Since returning from Afghanistan last week, I’ve been worried about a debt past due. What do I mean? Well, there’s a small story here, and it’s about this website and the other social media tools that we have been using to push news alongside the daily bread at the NYT. And the background is below:
A little more than a year back, the crew at The Barbarian Group set up this tumblr, along with the @cjchivers Twitter account and a pair of Facebook page, including this one. It happened after I met Benjamin Palmer at an Esquire Best & Brightest dinner that I had been asked to speak at. (Only God, make that Granger, knows why.)
I tried that evening to talk about Afghanistan and the U.S, military’s “surge” there. And as I did, Benjamin, with an uncanny nose for news, repeatedly interrupted to grill me about WikiLeaks and how the NYT might cover the organization and its activities more fully. (What he didn’t know was that the NYT, at that very time, was quietly sorting and examining a huge dump from WikiLeaks, which was why I was in the city, pitching in. Or that my green backpack, literally under the table between us, was crammed with printouts of leaked cables that I was to read that night ahead of the next day’s meetings.)
I must have visibly flubbed my answers, because after playfully smacking me around for half the meal, Benjamin then gently suggested — again, an uncanny read — that I get my head around social media. I’m a field reporter. I knew next to nothing about social media. And I told him so. He seemed amused. So he invited me in, suggesting that as Simon & Schuster was about to publish THE GUN, maybe I should catch up with ways to communicate the things I did know something about, like munitions, tactics, the Afghan war, and the like.
Fast forward a few weeks. Benjamin pitched a trade. I lagged behind in social media skills, he said, but since I run a fishing boat out of Rhode Island when I am in the states, and use it to harvest a fair percentage of my family’s annual protein intake, I did have a set of hands that was good at something he was very interested in: hauling fish. He offered a deal. He and his fellow Barbarians would fix me up on-line, and I would get them out and put them on a run of fish. (Handshake goes here.)
The first part of the agreement went smoothly. I hopped a train from New England to the city, and watched as Benjamin and Noah and Colin jumped on-line simultaneously one morning, bearding as me, and set up these accounts. Then they jotted down all the passwords inside the back cover of Joshua Foust’s Afghanistan Journal, which I was reading, and said, more or less: Drive.
Which I did.
The truth is I do not drive very well. I am still learning my way. Take Twitter: Often when I view the Twitter pages that Twitter recommends that I follow, or view someone’s Twitter feed, I end following those pages — whether or not I intend to. This leads to a lot of turbulence in the follow list. And I can’t tell you how many times I have half-written a tumblr post only to have it disappear before I hit “Create post.” Poof. Gone. (It happened to an earlier draft of this post. Twice.) Same thing happens to me now and then on Facebook. These problems have all been amplified in recent weeks by my full switch from the Windows world to Apple devices, which has me fumbling around even more than before as I learn new keystrokes and the touch-screen world.
But I’m trying, and somehow, on the journalism side —the reason these sites interest me — we found a way to talk with more readers this year, and we broke a bit of news on social media, too. More importantly, we learned how to provide more art, detail, and context to accompany stories, blog posts or short videos on www.nytimes.com. And many sources have found me here, and become part of my work. What all of that means is that these social-media outlets, on the best days, became worth their while. It’s still a work in progress, but the Barbarians get points for having me here at all, and improving my journalism.
And that brings us to that debt.
More than a year has passed and I haven’t made good on my side. Part of it has been travel. I’ve been gone much more than I have been home, due to Libya and Afghanistan. And the last hurricane wiped out the last plan. The Barbarians and I had picked a date and were just about to fish, but the hurricane bore down from the south and I had to haul the boat. Then I went overseas again. Twice.
But now we’re due to try again soon, which caused me a bit of worry these past days.
Why? Because one of the secrets to fishing well is to fish often, and steadily. It’s like much else: the more you do it, the better you get. This is especially true with migratory saltwater fish on the open ocean; being out there often is key, because you have to stay on top of the conditions and the fish to know where to head each time you leave the dock. To balance work and harvesting, I fish a lot at night. But that doesn’t cover for an absence. And as I returned home, and the date for the Barbarian’s next try drew near, I’d been gone from the dock more than five weeks, which meant I’d lost the feel I had for where things were when I left. Worse, I arrived home to winds honking up to 30 knots or more for several days, churning the water brown and keeping me ashore, where I watched trees twist and the weeds in the garden lay down flat.
Then came the break. Today was Sunday, and it turned calm. One of my sons and I managed to get out and scout. We found a mess of birds and beneath them a mess of fish, including the bluefish at the top of this post, or below.
So, Benjamin, Colin and Noah, check your iCalendars, start watching the tides, and get here soon. The fall fish migration won’t last too much longer, and I’m headed back out before long. In a few quick weeks these fish will be gone until late spring, when they rush back with the light. The time is now, or sometime very soon. After weeks chewing the Afghan fare, I’m hungry for more fresh meat. Let’s bloody the decks, and settle up.
(Now, I’ll invoke that handshake and restate the terms. If the schedule and the weather do not line up, worry not. Some things are worth waiting for, and there is no expiry date.)
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHS
By Mick Chivers, age 9. A few hours ago.
I was just remarking on Twitter how I would suggest CJ as a journalist that best leverages the Tumblr platform.
CJ posts some of the most riveting and compelling content on Tumblr, no doubt, but I was foolish to make such a statement and Krucoff rightfully called me on it.
While CJ may produce great content, he’s not really doing anything here on Tumblr other than publish. He doesn’t reblog, he doesn’t interact with the community. I wish he would do more of that.
How amazing would it be to actually get to discuss his coverage with him directly via Tumblr?