Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Relocating a Journalist

A little over a week ago my wife and I packed up and moved from Princeton, NJ to Brooklyn NY. It wasn't a long journey, but sometimes it feels like we moved a world away.

The first year we lived in Princeton I continued to work full time at WHYY in Philadelphia. Even after I struck out on my own as a freelancer, my head was still in Philadelphia. Having spent more than six years reporting on Philadelphia, South Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania, that's what I know.

I'm familiar with local politics, politicians, and political issues. I know the environmental issues and the geography. While I spent a bit more time covering New Jersey than I had in the past, I still associated myself with the Philadelphia region.

Last week I deleted my local news blogs and feeds from Google Reader and started to replace them with New York feeds. I'm already working on a couple of stories based in New York or New Jersey, and the beauty of writing for Download Squad and TV Squad is that I can do it from anywhere I can get an internet connection.

Making the transition is a bit daunting. I'm not going to get to know New York the way I did Philadelphia overnight. In fact, I'll probably never know it with the same intimacy. Not only is it a much larger city with its own set of issues to understand, but I don't expect to report on daily breaking news. There's a great local public radio station to handle that, and there are far more freelancers in New York than Philadelphia. My role will be to find stories that a thousand other people aren't already working on, and that's pretty exciting.

But the strangest moment so far came for me the other day when I was in the laundromat. I looked up at the TV and saw a local newscast. At first I was just struck by the fact that every story dealt with a local crime wave, a car that had smashed into a building, or a fire. Sure, this is the stuff of local news everywhere, but somehow I'd gotten used to it on Philly stations, and didn't notice it that much. I usually only perked up my ears in Philadelphia when a story I was interested in came on, and tuned out the rest.

But here, I don't know enough about local issues for keywords to pop out at me. So I kind of half payed attention to the whole newscast while trying to read a book. And the thing that struck me most was that I didn't recognize any of the reporters. Sure, most people are used to seeing familiar faces on the evening news. But I'm used to seeing people I know. Literally. I've met pretty much every local reporter in Philadelphia, and whether I know them well personally or now, I'm used to recognizing most of the faces on local news.

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