Check out my new job!

betty ming liu Writing how-to's 24 Comments

After a 17-year haitus, I’m a full-time reporter again — but in an edgy new, tech-driven world that is giving me a second chance at finding more of myself. I still can’t believe that this is actually happening!

Last weekend, we launched Newsday for Westchester at The mission is to cover news in the suburban counties just north of New York City.  We are owned by Cablevision, a big company that wires cable TV in tons of homes in the area. Its holdings include the award-winning Newsday daily newspaper on Long Island, a network of News12 local cable TV news stations, Madison Square Garden and the New York Knicks basketball team.

Our website represents a chance to re-invent the wheel. After all, no one else has a stand-alone local news website built on a rep of Newsday’s quality and the reach offered by a strong TV news partner. Cablevision customers have free access to us. For everyone else, I hope you’ll check out the one-month free trial and then subscribe later (it’s only $1.15 per week).

To read my stories, search for “Betty Ming Liu” on the site; they’ll all pop up. And please help me by liking, rating and commenting on as many articles as you can. This new world is all about the metrics!

We have iPad and iPhone apps for our website. It's also all about the apps.

As for my job, I work remotely — either from home or on the scene of the story. My beats are the environment and development but I’m always on call to help cover the day’s events. If there’s a breaking story, being a mobile journalist means hauling my MacBook and iPhone everywhere and uploading content asap. Thank God I’m in good health because the racing around can get intensely unnerving.

There wasn’t this level of speed-driven madness in the old days. But now, I can practically feel the wind flattening my ears against my head. Once I snap a photo on my iPhone, I must immediately send it to the W. 35th Street newsroom in Manhattan where it is formatted and uploaded. Ditto with stories, which are typed right into my phone from the scene. When it’s a super-hot story, there’s no time to even text so I’ll dictate quotes and notes to a rewrite person on the desk. An hour later, I will look for wifi on the street or at a nearby Starbucks to rewrite the piece more nicely.

Doesn’t that all sound so impressive? Well, here’s the reality…

At first, I kept forgetting to bring my MacBook with me. Then I realized that I needed to carry the laptop charger too, along with the phone charger. When I was sent out to report a homicide — the last time I did this was 1980 — the incident was so sad that I hid in my car and cried. Let’s not even talk about how long it took me to figure out the special software programs used by our newsroom. I still struggle with writing tight in a concise market where 500 words is considered a long-ish story. And being in start-up mode means that there’s constant experimentation and tweaking.

But there’s also the magic…I’m delighted to discover that the same creative energy is at work in my journalism, painting and personal writing: I’m at my best when I’m not over-thinking. Instead, I need to absorb everything — before editing the moment down to an essence that’s described in a few defining details. Even though writing at least one and sometimes two stories a day is grueling, I can already see the impact the practice is having on my ability to let go and flow.

It also turns out that some things haven’t changed. I’m still a pretty good interviewer. Unravelling complex ideas remains an exciting process. New experiences and people are energizing. Imagine me, putting on a hardhat and getting on a boat to eyeball environmentally controversial bridge engineering work on the Hudson River. One day I’m at a hearing in the courthouse, the next morning I’m driving upstate to visit farm country. In between, the landscape is populated by everyone from scientists, activists and artists to business folks, politicians, cops and kids.

For years, I've paid my cable bill at Cablevision's Yonkers, N.Y. office. But before this job, I had NO IDEA that the Emmy Award-winning News12 team worked in a sprawling studio on the other side of the building. Now look at me! Talk about speed -- sometimes, I have only 45 seconds to tell my story on air.

By the way, who knew that returning as a “mature” reporter could be such a plus? I know stuff from going through a divorce, buying and selling homes, gut-renovating a house, parenting a teenager, dealing with the local school system, teaching college students and adults, paying taxes, carrying a mortgage and burying my mother.

So at age 55, I feel like I’m getting a second shot at both my profession and life in general. It’s as if my first life as a columnist and wife was spring training, an angst-filled pre-season fraught with insecurity over who I was in the judgmental eyes of my parents. But nearly two decades later, I’ve happily become my own, albeit single, independent person.

Now, the real game begins. No more spring training.

The website has gone live.

I’ve gone live.

P.S. — If you’d like to follow me through my daily adventures, please join me on Facebook page and Twitter.  Time to rev up the social media.  xoxoxoxo

Comments 24

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    Ssshh, don’t tell my editors but this post is nearly 1,000 words. Haha. Oh well, I had a lot to say. It’s good to let this all out. I started this job on Jan. 1 and now I finally can talk about it!

