When It All Falls Down: Digital & Print Media Cut Jobs to Stem Losses

Last week Buzzfeed, Gannett, and Verizon all revealed that they were making cuts to their media divisions in an effort to make them profitable. This is just the latest haymaker to hit the news industry within the last few years. Job losses that were once thought to just affect the print side, have begun pillaging those within the digital realm as well. One of the publications under the Gannett brand that experienced job cuts last week was The Record newspaper based in northern New Jersey. This hit me particularly hard as The Record was not only my local paper, but the place I interned at when I was 17-years-old.

The news industry has been taken its lumps for awhile, but last week felt different. In a matter of a few days, according to reports, more than 1,000 people had been let go from the companies listed above. These are people who have to find out where their next check is coming from, in an industry that seems to be shrinking every year.

Gannett had been buying up small and medium sized papers for years, essentially creating a conglomerate under one brand. It was a process not all that different from what’s happened to the music industry and individual radio stations. What were once privately held companies or papers owned by a family (like The Record used to be) were now under a brand with the hope of making them profitable. When that didn’t happen, layoffs ensued, further reducing newsroom numbers and making the publications that much weaker in their coverage. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. It’s a viscous cycle.

In regards to Verizon, they’re a special case, as unlike the other two companies in this article, they received a massive cash infusion this past year courtesy of congress. Yes, Verizon got over $4 billion in the form of tax cuts from last year’s congressional tax bill. So for those of you at home, not only did Verizon not hire people with their increased tax windfall, they let people go in the process. So much for trickle down economics.

Then there’s Buzzfeed. Within hours, a number of Buzzfeed’s former employees were tweeting that they had been let go. To make matters worse, Buzzfeed was not paying out P.T.O. for the staff they just laid off. In essence, people who had saved up their vacation time by not actually going on vacations and instead doing work for Buzzfeed, weren’t going to get that time paid out to them. Buzzfeed later relented and switched course, after a massive social media backlash.

All this brings me back to my local newspaper, The Record. Before I thought I could do film, I planned on being a journalist. Interning at The Record allowed me to see the hard work journalists do everyday to not only uncover stories, but keep all of us informed. It was there where I learned the importance of backing up your words with not only research and facts, but by providing context and nuance as well.

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Yours truly in the back during a photo of the members of the 2004 Minority Media Journalism Workshop, hosted by The Record Newspaper in Hackensack, NJ. 

I interned at The Record newspaper in 2004 and again in 2006. Even back then, there were signs that that trouble was on the doorstep. The paper was sold. There were budget cuts. The building I worked in as a teenager, today is lifeless and abandoned as The Record downsized and moved to a new location. Many of the people who taught me the ins and outs of the industry have long since moved on.

I can still remember the head editor at the time saying they were still working on figuring out how to manage advertising and revenue streams via the internet. At the time this was 2004 and Facebook didn’t exist beyond Harvard, and Google was just still a search engine. As The Record like Buzzfeed, Gannett, and so many other online based media companies have realized, the advertising revenue never amounted to as much as they thought it would and print media advertisements don’t provide the same dollars they once did. So where does that leave journalism in 2019? That’s a very good question with sadly, no definitive answers at this point.

 

The Drama Will Continue…

The famed Drama Book Shop in the heart of Times Square in New York, closed its doors today. Thankfully however, it won’t be closing them for good.

The Drama Book Shop is a small store located on 40th St. between 7th and 8th avenues in an area of New York known for its bright lights and over-sized billboards. When tourists think of New York, Times Square is probably one of the first things that comes to mind. The fact that a little book store could reside in this part of town for nearly 20 years, is a marvel in itself.

Due to a prohibitive rise in the rent (more than $20,000 a month already), the Drama Book Shop had to close down. Thankfully though, due in part to the likes of Lin Manuel Miranda and friends, the bookstore will remain open — albeit in a different location. If the name above sounds familiar, it’s because Lin Manuel Miranda wrote a little play you might have heard of recently, called Hamilton. Yes, Lin is that guy.

In a recent interview, Miranda mentioned how he would go to the Drama Book Shop when he was in high school and the fond memories he had of being there. I myself have patronized the store quite a bit as well.

