I put the story up on Profnet for everybody else's consideration.

I do this regularly with about a half-dozen favorite PR people.

How does a PR professional gain become a journalist's "favorite?"

It's really very simple: Stay in touch. Be human. OK, here's another example: The week before Thanksgiving, I had a highly unusual story for one of my military publications. I had to write about jobs in a specific technology career and how military service people find opportunities in the civilian market place for that niche. I have to admit, I was daunted. So I went on LinkedIn and typed in a search for that specific job ... and voila! A list of opportunities showed up! With that, I could see which companies had the most prominent needs. I contacted those companies to find interviewees.

One of the responders called after Thanksgiving, and by then, I'd actually completed all of my interviews. I explained to the PR person that because of the holiday and the tight deadline, I'd already finished the story, but I told him other opportunities might come up for other stories. Most PR people at that point would say thank you and hang up, but this person pressed me: What types of stories?

Well, as a matter of fact, I had a new assignment that day. This one covered initiatives to recruit and retain wounded warriors. Would his company like to comment on anything they were doing in that arena? He said he'd get back to me.

Yesterday, he called again ... and it turned out that he was shocked to discover that his company didn't have anything organized. He was chagrined and very apologetic.

I tell ya what: This guy immediately goes to the top of my "favorites" list, because even though he couldn't help me with two stories, he tried so hard to be accommodating! From now on, every time I get an assignment that is related to job hunting, guess who I'm going to hit first to see if they want to participate?

There's a third example: I've interviewed one particular expert for three different magazines in the past month. The reason is that he called one day just to discuss ways he could help me come up with story pitches. He wanted to find out about all of the magazines that use me regularly, and he wanted to be available to help develop ideas that would interest them. He had great suggestions, and if any of those pitches turn into assignments .... guess who gets the first call?

Most people want a quick-and-easy way to form relationships with reporters. As you can see from these examples, they happen organically. In the age of social media, we don't necessarily cavort over cocktails at 5 or coffee klatches at the Chamber. We connect via Web portals, phone texts, emails, Facebook and LinkedIn posts and Twitter. That said, the importance of the quality of the connection can never be over-stated.

Once the barrier is broken with me, I have no qualms about sharing personal stories with PR professionals about my child, my yoga practice, even my dog. Some people may say to me that it's inappropriate to be so open and friendly. But I'd assert that being this way leads to an enriching give-and-take and leads me to wonderful people who have amazing stories to share.

And in this age of connectivity, isn't this type of connection what our work is all about?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Eggnog and Yoga to the Writer's Rescue

Tumbling through the front door, we cast a school backpack on a piano bench, kick shoes in wide-flung directions, shed bulky coats and drop car keys with a clatter on the kitchen counter.

I grab stemware from a cupboard, open the refrigerator and spy what I desire -- a carton of eggnog -- and fill the glass with the sweet and cold liquid, topping it with a shake of nutmeg.

"Ahhhhhhhhhh," I sigh, staring out of the window at a winter blue sky, breathing deeply and savoring the seasonal drink.

Lately I have been steeping myself in these moments -- stolen snatches of peace and calm in the midst of chaos.

If you're a writer who works at home -- and if you also happen to be a single mom -- you already know that December brings with it too many distractions and interruptions. Time cannot be a wasted commodity, and each workday must be meticulously planned so that deadlines can be met while at the same time a child is provided for and Christmas gifts are sought.

However, this December is even more frenetic for me, because although I normally am signing with creativity and brimming with holiday enthusiasm .... I am zapped of all energy.

Two months ago I hit a very unexpected health crisis event. Although I have fully recovered and am back to my normal workload, my Muse has not caught up with the rest of me. While I charge ahead with bill-paying writing assignments and juggle "mommy duties," my desire for imaginative composition has been non-existent.

I feel flat, one-dimensional, boring, robotic.

If I were to follow my own advice, to pull out of this funk I would tell myself to suck it up and write what I love to write. In the past, this strategy has worked well and has fueled me enough to not only complete my magazine assignments, but also infuse my creativity.

