So what the hell do I do all day while living unemployed in Tulum? I bet my mom is curious. (Hi mom!)
For 20 years, I worked in the crazy world of news. There’s an inside joke in the industry about whether or not there is life after TV news. Of course, the answer is yes. My answer, however, is more like YES!
People thought working in media must be glamorous. I used to tell them it was exciting work and every day was different. But looking back, I see that most days were the same.
Change the names of the characters in the story, the day, the time of the show, and the rundown still will look something like this: a shooting, a fire, a car crash, another shooting, a stabbing, an armed robbery with surveillance pictures, commercial, some kind of tax issue or school levy, maybe some kind of zoning issue for a new business, some kind of incredible video-of-the-day, weather, commercial, sports, commercial, the firefighter who rescued a cat from a tree, good night, commercial.
If you live in a more educated U.S. city, you might see a lead story about some kind of ‘controversial’ topic before a story with pure violence. For decades, another inside joke in the industry has been, “if it bleeds it leads” and the ratings used to spike when bad news topped a newscast.
Then TV lost viewers because of smartphones and tablets and because it was all ‘bad news.’ If the public goes numb to the violence – just imagine what it’s like to be around the insanity 10+ hours a day, every day, for 20 years. Some of my colleagues have been doing this way longer than that!
Someone who’s not working in the biz is described as “on the beach.” That describes me these days.
My days still are virtually all the same, and they look something like this:
- Wake and give thanks and pray for power/strength to carry love and joy throughout the day
- Breakfast, review previous day’s Spanish lesson, check email, social media, bike to Spanish class
- Bike to store for fresh fruit/veggies
- Bike ride some miles to the beach, search for shade, swim, snorkel, dance and look foolish and not care, maybe practice Spanish with locals trying to sell tours or talk/meet with tourists
- Bike ride back home and give peace signs and smiles to people I pass on my path
- Late-afternoon writing time
- Dinner that includes a bit of time to clean and chop fresh veggies
- Gather with a few spiritual friends in Tulum (or Playa del Carmen by mini-bus), or have some chat time with family or close friends far, far away from Tulum
- Evening reading that usually includes some news, and reading the news makes me even more grateful that I no longer work in news
I wanted to be a journalist to make the world better – that’s nothing special. It’s just like so many other journalists. Instead, for more than 20 years, I worked through shootings, car crashes, standoffs, murders, fires, corruption, political motivations, environmental and public safety issues, money, money, money and money.
Haves versus Have-Nots
The real issue underlying most news stories I’ve covered over 20 years is money or greed for more power, or fear of not having money or power, or fear of having these things taken away.
Fear of having less will breed the greed to go after more. It’s present at every level. Individuals, groups, companies, political parties, nations.
A public corruption case tried in federal court is really about the money and the power it can yield.
A shooting by a drug dealer on the city’s east side is really about the money owed to him for his shit.
A deadly house explosion is really about the money the city needs but doesn’t have to fix aging gas lines because its tax base ran off to the ‘burbs.
A car crash that killed that mother of young children is really about money because the car company but didn’t issue a recall until forced.
A mentally ill man who exposed himself outside a sports venue is really about money because the man couldn’t get in to see a shrink for proper meds.
A murder-suicide is really about money because the husband lost his job and his wife felt like he owed her the means to live like a Real Housewife.
A refugee with nothing left (Have-Not) trying to escape to the chance at a new life in Europe, due to others’ greedy political or religious motivations (Haves), is really all about money and power and status, to the extreme.
Another mass shooting that the president says leaves the public “numb” is really about money – and who and what controls guns in the U.S., and yes, the reporting I’ve seen so far has been routine. The shooting, the suspect, the victims, the investigation, the guns, the funerals, the fights over laws. Maybe someone will follow the money and influence on any proposed law, and maybe the public will pay attention. Maybe.
One of the more unusual five minutes I ever produced in a newscast was during a national moment of silence for the victims in the Virginia Tech shooting. I had the video edited to show their pictures and names on a black slate. These young people were smiling – full of hope and life. There was no music on the video. The anchor said ‘we’re going to join the nation in a moment of silence now to honor those killed… we hope you will join us as we go silent’ and then we went silent and let the pictures speak thousands and thousands of words.
The news bosses flipped out. Those men were angry as hell at me. They viewed it as dead air time when they watched from their offices, even though I had described my plan to them before the newscast so they wouldn’t be surprised.
I viewed those silent five minutes with simple, powerful images as the opposite of the white noise media are known for.
The next day, I remember looking at the overnight ratings results and realizing it was among the highest-rated five minute periods I had ever produced in a show up until that point. I hadn’t done it for the ratings. I did it because it felt right. Because I am a human being with emotions, including empathy.
I also remember thinking I probably wouldn’t be in the news business forever.
Yep. I’m one of the lucky ones. I am grateful to have all that I truly need today – good health and a bicycle to get to the beach and smile at strangers and practice Spanish. My life is rich.