Monday, October 7, 2019

Lake Superior Writers Panel Gives Authors Insights to "Get It Write"

Photo by Peter Lewicki on Unsplash
Saturday morning the Lake Superior Writers hosted an interesting panel discussion to help writers gain insights about what people in various occupations do and know. We all know what it's like to read a story in which the writer reveals he doesn't know something his readers do. It may not happen often, but when it does it breaks the spell.

The aim of this two-hour session at the Superior Library was, in part, a myth-busting session designed to help writers avoid getting it wrong. The four panelists included a news reporter, librarian, IT security expert, and a local entrepreneur. A judge had also been lined up but that fell through. Nevertheless it was a very good experience.

Jenna Kowaleski of the Lake Superior Writers welcomed us, thanking the many folks who made this happen including our host the Superior Public Library. Kowaleski also reminded us of a number of upcoming events which you'll also find by following the Lake Superior Writer group on Facebook.

The four panelists, representing for occupations, were as follows.
IT Security Expert Ryan Anich, a security analyst at Essentia.
Journalist Brooks Johnson from the Minneapolis Star Tribune
Librarian Leslie Mehly from the Superior Public Library
Entrepreneur Kelsey Roseth, an Ad Agency Owner

EdNote: These are notes only, an to capture the ideas being conveyed. Sometimes written verbatim and sometimes an interpretation.

Ryan Anich, IT Security 
Q. 1. --Describe what an average day looks like for you. 
Kelsey: Many creative, joyful moments like the brainstorms on Mad Men. Getting it wrong: much is not sexy. 90% of day is emails, process management, meetings, boring stuff.
Leslie:  There's no average day. It varies. Sometimes we have issues. Leveraging begging skills to get people to do things for no money Varies from placid to someone wielding a knife in the bathroom.
Brooks: Some days are calm, sometimes someone is wielding a knife in a library. Breaking news requires a lot of knocking on doors and follow up. Find information, then how to make it interesting. A lot of hurry up and wait, and other times just hurry up.
Ryan: – Typical day involves wearing numerous hats, from dealing with foreign hackers to helping get new equipment online. It’s not like in the movies where you have someone looking at a screen at three a.m. in a dark room.

Q: 2. What was something you didn’t anticipate in your career?
Kelsey: 12-16 hour days…. Working inside companies… feel connected to the community. Thought she was leaving that when she left journalism.
Leslie – Was told she would have to climb the ladder by moving around a lot. Got attached to the community here and this is more valuable… Identifying community needs takes time and loves Superior. Not interested in leaving area.
Brooks: Most journalists are small and medium sized papers, not CNN or Washington Post. Surprise: When you write a story you still live in the community. Relationships important. Need thick skin when make mistakes… held accountable for what you write.
Ryan: You don’t know everything no matter how skilled you are. Must get into all facets to a certain degree… Code has to be integrated to the whole.

Brooks, the Reporter
Q.3. What does the media get wrong?
Leslie: Librarian tropes—librarians love cats. Also, “It’s A Wonderful Life” where Mary became a librarian and never married.
Brooks: Trope that somewhere out there Hunter S. Thompson is writing. Modern journalists are nerds. Stay away from the extreme.
Ryan: IT people do support the Mountain Dew epidemic. Day to Day work is not just magically there. Must do a lot of reading and researching.

Q.4 What does the media get right? 
Brooks: Night of the Gun is a good look inside the industry
Leslie: The Public, a film about the homeless taking over Cincinnati library
Ryan: IT introversion is fairly accurate. Most stay inside their cubes.
Kelsey: Cities & Strangers. It's truthful.

Q.5. Good fiction is in the details. Can you share some details that can be incorrect in what I do? Kelsey: Entrepreneur stress is relevant.
Leslie: Surprised at the digital divide. People who want 25 books and have no idea where their card is.
Brooks: The daily miracle—a one ton roll of blank paper to be printed. Multiple layers and levels before it reaches print. Many eyeballs before it goes out. You are a cog in a machine.
Ryan: Thick levels of sarcasm and passive/aggressiveness.

Q.6. What is the role of technology in your daily lives? What resources do you use? 
Leslie: Tech dependent. Computers and internet down, and we’re unable to do anything.
Brooks: Able to do his whole job on an iPhone. Uses Slack, a messaging app. Has 8 apps open at any time.
Ryan: Internet is a need for anyone today.
Kelsey: 200+ Passwords All clients have different technologies Software for everything…

Librarian Leslie (L) and Kelsey the Entrepreneur
Q.7. You all interact with people quite a bit. Any memorable conversations you've had that you did not expect? 
Brooks: Used to write questions before … now more of a conversation. Be human first and a journalist second. Lots of interesting people, places never expected.
Leslie: Patrons at the forefront. Constantly problem solving. Often people have been five other places without getting answers. Invaluable being there to help. She told a story of a person trying to send money to son in jail out of state. Exceedingly complicated. You are here to serve.
Ryan: Working with legal and HR departments… enforcing legal matters related to copyright. Other situations where they become the evidence-gatherer for criminal matter.
Kelsey: Surprised at the number of conversations in which people want to eliminate people from seeing their content, discriminating. Through FB you can decide who sees or doesn’t see. On the positive side I've learned so many weird and whacky things that were very interesting. Guy who was fascinated with moths.

At this point there was a ten minute break in which we were given an opportunity to write questions directed to specific individuals on the panel.

Q. How do you respond to the perception that libraries are outdated. 
Leslie: They are not. So many things in this world are digital now… The Digital Divide is real. DO A Books and reading important. There's still a demand and a need.

Q. What's the best approach for working with sources?
Brooks: Research first. Be transparent. Say who you are and what you are doing. Who, what, -- the more you know about what you want, the better. Scripts sometime help. The more ready you are the better.

Q. A journalist was denied a service because of something she wrote. Is this an issue for journalists?
Brooks: It can happen if you’re a food critic. Sometimes people call us out. If you act with professionalism and fairness, it's not going to happen too often.

Q. When a story breaks what is process? 
Brooks: A lot of times reporters get a lot of leeway. A lot of stories happen on weekends on the squawk box. “If it bleeds it leads," is a saying in this business. People are drawn to the blood, but you (as a journalist) have to keep things in perspective.

Q: How do you see the future of privacy and security?  
Ryan: Kelsey brought up a good point about manipulation in advertising online. Your privacy is gone at this time. Your personal preferences are pretty much in a pot of gold for people who know how to use it. Your day-to-day activity is logged and used.
Kelsey: Info that is hidden is not hidden to Google

Q: What is the best writing guide you have come across?
Brooks: Advice I received from an editor: “Just tell me what you’re going to tell me.”
Othe books various panel members suggested:
Draft #4
by John McPhee
On Writing, by Stephen King
Bird By Bird. Anne Lamott
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
Ryan: Dark Reading (online)
The Talent of the Room

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