But even now, I can't kick myself to the curb in that manner. I've been resigned and, quite frankly, have felt nothing short of pillaged.

That is until today.

Today, in a last-minute decision, I grabbed the latest edition of Yoga Journal magazine from my bedside as I raced to pick up my child from school. I figured I'd read it in the parking lot while I waited.

To the backdrop of British trumpeter Alison Balsom on my car CD player, I thumbed through each page .... and slowly started breathing again.

And I suddenly realized an important practice I had been overlooking since that harrowing hospitalization event -- that of self-care. Within 36 hours of my hospital release, I was writing and completing magazine assignments. I only stopped working long enough for the after effects of the surgical anesthesia to wear off, and I was right back to it.

What I have found is that in my yoga practice, I have had to force myself to slow down, even if it's just for an hour-and-a-half at my gym three times a week. I recently picked up a subscription to Yoga Journal, not because I wanted to write for this publication, but because I needed it. The articles are a balm for me. They don't only touch on yoga asanas (poses), but also cover everything from human compassion, to healthy eating, to finding your bliss.

As writers, and especially as American writers with our Puritanical mindsets, we have a tendency to convince ourselves that if we're reading it, we'd better be writing it, too.

But I've decided lately that sometimes it's really just fine to soak in the art of others and allow the words of others to strengthen us, solidify our thinking, firm up our sensibilities.

If you've hit a wall like I have recently, consider gravitating to something you love. It doesn't have to be something you read. But I have found that in my pursuit of yoga as an exercise and now as a mindset, focusing on this particular subject gives me a great deal of joy and satisfaction. Clouding that with the obligation to write about it would conversely take away from the purpose of appreciating it.

After my child exited the school and we rolled through the countryside of Kentucky's horse farms, I suddenly started noticing my surroundings, things I'd hypnotically ignored on the way in: the beauty of the animals in the fields, the sweeping arc of birds in flight, the purity of the sky's hue.

And as I stepped back into my home and cast off the trappings of a busy life -- school backpack and all -- I gingerly laid the magazine on the kitchen counter and thoroughly enjoyed that cold glass of eggnog. I sank in to the beauty of the afternoon and whispered a prayer of thanks for health, for my child, for my blessings.

"Writer's Block" is a phrase we kick around -- usually with a curse under our breath -- but I'd encourage you that next time you hit the wall like I have, dig deep to think about what you love. Then enjoy what you love. Really enjoy it.

Because it's only when we shun the obligation in favor of the joy that the real writing begins again.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Comedy of Preventable PR Errors

PR professionals ask me all the time, "How do I get my client featured in one of your magazines?"

The answer isn't rocket science and just takes a little bit of common sense.

However, not everyone is using their noggin.

Case in point:

About 10 days ago, I sent out a query on Profnet.com (the site that connects journalists with story sources). The story was for one of my military publications, and the angle was pretty straight-forward: I needed sources to discuss how people in the National Guard can find military-friendly employers. I deliberately sent the query early, because I was going to be out for a week's vacation and wanted to hit the ground running when I got back.

A young PR professional got in touch the same day and said he had two sources. Both of them were veterans, and both were owners of franchise companies that largely employed veterans. After looking over their qualifications, I determined that they would be good fits. And I turned down other responders to my Profnet query in favor of them.

The PR person told me that the sources would call me. The first was to get in touch at 9 a.m. Eastern time -- today. But about an hour later, I received an email calendar alert that the interview was to take place at 6 a.m. So I checked with the PR professional again to make sure I hadn't crossed my wires. He informed me that the 6 a.m. time was for the source, who was on the Western clock. I also double-verified that the source would be calling me, not the other way around.

Fast forward to today.

9 a.m. came and went. I gave it about 20 minutes and then emailed the PR person, explaining that no one had contacted me. Twenty-five minutes after that, he emailed back and said he had not communicated to the source that he was supposed to call me. "But here is his phone number, and you can reach him now," he said.

