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Dec

28

I had an interesting encounter with one this morning. Was in a cafe out on Long Island, having some coffee and reading when a young industrious sort approached my table. Introduced himself as a reporter for the local newspaper and asked would I like to offer a quote for the blizzard story he was writing.

I told him no because anecdotal evidence is close to meaningless and beyond tedious, so I wouldn't feel right burdening his readership with my understanding of a subject as pedestrian as the weather.

But, I continued, I'll give you some career advice. A polite kid, he was all ears. I told him that we both know that he was working at the paper he's working at because that's how the journalism game works. Hope to break in a small market, then further hope that an editor at a big market paper notices your work.

It's the standard model. So I told him that he should consider enhancing his chances of one of those editors taking note of him, and that compiling anecdotes was not the optimal way of doing such. Why, because everybody else is going to be writing the same thing and it's all going to amount to nothing more a big slush of ephemera.

He then asked what's the best alternate route to go then.

I told him to look out the window and what does he see. (I love being a compass for kids when they're eager and polite.)

He told me that he see's 2 feet of snow. So I tell him that all the other reporters are going to be seeing the same exact thing, so what else does he see. Now the kid's bewildered.

So I tell him where most see 2 feet of snow, some see the central limit theorem, and that's what he should write about. Based on meteorological data what would the odds be of having another 2 foot storm within x days and what would the possible enormous consequences be. What would the ramifications be of a weather shock on top of a weather shock be for airline travel and how long could it reverberate.Then I told him to call up the mayor's office and ask for a comment on what services would have to be cut in such a scenario to make up for the budget shortfalls due to all the clean-up overtime. Lay out the possibilities: library, parks and recreation, Meals on Wheels for the homebound. I told the kid, listen, I don't want you to become unduly jaded but you want the guy to bite on the Meals on Wheels thing, as it would resonate.

So the kid tells me that he wouldn't be able to put this all together by his afternoon deadline. So I tell him that he doesn't have to write it today. Go to the library and brush up on the college statistics that he said he'd forgotten and write the story whenever he wants. It's like a bullet in the chamber because another snow storm is inevitable this year or next and that's when he should pull the trigger.

So he asks me that he should start to research a story about a possible snow storm a year from now and release it then as timely reporting.

I told him to look at the obituary page in tomorrow's New York Times. It will contain insightful information on interesting people, most of whom he has never heard of before. But although the person only will have died today, that obituary was probably written years ago. And it was just a bullet in a chamber, waiting to be fired.

There are few things in life as satisfying as watching the light go on over a young person's head.


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