Nellie Bly – Profile

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​Nellie Bly was an investigative journalist just before and during the turn of the century. Her birthday was yesterday, and she would have been one hundred fifty-five years old. She was born during the Civil War, and died in the Roaring 20s, after the First World War but before the Great Depression. Many people, I think, are surprised to learn that she was a real person, thinking that she is a figment of fiction alongside her fictional inspiration, Phileas Fogg, the character in Jules Verne‘s well known book, Around the World in 80 Days. Nellie Bly did her circumnavigation in 72 days, holding the record for only a short time before it was broken (also in 1890).

She was a pioneer in the field of investigative journalism, although much of her early writing focused on the lives of working women. She was a foreign correspondent in Mexico for the Pittsburgh Dispatch and after going to New York, she worked at The New York World, the publication owned and published by Joseph Pulitzer. She went undercover to expose the women’s lunatic asylum’s treatment of its patients located at Blackwell Island. They wouldn’t let her leave until the newspaper was able to get her out.

For her trip around the world, she left onboard the steamer, AugustaVictoria on November 14, 1889 with only two days notice, bringing only “the dress she was wearing, a sturdy overcoat, several changes of underwear, and a small travel bag carrying her toiletry essentials.” [Kroeger, Brooke (1994). Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist. Three Rivers Press.] In a bag tied around her neck (similar to today’s hidden security pouches), she carried most of her money. She made her trip primarily by steamer and rail. In Amiens, France, she met Jules Verne, the writer whose book inspired her journey.

She was the first woman to write from a war zone, sending her stories from the Eastern Front during World War I. She was mistaken for a spy and arrested.

She died at age 57 after a bout with pneumonia and is buried in The Bronx.

In recent times, since 1978, the New York Press Club gives out the Nellie Bly Cub Reporter Award, and in 2002 she as part of a postage stamp sheet commemorating Women in Journalism along with  Marguerite Higgins, Ida M. Tarbell, and Ethel L. Payne.

In her 2013 book, Examining Lois Lane: The Scoop on Superman’s Sweetheart, Nadine Farghaly stated that Nellie was one of a few women modeled as the basis for Lois Lane, created by writer, Jerry Siegel and artist, Joe Shuster.

You can read more about Nellie Bly here, and can also read her writings:

Around the World in 72 Days

Six Months in Mexico

Ten Days in a Mad-House

Look for related posts through the rest of the week.

Cosplay – Candy – Creepy Crawlies

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Yesterday was Halloween, and for those of us with children this is second in planning and importance only to Christmas. I’ve always loved Halloween. I like getting dressed up, I like decorating, I like theme desserts and meals, and the specialness of the different time of the year.

I have been somewhat lazy in the last couple of years, and my daughter discovered my holiday boxes. She has taken it upon herself to drag them up from the basement, and make the house, inside and out, look magical and perfectly balanced for the holidays, especially Halloween and Christmas. And I hate to admit, because I was really good at it, but she is better. She’s faster, she’s creative, she thinks outside the box, and it’s just a beautiful display.

Outside lights and pumpkins, decorated for Halloween. (c)2018


This year, her costume was the the 13th Doctor as portrayed by Jodie Whittaker. There were some things that she wanted, and needed to buy, but there were others that I just refused – no to $20 yellow suspenders (“but I’ll wear them more than once,” and she probably would) and I said no to the $30 new sonic screwdriver, and she borrowed my boots that coincidentally are almost exactly the same at the Doctor’s. For the sonic screwdriver, she spent $2 on orange sparkly lights from Target and used aluminum foil and built herself a sonic screwdriver, pictured below.

Handmade/homemade Sonic Screwdriver (belonging to the 13th Doctor). (c)2018


The Doctor. (c)2018


My son grabbed his Flash t-shirt and ring, and went to school as Barry Allen, the Flash’s alter-ego. He has his own wonderful way of being creative and creating costumes and decorations from what he already has. I’m glad that they’re both so independent minded and creative.