With an email message like that, I assumed that the source had been briefed of PR person's mixup.

I called, and this was the first thing the source huffed:

"Hi -- you were supposed to call me 45 minutes ago! I guess I can still do the interview."

I explained that the PR person had communicated otherwise and apologized that he'd been kept waiting. I then gave the source the Cliffs Notes version of the story angle -- how National Guard members can find employers that are sympathetic to their challenges.

And then the source said:

"I was under the impression that you were doing a story about how to get into franchising. I had prepared responses about my company and how to find franchise companies that are good fits for military service members. And I don't have anyone working for me who is in the National Guard."

Wow.

The biggest mistake I see among PR professionals who use Profnet -- especially those who are in their 20s -- is that they think they can change the reporter's story angle by getting THEIR source in the story to talk about THEIR angle.

See .... it doesn't work that way.

I have a story angle. I have an editor who has assigned the story angle. I am not paid unless I deliver a story ... with that precise angle.

You, as a PR professional, are not going to change my story angle. And your sources will not convince me to change my story angle.

Can I make this any plainer?

Additionally, if you are coordinating interviews between a journalist and your source, for God's sake, please make sure that 1)  You have given everyone the correct time zone for the interview, 2) You have communicated clearly who is to place the call and 3) Your source has been fully briefed on the angle of the story -- WHICH WILL NOT CHANGE.

These things are all basic common sense, but I have seen this happen more frequently in my 24 years of reporting than you would imagine. And I hate to over-generalize, but it mostly occurs with PR professionals who have been in the business for fewer than 10 years.

So back to the original question: "How do I get my client featured in one of your magazines?"

Answer:

Use common sense. Don't try to fit a square peg in a round hole. Take your time and coordinate schedules.

Because if you don't, you can be assured that I will not come back to you when I have another assignment.

What did I do after this mix up? I'll tell you. I emailed the PR professional and said that not only was I not using the first source, but I also would not use the second one. I know that sounds harsh, but I have a lineup of others that were at the ready to participate. If the first source was not fully prepared, it was fairly predictable that the second wouldn't be, either.

Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice ... shame on me.

I don't give opportunities to be burned twice.





Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What Meg Tilly's Book Has to Do With Journalistic Integrity



When I was 12, I came home from school one day to discover that my parents had brought home a girl from church. “She’ll be living with us for the next week, and so make sure you show her all of your dolls and things,” my mother whispered as I put down my stack of school books.

My parents were Salvation Army officers – which is another way of saying that they were pastors. I was accustomed to life revolving around the ins and outs of their mission. We would get phone calls in the middle of a Thanksgiving dinner, for example, and my father would rush out to deliver a food basket to someone who had a last-minute need. And my brother and I spent hours on end at the local Salvation Army, especially during December, when my mother ran a “toy shop” for people who couldn’t afford to buy gifts for their children.

But this was the very first time that they’d actually brought home a child to stay with us.

I remember taking the girl’s hand and leading her upstairs to my pink and white room. “Would you like to play Barbies?” I asked. She shrugged, eyeing my tall Barbie townhouse. “I got this for Christmas,” I explained. “See? It even has an elevator.” I pulled on a string to make the plastic box go up and down. She sat down and silently held my dolls, stroking their hair and not uttering a word.

The week was difficult. The girl never wanted to play in my room. She preferred to stay in the basement, where my parents had created a guest room. I didn’t feel like she liked me very much, despite my attempts to engage her. When she left, I was relieved to have life back as it was.

Years later, as I studied in college for my chosen profession of journalism, I had a class in which my professor asked the ethical question: “Is it right for journalists to cover all crime stories? Should journalists stay away from stories about child abuse and child sexual molestation?”

It got me thinking, and suddenly, the girl’s visit to our house of long ago made sense. I remember asking my mother, and she confirmed my suspicions – the child had been abused by her father, and my parents had agreed to take her in as soon as an emergency until foster care could be lined up. I never saw the girl again, and her name and face still haunt me to this day. What happened to her?