Back in 2010/2011 I just happened to see it while walking by. I went in and was immediately hooked. Though the store gears more towards plays and theatrical material, it had a fairly large inventory of film books. Over the years I’ve brought quite a few books from there and I’ve always enjoyed the warm environment and perusing through its aisles. To know that its closing and moving, certainly hits hard.

The silver lining in all of this is unlike so many other bookstores that have had to close down in recent years, the Drama Book Shop will be returning somewhere in New York. Plans are for it to re-open sometime in the fall. Its reopening can’t come soon enough.

My 2018 Films of The Year

I don’t get to watch movies as much as I would like to these days. When I first really got into film and the power of cinema, I was 15 and had oodles of time on my hands. Get home from school and as soon as I finished my homework, I had the rest of that afternoon/evening to watch whatever I liked. Those were the days. Well, fast forward 15+ years and while my time isn’t nearly as bountiful as it once was, I still did get to see some quality films this year. Here were my top 3 in no particular order.

Roma

This film, which was directed by academy award winner Alfonso Cuarón, tells the story of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) and her relationship to the family with whom she works for as maid during 1970s Mexico. We see the world through not only her work, but her relationships with the individual children within the family, the matriarch Sra. Sofia, and her own strained relationship with her boyfriend. The cinematography in this film is probably the best I’ve seen all year and I like how multiple narratives are woven together. Not everything is as it seems with the family Cleo works for and in the midst of all this, we see glances of a revolution taking place in the streets. Roma is currently streaming on Netflix.

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BlacKKKlansman

Spike Lee did an amazing job with this film. Based off the true story of Ron Stallworth who in the 1970s became the first black police officer in Colorado Springs, BlacKKKlansman tells the story of how Ron and his white partner took down a local Ku Klux Klan chapter. The film which stars Adam Driver as Ron’s partner Flip, delves into the relationship of these two men within the confines of a police force, while simultaneously trying to take down the Klan. Oh, and it should be noted, Ron really did trick David Duke and the KKK into believing he was a white man via his on the phone demeanor and his partner Flip was his white stand in. Spike did a good job of not making this seem like a hackneyed black-white buddy cop picture. The ending really did have me invested and Spike had some well placed cameos in the film as well.

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Blindspotting

The city of Oakland really had its day in the cinematic sunshine in 2018. Between Black Panther, Sorry to Bother You, and now Blindspotting, all three films prominently featured Oakland in their story lines.

In Blindspotting we see Colin (Daveed Diggs), a man who has 3 days left on probation and is trying to stay out of trouble. His best friend Miles (Rafael Casal), however can’t seem to keep his cool or keep from running his mouth. Colin also witnesses an incident that leaves him haunted about what choice to make since he’s so close to getting off probation. This film is Oakland to the core and I liked the visuals that were on display of a changing city. It reminded me of another area that has seen rapid change recently due to gentrification and other forces (Hello Brooklyn). Blindspotting is humorous, heartfelt, and a reflection of the times we’re living in.

Speaking Out In Spite of Justices

Just last month, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford gave public testimony that Brett Kavanaugh — a man who had been nominated to the Supreme Court — had sexually assaulted her when the two of them were teenagers. As astonishing as her testimony was, it wasn’t the first time a woman risked everything to speak out against a man nominated to the highest court in the land.

In the Fall of 1991, Anita Hill came into the public persona when she spoke out against Clarence Thomas, whom was facing his own senate judiciary hearings. Professor Hill, much like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, would risk her own well being to make sure the world knew of the man whom she claims sexually harassed her years before. In 2016 HBO did a movie entitled Confirmation, which was about the Anita Hill hearings, that starred Kerry Washington as professor Hill and The Wire alum Wendell Pierce, as Clarence Thomas.

The Build Up

In the film we see Anita Hill working as a college professor at the time for the University of Oklahoma. She had worked with Clarence Thomas previously before accepting her position as a professor. She knew the risks involved, but went along with it anyway because she felt it was important for the public to know what she experienced in the workplace under Thomas. She knew her life was about to change, and change it did.

When the initial reports surfaced, media members began showing up to her college campus and her home. Her name was in newspapers and magazines across the country. She received threatening letters and had people publicly questioning her reputation. Despite all this, she gave her testimony anyway.