Barry Allen (The Flash). (c)2018


(c)2018


My cosplay was a riff on the one I did in 2016. In 2016, I saw an everwidening chasm towards the vilification of journalists, and it concerned me. I’m a strong proponent of free speech and a free press. They are so important to our country, to our ideals, to our democracy. This Halloween I had intended to be a professor from the Harry Potter world, a Hufflepuff, of course. And then the President continued with the enemy of the people rhetoric, Gianforte is running for re-election (google Ben Jacobs, journalist), Bob Woodward published a very frightening look at the Trump White House (and he and Carl Bernstein are personal heroes of mine), and then The Washington Post’s Jamal Khashoggi walked into a Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey, and never walkied out. He was murdered, assassinated, but not just that, the level of response from the White House and from the Republican side of Congress appalled me, so I thought it was important to take a stand, especially this week before Election Day.

16/52 – Ezra Klein

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I first saw Ezra Klein giving analysis on MSNBC. I knew that seeing him on screen that I would be in for an insightful discussion of that day’s headline news. I have always found him honest and engaging; able to get to the heart of the matter, and show depth to both (or more) sides of an issue.

When he formed his new website, Vox, I followed. I have never been disappointed. They are both opinionated and educatonal. Their opinions are clearly laid out as are their explanations of the complicated facts and news of the day.

He, and his team, have a way of taking a huge issue and breaking it down into bite-sized, easier to understand pieces. He and Vox use whatever media isw at their disposal from videos and charts to photos and humor.

Ezra Klein is a great example of what it is to be a journalist in today’s media world.

With this year’s uproar over fake news and the President’s disregard for the profession of journalism and the journalist, it is more important than ever to have reliable news sources. Ezra Klein is a reliable news source.

Check him out on Facebook and on the Vox website.

Bob Simon, ’60 Minutes’ And CBS News Veteran, Killed In Car Crash

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Bob Simon, a news man I respected immensely, has died tonight in an automobile accident in NYC.

For me, Bob Simon is one of those voices that has always evoked trust and integrity, from a very short list that includes the likes of Martin Fletcher, Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, and Walter Cronkite.

One of the best news and investigative journalists in this country. A very sad day for journalism and CBS. My condolences to his family and friends.

Martin Fletcher: Breaking News

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Reading about your heroes can be dubious business. On the one hand, this is someone you admire a great deal, try to emulate and without knowing it, they take on the air of mentor through their deeds and actions. On the other hand, when you dig in deeper you find that your hero is merely human, and in some ways it is disappointing to find that they have faults and poor judgment and, well, quite frankly, too much like you than you would have liked.

I found this recently, and then I had to wonder if it was the man I admired who I should blame or I for putting so much emphasis on what really is his caricature, his persona that appeared in the toughest circumstances, in the most dangerous places in the world. Could I expect so much more from him than others? In fact, how could I expect this perfection in anyone?

There were few things I wanted to be when I grew up. I was very much an idealized version of a stereotype. I didn’t want to be a pilot; I wanted to be a stewardess. I didn’t want to be a doctor; I wanted to be a nurse. I didn’t want to be a cowboy; I wanted to be an Indian maiden captured and rescued (so not only was this a gender stereotype, but a racist one as well.)

I also wanted to be a writer.

But not just any writer; a journalist.

These were the mid-70s. Women politicians in my neighborhood were the rage: Bella Abzug, Liz Holtzman, others resigned to the annals of my childhood memory.

But all the information flowed through the newspapers. Nixon had resigned. I adored Woodward and Bernstein. They were my heroes then. I wanted to be them. It didn’t hurt that Robert Redford was in the movie version – in fact, I’ve yet to read their book. Lou Grant had moved on from Mary Tyler Moore’s station manager and was now the editor of a prestigious newspaper in California. I loved the female journalist, Billie Newman, just as tough as her desk partner, Joe, curly red hair of which I was more than a little envious of with my straight dark brown hair, not black. I should have red hair. (Eventually, I did, and I do, but I’ve left the curls to the perms of the 1980s.)