  2. Betty: This is exciting – also dangerous. The need to get the story out fast, before the competition, is as old as journalism itself and carries with it the ever-present dangers of error and superficiality. When our magazine was founded, Out In Jersey came out every two months – a leisurely pace that allowed for ample fact checking and careful consideration. Now that our print edition has become a mere storefront for the website and thousands of readers a week are thereby descending on us, we are pressured to keep getting new material on-site and it has become like running a daily paper. Several times we have narrowly avoided disaster. I don’t know that we are doing a good thing by essentially returning journalism to the era of the penny press when all that mattered was to get a sheet with blaring headlines out on the street an hour before the other 37 New york papers could manage it. We have to ask if we are sacrificing judiciousness for ever more speed. Does the public really need to know all about it that fast anyway? They are already bombarded by information at a far faster rate and in greater quantity than anyone could possible process. I know I am, which is why I refuse to facebook or twitter. Even as a minor media person myself, I just don’t need all that information nor can I assimilate it. Well, file me under Sandy and keep going. You now have a tiger by the tail.

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    Toby, I agree. The speed is scary. But we don’t all have to do it to the same level. The good news is that there’s room for all kinds of journalism. My favorite magazine is The New Yorker, which is long-form articles built on tens of thousands of words. But even some of those folks tweet and do social media.

    I don’t think everyone has to do it. It’s like dressing up for a party. We can accessorize to our personal tastes. And you are not a minor media person. The work you do at your magazine is important. And I believe speed is important because your readers count on you being their first — and last word.

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    Thanks, Nikki. You know what’s funny? One of my good neighborhood friends is most impressed that I’ve met the cute anchor guy in the News12 photo in this post. Of course, my stories are okay too. :)

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  6. Wow that’s so great to hear your enjoying your new job Betty! Now I’m extra glad I had a chance to have you as a professor. I can personally vouch for you when i say you’ll do great professionally, if it means anything. I know i learned a lot from you. Now I have a twitter with almost 1k tweets! And to think I used to hate it…I even won a video game prize pack by re-tweeting some game company. they sent a sweater, t shirt and video game all the way from Canada, free of charge.
    Also hearing about your mistakes were pretty funny, how could you forget the charger to both your phone and laptop!? Haha but it happens to of all of us so its ok. Anywho congratulations on your new job i know you’ll take the journalism world by storm – again!

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    Ramon, how sweet of you to drop by. It means a lot to me. And here’s a secret I learned in teaching Twitter to college students — the ones who hate it the most are often the ones who end up being best at it. So congrats to you for winning the contest and building your personal brand. I’m proud of you!

    Now about my boo-boos…you saw what I was like in the classroom. For all my smarts, the simplest things can still throw me off. My daughter loves to tell the story about how, until two years ago, I didn’t realize it was possible to minimize the view on a computer screen! The good news is that I only have to make the same mistake three times before the lesson finally sinks in. :)

  8. You’ll knock it dead, just as you did when we labored in the Steam Age version of The Daily News (where notes also were phoned into rewrite, BTW). They’re lucky to have you. Age cannot wither you, nor custom stale your infinite variety. Go get ’em.

  9. Betty, you look good in a hard hat and vest! It is so comforting to read your initial comments and your joy in discovering Serendipity. Serendipity is “A state of mind wherein a person, through awareness and sensitivity, frequently finds something that is better than the thing he was seeking.” (Richard M. Eyre, The Three Deceivers: How Today’s Obsession with Control, Ownership, and Independence Are Destroying the Quality of Our Lives) The attitude of Serendipity, Richard explains,will bring us more joy than Control. It is good to control things but you can only take this so far. You will never be able to control everything in your life and this attitude will only bring us unhappiness in the end. The alternative to Control is Serendipity.
    I hope you can hold on to that attitude in your new job.
    Another thing that really meant a lot to me was when you said that you said you sat in your car and cried the first time you had to report on a Murder. We try so hard to be independent of others but we really aren’t. If you ever reach the point where you don’t feel hurt then this would be the worst thing you could possible ever feel. This was one of the areas we were talking about in my PTSD recovery group last Friday. One of the veterans said “I wish I could cry, but I can’t any more….I tell my wife I love her, but but I don’t feel it anymore…I can’t feel anything anymore” it is a blessing to be able to connected to others and to feel.
    I think you need to read the first part of your blog in the attitude you started with in the first part.That is Serendipity. what unexpected things did you find when you were looking for something else? Life is better than we imagined it to be when we give up this deception that we can control everything. Isn’t that what you parents tried to do? In the end did it bring anyone happiness?

  10. What a fashionista you are with your orange hard hat and work vest! But… (yipes!)… is that… a pencil and pad I see in your hands at the scene of some offense or “puff” story? OY! You’ve ruined my image of you as a glamor reporter! (Smile). And what’s this business of hauling around an iPhone AND a MacBook! Darrlinngg, that’s so old school! Where’s your latest iPad that let’s you photograph and zip off stories on the fly? Why should you have to remember to take the MacBook AND the iPhone when you can just take the iPad? And get rid of that pencil and paper, honey!! Lois Lane is so…
    yesterday! Now what you need is urban gear for your line of work! A Harley, a solar messenger bag that recharges your electronics on the go, and a Max Factor make up kit so you can “go live” via Skype–providing you’re near a hot spot! And get a coffee holder on your Harley in case you need a latte grande or something! Keep up the hard work! Welcome back to the beat!

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