I was lucky enough to moderate a discussion with writer Pete Hamill this past week at The New York Press Club and in the middle of his remarks, he made a point that has stuck with me. “Being a journalist,” he said, “is living a fully conscious life.”
What a great phrase for what we do. The moment those words came out of his mouth, I knew exactly what he meant. I often tell people that because I’ve been a reporter my entire adult life, I always have my antenna up, noticing little things that many people let pass them by. There are a million, zillion stories out there but most people just don’t recognize them for what they are. Reporters do and I think that’s what Hamill was referring to. We as reporters need to notice everything because details are the bread and butter of our craft.
I feel lucky to have lived a fully conscious life and I know Hamill does too.
It was fascinating to sit next to this newspaper great and listen to him expound on a variety of subjects. This is a learned, intelligent man who dropped out of Regis High School when he was 16 to live life to the fullest.
Among the other observations he made:
— Today’s versions of The NY Post and NY Daily News, two papers he wrote for and edited. He bemoaned that they are run by men who are not from the USA and said he would never presume to run a newspaper based in Manchester, England for example. Hamill thinks the papers are being dumbed down with too much celebrity news. “They think we care about Lindsay Lohan, they think all of us love the New York Yankees,” he said. Because readers feel the papers are speaking down to them, they stop buying them. The rare exception is the recent News series about public housing which was a throwback series harkening to the old days when The News used to have stories like that in the paper all the time.
— Hamill said it was a great loss to everyone that foreign news bureaus are being shut down at a time when we need to know more about the world than ever before.
— He has no problem with Kindles and other e-readers because whatever makes people read is fine with him.
— As for his process of writing, Hamill — who has written bestselling novels and fact-based books — said he always writes a portion of his books in long hand after he read the classic “The Ways of the Hand” which is actually about playing jazz. Hamill — a music enthusiast who won a Grammy for writing the liner notes on Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” — buys the argument that the hands have their own way of thinking, and are somewhat removed from the brain. He also praised the idea of taking naps because, when you awaken, your brain is thinking more with its subconscious than anything else. This argument was also put forward in one of my favorite books on writing “Wild Mind” by Natalie Goldberg.
All in all, it was a great night and, as you can see from the accompanying photo, among those in the front row was the great New York journalist Gabe Pressman, pushing 90 and still going strong.