Television was big in our house. When I hear teenagers talk about jumping the shark, I know that they have no real clue. I watched Fonzie jump the shark literally and figuratively finding his way into the pop culture vernacular forever.

We were a political family. My parents voted every year. They both worked for the post office, at that time a government job. We celebrated Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. I was on a first name basis with Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, Walter Cronkite and all of their successors.

For today’s Middle East news bulletins, most would know the name Richard Engel, but my foreign correspondent was (and is) Martin Fletcher.

One of the benefits of knowing Martin through television is reading his books with his voice ringing clearly in my head. He has a distinctive accent and voice; I would recognize it from the television even if I wasn’t paying attention. Like Peter Jennings, if Martin Fletcher was talking in the middle of the day, pay attention; it is something important.

I’ve always considered Martin an American correspondent despite his British accent. After all, his accent wasn’t the prim and proper British accent that most people were used to here in the States. His was….different. Now I know that his growing up in London to German and Austrian Holocaust survivors melded their accents with those around his family to give him a unique pitch to his words. It offered me an expertise in what he was talking about simply by virtue of sounding not like the other journalists. It was also noted that Tom Brokaw was in the New York studio while Martin was in the thick of it, whether that be in Kosovo, Rwanda or Israel, where he made his home with his wife and three sons.

I was expecting Walter Cronkite on the road. All knowing, non-plussed, quiet, reserved, straight-laced, very much a desk jockey, going out, getting the story, filing the story, filming against the backdrops of war.

This was not Martin Fletcher.

I was shocked to find that he is a human being. I was also shocked to find my own moralistic, narrow-minded, prudish reactions to his life as a cameraman/reporter/journalist twenty-something.

He drank.

And passed out.

He swam naked.

He had sex.

He and his friends were constantly involved in debauchery (his word) and my reaction was so much of what happened to my quiet, reserved, British-accented journalist? Was this also Woodward and Bernstein while they got the story? Rossi and Newman? (Fictional, I know, but still, they would never!)

Well, no. He’s not any of them. They also weren’t in war zones, interviewing warlords stealing humanitarian aid and selling it, talking to the maker of the bomb that injured his family’s close teenage friend and killing her two friends. They weren’t climbing mountains in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation, getting the story but trying to avoid the Soviets and getting himself killed.

He skirted land mines, trusted murderers’ bodyguards to safeguard him and his crew while they got the story out, filmed a woman dying of starvation, compromised his morality knowing that the story must get out, the truth to the world.

It was dangerous; it was life-changing; it was mentally sapping. Sometimes it was too much.

As much of his private life surprised me, I needed to remind myself that I was ten when he was living this kind of life, not to mention that in hearing his older voice that I am used to as an NBC viewer does sound funny when he recounts his younger, freer days. As he reminds me throughout the book, and in reading this glimpse behind the curtain of the evening news that I remembered was when I thought of becoming a journalist, the story was the most important thing. Always the story.

Journalists risked their lives – the story was that important.

There are hardly any like Martin Fletcher anymore. Everyone has a smartphone. We have citizen journalists on every street corner. Think about recent events in Iran and Egypt including the Arab Spring where the news got out through Skype and banned pictures through Twitter. I first saw Trayvon Martin’s story on Tumblr weeks before the mainstream media caught up to the social justice advocates reblogging there.

I still don’t know if this is a book review, a classroom book report, mini-biography, or op-ed on the life of a journalist. It could be all four, I suppose.

I’m still not sure why I let the dream of being a journalist drift away. Even at twenty, I don’t think I had the stamina for that kind of life. I am at once both afraid and in awe.

While I said at the start that dissecting your heroes can be a dubious affair, the three dimensional insight into someone like Martin Fletcher is invaluable to me. He is human; and so am I.

 

Martin Fletcher’s website

Breaking News: A Stunning and Memorable Account of Reporting from Some of the Most Dangerous Places in the World by Martin Fletcher