Saturday, September 13, 2008

Life is for the Pushy

Last week I wrote my first article for class and, just as I thought, the professor tore through it (although she did tell me that it was decent for the first article). But the hardest part of it all was interviewing people. I’ve never been rejected by so many people in my life.

So on Sunday I asked Professor Serrin if he had any tips about landing interviews. He had organized a little party at his Greenwich Village apartment as a chance for the first semester students and third semester students to meet each other. (The journalism program is three semesters) The third semester students were all real cool and most remembered me from my visit to NYU last spring, which I appreciated.

“You gotta be aggressive but nice,” Serrin told me in response to my question. “Life is for the pushy.”

Then he told me a story to illustrate that you’ll never know what you’ll get if you just ask:

In the early 70’s he was on assignment in Miami for the Detroit Free Press. He was hanging out in a hotel lobby looking to interview people when he saw the light above the elevator flash. The elevator doors opened and an old Jewish guy stepped out of the elevator who looked a lot like Meyer Lansky.

But he didn’t just look like Meyer Lansky. He was Meyer Lansky, one of the most notorious organized crime figures in American history. The guy Hyman Roth was based on in Godfather II. The arch villain so smart the FBI actually gave up on catching him.

So Serrin walked up to him and asked for an interview. The old mobster looked at him and said, “sure thing, my boy.”

Lansky obviously didn’t tell him anything heavy. But he interviewed Meyer Lansky. All he had to do was ask. Life is for the pushy.

Some things I learned in class this week:
• Never use “however” in a newspaper article
• Never start the lead (the first paragraph of an article) with a quote
• A journalist should “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”
• Never put your opinion in an article, no one cares what you think
• My dad knows a hell of a lot more about the Pentagon Papers than my Law & Mass Communication professor

I finally got my third class and no, it’s not Arabic. I did everything I could but the Middle Eastern Studies Department told me to get lost. I couldn’t even sit in on the class the departmental director said. I’ll spare explaining the reasons why, not like I really believed them anyway.

But I will learn Arabic. It’ll help me a ton in my career.

In the end I registered for a class on US – Latin American Relations taught by Jorge Castañeda, the former Foreign Minister of Mexico (2000-2003). We have to read a book a week and I already have a background in Latin American history. But the big positive is that I’m taking a class with Jorge Castañeda. He seems like he has a firm head on his shoulders and is living in the real world, not like the classic ivory tower professor.

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