On the other end of the spectrum was Clarence Thomas. This was the man chosen by then President H.W. Bush to succeed Thurgood Marshall, who himself was the first black person to hold a seat on the Supreme Court. Thomas was portrayed in Confirmation as a man who was very measured (until his testimony) and who had been waiting for this moment for his entire life. We see him in the film with his wife and some brief interactions with this son. When the allegations of sexual harassment hit just days before his confirmation hearing, Thomas seems flabbergasted.

The Hearings

When the actual hearings begin, we see Anita Hill as calm and poised, if but a tad bit nervous, which is understandable considering the circumstances. In front of an all male senate judiciary committee (all white men at that) professor Hill and her team knew they faced an uphill battle. Still, Hill mentioned what she experienced while working with Thomas and the effect it had on her along with why she didn’t speak out sooner for fear of retribution later on down the line.

Clarence Thomas, who wound up going second in the hearings, called Hill’s testimony against him a travesty and a “high tech lynching for uppity blacks.” In the film, the senate judiciary members sit in stunned silence.

What’s interesting as well about these hearings was the impact of television. While not exactly a new medium (TVs had been around since the 1940s) compelling live television like this was still somewhat of a rarity. The concept of reality television didn’t exist yet and the internet in this era was something that was being sent out to people on CD-roms through the mail. Needless to say, television was the dominant medium and the topic of sexual harassment hadn’t received this type of national attention before, certainly not on this stage.

Millions of people saw these hearings and it was the leading topic on the major newscasts of the day. It’s safe to say that sexual harassment within the workplace wasn’t a new issue, but women had never before been given the public forum to discuss such issues at hand.

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Kerry Washington as Anita Hill in the 2016 HBO Film Confirmation

The Aftermath

In the end, Clarence Thomas was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice on October 15th, 1991. 27 years later, his now colleague, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as well. Both men faced serious questions of their character. Both men had women speak to the failings of said character and both men got confirmed anyway.

Anita Hill would return to the University of Oklahoma lauded as a hero and would come back to a flood of support letters from women around the country expressing their gratitude and own stories of harassment. The following year would be known as ‘The Year of The Woman’ as women ran for office and were elected in record numbers up to that point.

For Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the future is still somewhat murky. She reportedly had to move her family from their home and left her teaching position due to threats made against her. Her words did not fall on deaf ears however, as many were moved to speak out at what they saw was terrible decision to appoint Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in the face of her testimony. With another national election soon, we’ll see if Dr. Ford’s testimony leads a similar march to the polls in the way that professor Hill’s did more than 25 years ago.

When Being Employed Isn’t Enough: The Attempted Shaming of Geoffrey Owens

“Sometimes, you do what you gotta do.”

Last month, Geoffrey Owens was bagging groceries at a Trader Joe’s in suburban New Jersey, when someone recognized him, snapped a photo, and sent it to a tabloid. The story was soon picked up by Fox News with what can only be described as attempt to embarrasses Owens, but it proved to be a teaching moment into what many working creatives go through.

When most people think of Hollywood actors and actresses the same names probably come to mind: Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Meryl Streep, just to name a few. While these actors are internationally known and recognized for their work, truth is, there are literally thousands of actors fighting to maintain their dream by working everyday jobs. According to a 2013 study by the National Endowment for the Arts, more than 271,000 people in the entertainment industry held second jobs. This was what Geoffrey Owens was doing in relative anonymity until his photo went viral.

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Geoffrey Owens has been an actor for over 30 years now. His most famous role came when he was on the The Cosby Show. Since then, he has been what you would describe as your typical working actor: doing plays, television, films, and teaching on the side as well.

It’s ironic that this story originally came out around Labor Day of all holidays. Many actors and creatives showed support of Geoffrey Owens by talking about their own struggles with ‘making it’ while trying to keep a roof over their head. It even started a trend of social media called #actorswithdayjobs.

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I know firsthand the struggle of battling creative pursuits with working to pay bills. Though I have produced feature films and worked on a multitude of projects, I’ve also been a community organizer, a customer service associate, and a canvasser, just to name a few. At the end of the day, creatives still have to eat. No matter what job I took however, I’ve always considered myself a film producer. The jobs may have changed, but my mindset never did.

