Sunday, March 08, 2009

Journalism Reflections

It's getting harder and harder to get into shows for personal edification or reviews...previews today especially the smaller venues like local club Yoshi's or even community centers like Ashkenaz. I have no luck and don't even inquire at the Independent, the Paramount, the new Fox, Razzz or whatever it's name is.

One would think after 12 years of coverage publicists would be courting me, and some do, but its mostly a shot in the dark...blind calls and rounds of evasion. One would think I might have, if not carte blanche a little respect for the unpaid years in the trenches covering many of today's top Bay Area artists...but such is not the case.

Most club owners never spent a dime in advertising with the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, an outlet which went from weekly publication to monthly after 20-plus years, November 2008. This monthly deal a reprieve after a July 2008, final edition.

Club owners must think I am trying to get a free ticket to a show. What they fail to realize that after covering the arts scene in the San Francisco Bay Area for all these years, I know these artists and the ones I don't know, it is in the artists and the venue's best interest that I do, because I don't think there is any journalist in this area that knows as much about the African Diaspora art+politics scene than I do and a nod from me will go along way in expanding audiences. I cover classical music, both European and African Diaspora, and now that I have a radio show, my reach is international, not that it wasn't before...the SFBV made sure that it was and continues to be.

The only reason why I don't have a TV show is the fact that I have to work for a living and a full-time teaching load means I am limited during the daytime and exhausted after running around in the evening.

When I ask independent black directors, like Kevin Epps and the directors of the Good Life, for access to their product, most often I get refusals initially. The same is true when I ask black theater directors for access to their international casts which is what happened with the last events at Tabia. Because I am not working for a news outlet with money, just heart, if I ask for an interview and received no as a response, I don't have time, if I remember, to make further inquires.

I just keep moving.

Today, I am getting a lot of product without asking, but no tickets to shows or access to artists even those I am connected to regionally, like Irma Thomas who is a New Orleans artist who might be a relative, but who certainly knows a lot of people I know and care about.

When I have an artist on my show, this interview is a potential story, but that market has also dried up. I don't have time to write for free, the investment is too time consuming...which is why I have gone to radio where I reach a broader audience and the work is not lying static on a shelf or in a file. This is what was happening with all my great interviews over the years. No one wanted to run them, or they would steal my pitches and/or give them to other journalists to write.

We don't have to even speak about reneged promises.

I have an Internet radio show and many, if not most of the artists I speak to respect the web and are quite obliging when I ask for an interview. I don't have time to hold grudges or bear anyone ill will or even think about the guests I've had on my show who blew the interview and my time because they were not fully present or that they didn't take me seriously. I have had several cases of people not showing up or sending me an email just moments before the show. But I continue to push forward and maintain integrity and honesty that I believe the profession demands. I have a lot of great ideas for shows which don't always happen, like the show I'd planned to have last month with Eve Ensler, Rhodessa Jones and Sia Amma around Women's Rights. Who knows, it might happen one day.

I am a revolutionary whose tool is communication. It's all the same story, which is why we have to keep telling it. I am also a Race Woman in a time and place in history where such is not only a concept diluted and perhaps redefined, but few own.

Last week, I had an opportunity to be in the presence of one of our community's greatest storytellers: Lou Gossett Jr. I will never forget this moment. I didn't get a chance to shake his hand or tell him how much I appreciate his dedication and commitment to us, his people. I didn't get a chance to thank him for generosity: time and money spent telling our stories, using Black stories of greatness as a vehicle to erase racism. It was like being in the presence of a Sidney Poitier, Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones, or Beah Richards.

Of course I could buy tickets to these shows, like the "Divas tour" whose publicists said they didn't have anymore press tickets, or other publicists for internationally touring African artists who tell me clients have completed their interview schedule or are no longer in the States, as if an interview with an artist abroad is a problem in a technical age.

I could purchase a ticket but I have to be frugal. Where was the local support for my family when we were homeless for almost six months? Where was the public outcry when I was evicted because of my activism? Where was the assistance when my daughter was laid off and I was the only one paying the mortgage? I have to be frugal because I don't have much in the way of a savings account and if I need help I have no one to depend on except myself. I have relatives, but everyone is in the same shape I'm in financially.

I wonder about the people these artists hire to manage their careers. Who are they and where do they come from? What are their instructions? Why do they keep people like me, African-centered journalists like me, away from their clients--clients who if I can some how get close enough to say hi to, greet me with a smile and give me a story?

It is strange and so unnecessary. I spend too much energy being disappointed after being felled by high walls and closed doors. I have to crawl from underneath so much debris...I am crushed and have to regroup often when I read stories I wanted to cover in the mainstream or corporate press. I wonder if it's because of where I am, that if I lived in New York or Chicago would I fare the same? Many of the artists I had access to years ago, I have a hard time reaching now.

This is an ongoing conversation I have with myself when I feel like quitting and don't. I'm looking for reasons to keep going.... This morning's discourse the day we "spring forward" has only made me late for the Marilyn Buck Luncheon and answered nary a question about why I should continue along this course.


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