As a reporter, the memory of this child ate at me whenever I was asked to do a police write-up on a child abuse case. And because I come from a conservative religious background, many of my friends were highly critical of my chosen profession and the types of stories I was assigned to write.

“Don’t you think that’s exploitation?” they would ask whenever I would bring up a story about a victim of child abuse.

It bothered me. Was it? Was I taking advantage of someone else’s misfortune so that I could advance my career? I had to dig deep and look at my motives, and I realized: The stories had to be told. How else would these victims have a voice? How else would justice prevail? How else would the public be made aware of criminal activity against society’s innocent members? How else could it be stopped? It had to be printed. It had to be told. And I felt a deep connection to the girl of long ago, realizing that her story was a story being repeated over and over again – and people needed to be made aware.

Fast forward to this month, when, out of curiosity, I picked up a book written by the actress Meg Tilly.

The title: “Gemma.”

The premise: A 12-year-old girl is abducted by a sexual predator and has to survive a harrowing journey from his car trunk, to hotel rooms, to finally being rescued, to confronting him in a courtroom.

I have to be honest with you.

The initial chapters made me so physically ill that I had to put the book away. I didn’t think I would pick it up again. I asked myself: “What’s the point of reading this? What’s the point of filling my mind with this?”

But then I realized that I was being quite hypocritical. If I really believed what I told myself those years ago – that these stories had to be told – then I could at least see if this book/author had the same purpose.

It did, and she does.

I am now mom to a 10-year-old boy. The much publicized stories of the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State University have hit me hard as a single mom, because Sandusky’s victims were children of single moms. I have closely followed that case because I want to be made aware of how someone like Sandusky managed to get away with his atrocities undetected for as long as he did. What could those moms have done differently to protect their boys?

As I read through “Gemma,” I was struck by Tilly’s gift to put me squarely in the mind of a monster like Sandusky. And I was equally struck by her gift to illustrate the mind-set of a child who is thus victimized. Seeing the world through Gemma’s eyes, one realizes the deficiencies of our educational system, our court system, our system as a society to keep watch over our young and innocent children, and our steadfast denial as parents of lurking dangers that could snatch our children from our chests.

The result is a heart-pounding, non-stop ride through Gemma’s soul – an opaque window that allows us to glimpse the sufferings of tiny human beings who don’t have a chance … unless we are willing to help.

If you shy from reading a book like “Gemma,” it’s understandable. None of us really wants to look at the underbelly of the worst of humanity. But I’d strongly encourage you to give it a chance, especially if you are a teacher, pastor, social worker, court official, lawyer, police officer – and especially, a journalist. Tilly gives us insights into a plight of a reality that most of us can only guess.

I still think about the girl in my house in 1977. I still see her sitting on my bedroom floor and holding the Barbies as if they were alien creatures. I still see the look on her face as she made it clear to me that I was in a completely different league – I was still a child. She was not. Adulthood had been foisted on her, and she had missed out on the beauty and innocence of a simple activity like playing with Barbie dolls.

I see “Gemma” when I think of her now.

And I am extremely grateful to Meg Tilly for having the courage and insight to write a book on a subject that society continues to largely ignore. 

"Gemma" is easily available on Amazon. Here's a photo of the book cover and link to where you can get it:


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Avoiding Pitching Pitfalls

Pitching ideas to editors is the lifeblood for every freelancer. And for me, if an editor says, "Send me your ideas," it's my opportunity to prove that I have the researching ability to handle any topic. It also gets my foot in the door, because once an idea is accepted, it opens opportunities for more stories to be eventually assigned.

But sometimes I actually choose not to send ideas to an editor, based on the initial email response from them.

The only comparison I can make to this is dating: I sift through a lot of people, and I have eliminated men based on what they may or may not say to me ... not in person, but in an email.

