Greg T. Spielberg


The concern I’ve always had about devoting myself to journalism is the solitary confinement. It’s not lonely, it’s quite. Mute. Going four hours without saying a word is a strange feeling. And then, after all the quiet hours, the work I produce is read silently and alone by a reader! This is an unfortunate dynamic that’s unique to writing and causes all sorts of business-model problems for journalism companies. For me, this solitude would be a career-killer if not for the conversations opened up by the journalism process. I can call anyone, anywhere, any time to talk about their life, profession, thoughts, insights, complaints, fears, favorite color. What an amazing opportunity. That’s what makes journalism beautiful.

Here, I’ll share conversations I’ve had with passionate people whose thoughts influence mine. I haven’t picked the best architecture for this section so until it changes, I’ll list them  in order of appearance. I consider my writing career to have truly started in April 2010, so that’s where I’ll start.

Jullien Gordon B L T

Jullien Gordon is a motivational thinker and facilitator of movement. I met him when I wrote my first original story, a four-part series on Tanya Welsh’s social fundraiser, in April 2010. We spoke over the phone and then met at Choice Bakery in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Jullien affected me in two meaningful ways.

1) He challenged my concept of community as a one-size model. My conceptual attachment to community was created through a traveler’s perspective. I found that people are much more similar than they feel they are. Media representations, oral and written storytelling structures accent the differences and cause unnatural divides. My passion for a community media model is based on the desire to break down artificial historical constructs and create a new one where the beautiful, simple similarities are accented.

Jullien’s community model, which he fills with motivational content, is based on Alcoholics Anonymous. The opened my eyes to fact that community models can take very distinct forms and be rooted in different infrastructures. By asking me how I came to appreciate community, Jullien implicitly clarified that community models are not nebulously rooted. He helped me see my model more clearly and his model for the first time.

2) As a source for the Tanya Welsh story, Jullien hit me up on e-mail, then phone, then invited me to meet. The rapid movement from text to audio to in-person was unique, and at Choice, he shared the value of real contact by relating stories and having invited me in the first place. Jullien moved from source to acquaintance to teacher to peer to respected lifelong contemporary. This lesson was absolutely watershed in my life and my life as a journalist. It helped me embrace my potential as a freelancer – that I could go anywhere and meet anyone if I want to do it. It also changed the way I interact with other people. I’ve started carrying around my camera almost everywhere I go, taking pictures of not just myself and my friends but also people I have an interesting conversation with and may not see again. I may have eventually developed these habits and thoughts over time, but Jullien helped them move from zero to fully developed in two months simply by inviting to meet.

David Barr of the FDIC
I interviewed Barr for a story about the purchase of weak banks by healthy ones. There are many stories about the number of failing institutions – 103 in 2010 as of July 23 – but not much explanation about the transition. To tell this story, I focused on Georgia-based Crescent bank, whose 11 branches were reopened as Renasant banks starting on July 24. Crescent had been experiencing familiar problems – bad loans for commercial real estate and raw-land development – and was gauged to be failing.

Barr explained that it’s not the FDIC who does the gauging – it’s the bank’s chartering authority. In Crescent’s case, this is the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance. The GDB&F says Crescent is failing, informs the FDIC and the FDIC then starts shopping Crescent to potential buyers. (Since Crescent had $1 billion in assets, only 10 percent of American banks had enough capital to be considered.)

This was eye-opening to me, largely because of how business writers frame takeover situations. Marcy Gordon of the Associated Press, whose story inspired mine, writes that ‘The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said it took over Crescent Bank and Trust Co., based in Jasper, Ga., … “ and “The number of banks on the FDIC’s confidential ‘problem’ list jumped to 775 in the first quarter … .” Doesn’t that make it sound like the FDIC is the health-gauging watchdog? They’re not. Barr helped me see that.


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