May 8, 2012

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!

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.

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