For Geoffrey Owens, the unwanted attention not only brought notice to what many working actors go through, but put him back on the radar of Hollywood executives. Tyler Perry offered him a job and many others have reached out expressing their support. Owens has since left his job at Trader Joe’s by the way.

Like many creative pursuits, there are no guarantees with acting, writing, directing, or producing. There really are no safety nets with this line of work. People do what they can to pursue their dreams for as long as they can.

Maybe the next great Broadway actor is picking you up in an Uber and driving you to the airport. Maybe they’re serving you drinks at the bar down the block. Perhaps, they’re selling your next home as your realtor. Whatever the profession, chances are, you already know someone in the arts industry who’s just pushing through until they finally have their breakthrough.

Crazy Rich Asians: An Important Story and A Box Office Winner

They say the third time’s the charm and that just might be true for Crazy Rich Asians.

The surprise hit of the summer just won its third weekend in a row following its Labor Day haul. This is significant not just from a financial standpoint, but a cultural one as well. It shows that people are hungry for not only well told stories, but diverse ones too.

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I saw Crazy Rich Asians a few weeks ago and I admit, as a person who is not usually a fan of rom-coms, I really enjoyed this one. In some ways, it’s a 2018 reboot of Cinderella. Only in this case, the ‘poor girl’ is Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), an NYU professor who finds out her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) is not just some average guy playing pick-up basketball at the YMCA. For Nick, unbeknownst to Rachel, comes from a very wealthy family in Singapore whom she is just beginning to know.

Over the course of the film, we see Rachel interact with Nick’s extended family, while grappling with her own identity and how she fits in with everything. There’s an interesting twist towards the end that brings the past and present into focus and gives the film a strong emotional punch. I definitely recommend those of you reading this who have not seen it yet, to give it a look.

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Constance Wu in her own words

As many have stated elsewhere, this really is the first Hollywood studio film to be released featuring an Asian American cast in 25 years, since the Joy Luck Club. 25 years is a really long time. I’m just old enough to vaguely remember 1993 and I can’t imagine going to the movies for over two decades and not seeing people who look like me on the big screen. While there have been other films released by Asian American filmmakers during that gap (2002’s Better Luck Tomorrow comes to mind) the paucity of roles available to them within the Hollywood system is deafening.

Will the successful release of Crazy Rich Asians change any of this? Only time will tell, but the truth is, one film shouldn’t have to bear the burden of representation for an entire community. Hopefully, Crazy Rich Asians is the start of more doors being opened for Asian filmmakers and various other groups as well. For no one should feel that seeing themselves onscreen, is little more than a fairy tale dream.

Sorry 2 Bother You: A Trojan Horse on Cash, Capitalism and Consumerism

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I saw Sorry To Bother You a few weeks ago and it still resonates with me.

The film stars Lakeith Stanfield as Cassius Green (as in cash-is-green) and Tessa Thompson as Detroit, who is Cassius’ girlfriend. We see the two of them in the beginning living in the garage of Cassius’ uncle played by Terry Crews.

Cassius gets a job as a telemarketer and we quickly see the role that his newfound job plays in his life and his relationship with Detroit. After struggling initially in his new role as a telemarketer, Cassius gets a tip from a co-worker to use his ‘white voice’ and his career takes off from there. He goes from the new guy at his job to breaking records and eventually gets promoted to the secretive Power Caller club upstairs. That’s where we see things begin to take a turn for Cassius.

Sorry To Bother You comes out at an interesting time in America. At a time when corporate profits are increasing, but middle class incomes are stagnating, the film provides an interesting take on what it means to move up the corporate ladder. Directed by Oakland native Boots Riley, S2BY definitely has a pro worker/man against the machine type of vibe.

We see Cassius’ co-workers attempt to unionize while he himself is experiencing personal success; meanwhile his relationship with his girlfriend Detroit, becomes somewhat strained in the process. Detroit herself is an artist who uses her art in a very interesting manner to bring attention to the serious issue of the mineral coltan and the Democractic Republic of Congo later on in the film. We witness Cassius struggle with his new found wealth and appeal up until he finds out what his company is really selling.

Sorry To Bother You is a witty and engaging film with some serious themes just below the surface. It is definitely worth your money (even in New York, where seeing a movie these days is by no means cheap) and I think most people will enjoy it. Whether it’s by car, train, or on horseback, go see this film.