In this age of media convergence, journalist Darren Garnick is a jack-of-all-trades, simultaneously pursuing careers as a newspaper columnist, TV field producer and documentary filmmaker. He is the Boston Herald’s “Working Stiff” business columnist, has written political and history specials for PBS and field produced for CNN, ESPN, Lifetime and The Travel Channel, and also blogs about pop culture at cultureschlock.com. We had a chance to catch up with Darren recently and ask a few questions about himself and the newspaper industry.
RaceTalk: What types of stories do you like to cover in your column for the Boston Herald? Are there specific topics that you really enjoy writing about?
Darren Garnick: My official beat is the American workplace. I mock outrageous corporate memos, stick up for the cubicle guys and search the universe for unorthodox careers, offbeat characters and inspirational stories. The business pages have a reputation of being boring, and lately, depressing. I strive to make business relevant to the average person, someone who might otherwise flip or click past biz stories for sports or empty celebrity entertainment.
I understand these readers, because I personally dread sitting through Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club meetings. However, business is deeply relevant to everyone, regardless of income or social status. It’s what we eat, wear, drive and breathe.
RaceTalk: What is the most memorable column you have written?
DG: What I enjoy most about journalism is the excuse to experience the most outrageous things — subjects that most people would never have an opportunity to experience — just for the sake of good copy. I once slipped into big clunky alligator claws for a few hours as the mascot of the Lowell Spinners (Single A Red Sox). The claustrophobia made me appreciate the amazing limberness and agility of college student interns.
I’d never profess to understand the challenges of being a working mother, but I also lasted 24 hours in a pregnancy simulation suit called “The Empathy Belly.” The suit’s inventor told me I held the longevity record for fake pregnancy, but I cannot confirm this.
RaceTalk: You have written about some very interesting topics on your blog. What have you enjoyed most about blogging?
DG: Freelance writing is a daunting exercise, and requires a willingness to accept a lot of rejection. With my blog, there is no rejection. Every single one of my ideas is brilliant and gets eagerly snapped by the editor-in-chief, who yes, happens to be me. It also allows me to track, for my own amusement, how many people are interested in my old work. I’m quite delighted, for example, that there is a small underground cult that worships the Costa Rican sloth.
RaceTalk: You’ve been involved with all different types of media (newspapers, blogs, TV). Which do you enjoy most, and which do you think has the most advantages?
DG: I am in love with newspapers and am mourning their national decline. My grandfather drove a delivery truck for the Boston Herald and he used to save all the front pages from the 1969 moon landing and the Watergate scandal and even the 1967 “Impossible Dream” Red Sox. My basement is filled with newspaper headlines (hope my fire insurance people don’t read this) and I’ve had fun photographing my children with famous headlines so they can later remember what they looked like when they were totally oblivious to world events.
But I also love YouTube. Being able to post short films there have opened up enormous opportunities I would never have in the pre-Internet era. I think that once enough newspapers collapse and the bloggers have nothing to write about or link to, there will be smart business people who will rehire the best journalists and launch more on-line mags like Slate and Salon.
RaceTalk: What do you think of the whole Twitter craze? Have you been tempted to begin tweeting?
DG: Funny you ask. I’ve been a holdout for a long time on Twitter. I never understood the appeal of updating your Facebook status every 10 minutes and Twitter just takes it to the extreme. That being said, I’ve found my Facebook status to be one of the most effective, low-pressure ways to send out article links. I can still blitz the masses, but it is less intrusive than an email because people can choose not to click on it. Sure, people can also choose not to open an email, but the Facebook status just seems more of a soft sell to me.
As for Twitter, I recently signed up figuring it “can’t hurt.” But I’m not sure how it helps more than the Facebook status, quite frankly. I am NOT someone who carries around a BlackBerry. I’m glued to the keyboard at my desk enough, I need to be off the grid for at least 10 minutes a day. But what the heck, please “follow me” @darrengarnick.
RaceTalk: Time Magazine recently published a list of the ten most endangered newspapers in the United States. What was your reaction when you saw some of the names on the list (i.e.: Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle)?
DG: Time got a lot of credit and buzz for this doomsday list, but it actually was first compiled by 24/7WallSt.com. That being said, it was a list that frightened the hell out of me and every breathing journalist. How can the Globe, the paper that used to weigh 250 pounds on Sundays, possibly go out of business?
Then again, how could Ford or GM possibly disappear?
Ben Affleck, who stars in that new newspaper movie apparently has figured out the whole circulation crisis. He just told the Globe that newspapers kinda deserve their fate because they didn’t ask “tough questions” about the Iraq war and the subprime mortgage crisis!
Aside from Affleck’s dubious credentials as a media analyst, this is laughable because most of the print media was anti-war after an initial honeymoon period with Bush and Rumsfeld. Google “Mission Accomplished” and “Iraq” and my point is proven. And newspapers declining because of inadequate early coverage of the subprime mortgage crisis? Are you kidding me? Newspapers were losing ads to Craigslist and Monster.com YEARS before anyone paid attention to careless loans, Bernie Madoff or U-Pick-the-Scandal.
The most convincing evidence I’ve witnessed about newspaper woes happened before a recent breakfast at the Holiday Inn Express. Like many hotels, this one provides a free USA Today at your doorstep. I always swoop in like a vulture on my paper, eagerly devouring the box scores first, then swinging over to world and national news, following up with “Life” for dessert. As I walked the halls at around 9 a.m., when most people are awake on a weekday, I noticed that maybe only half the newspapers were taken. My friends, a 20-something and a 30-something, left their papers on the floor.
If you can’t convince people to read the colorful, mind-candy newspaper for free, then well, the newspaper industry has a huge marketing problem.
However, I do think that newspapers will survive and eventually thrive again. Just in a different form. Maybe there will be a once-or-twice-a-week print edition that contains magazine-style stories and columnists who you can cozy up to on the couch, leaving all the breaking news to the Net.
Journalists disappearing? Who else is going to show up to those Zoning Board of Appeals meetings?