In person, everybody is putting their best foot forward and uses non-verbal communication to their advantage. But in an email, people have a tendency to say what they really think. I'm not sure why or how this happens, but a computer screen automatically tears down a psychological barrier to people saying things they otherwise may not say in person. For example, I lean strongly to one political argument. On a date, if a man tells a political joke, he'd pick up my non verbal cues on whether I agreed with the joke. But in an email, he can send a joke freely and not fully anticipate my response. Why on earth would anyone send out a political joke in an email when they can't predict how the other person will react, I can't tell you, but it happens to me a lot. And if I know that a person is on the opposite polar spectrum of a political issue, chances are we're not going to agree on other meaningful areas in life. I don't have to waste anyone's time or money on a date.

So. How does this relate to shopping for editors?

Let's look at what happened to me yesterday.


I'm on vacation, which may or may not have set up my frame of mind to reject this editor, but suffice it to say, I'm glad I had the presence to walk away.

I sent an introductory email to an editor at a trade magazine for theaters -- not the kind where you see movies, but where you'd go for live, dramatic productions. I'd written for this magazine from 2001-2003, but the pay was low, and I'd move on. But I took a renewed look at its Web site and thought I'd test the waters to see if pay had risen in 10 years. I enjoyed writing for the former editor, so I sent the new editor an offer to come up with a list of ideas.

Yesterday morning in my hotel room, he got back to me ... and it was clear from his email that he thought he was doing me a favor. You know how this works if you're on a date, especially if you're a woman. Think of it as a guy taking you out for dinner and overtly checking out every other woman in the restaurant.

So this editor says, "Go ahead and send me a list of your ideas. And I only work with writers who have experience in the theater, so tell me why you're qualified to write these stories."

Well, I picked up a hint of snobbery. Let's look at our dating analogy. It's like a guy saying, "I'll take you out to dinner, but be aware that I'll be looking at other women the entire time we're out. And I only date blonds, so if you're a brunette, no chance, but let me know why you think we'd be a good match, anyway."

But I wanted to give this guy the benefit of the doubt. So I responded that I had 24 years of reporting experience on many subjects and easily adapt to writing about any area. I've written about everything from rocket scientists at NASA to window treatments in pizza restaurants ... and, point in fact, I'd also written for his magazine about theaters. I explained to him that I didn't want to waste time for both of us -- mine to research story ideas, or his if he was going to dismiss me for not currently working in theater.

Here's the way I saw this situation: An editor who understands how experienced reporters work understands that they are chameleons and have no problem at all researching and presenting stories for the targeted professional audience. But an editor who is a little too puffed up with self-importance would make things difficult for even a producer at "60 Minutes." It's just not worth the time and effort to try to please someone like that. The hint is that these types of editors will insist on people who only work in their industry. And, of course I see that as short-sighted, because they are missing out on an opportunity to work with someone who can give stories a fresh and objective eye, while digging thoroughly to uncover an insightful storyline.

I sent this editor my email and then left on the second part of my trip -- a six-hour drive to Charleston, SC.

This morning, as I got ready for a day at the Isle of Palms, I pulled up my email and saw that the editor had responded, unfortunately in the way I had predicted he would.

He agreed that it would be a waste of time for me to send him ideas, because he would not work with me if I didn't have theatrical experience. BUT, he said, "If you come across a burning story that needs to be told, let me know!"

And that's all I needed to know that if I'd submitted my ideas, not only would he have rejected me as a contributor, but he more than likely would have taken those ideas and given them to one of his "theatrically experienced" writers.

I could draw another dating comparison here for you, but let's keep this blog at "Rated PG."

Bottom line here is ... don't waste time coming up with ideas for a potential editor if you haven't screened them for whether they really are interested in using you. If I'd jumped at putting ideas together for this guy, I would have used precious time during my vacation, only to be told that I lacked his desired "experience."

And now ... I'm off to sand and palm trees ... I may not have an assignment in hand, but I'm glad I'll be spending today in the surf rather than at my laptop, churning work for a person that never would have validated my efforts in the first place.