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The Road to Nowhere: NCMR Conjures Memories for an "Old" Journalist

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rmal">This writer woke up in the wee hours last night in a cold sweat, realizing that 35 years of writing has led me full circle to nowhere, and that the circle closed at the NCMR conference in Minneapolis. I blamed OEN publisher Rob Kall for this realization, and felt like calling him at 3 AM to share my pain. Rob contacted me last week and asked if I had planned to be at the NCMR convention. It was not on my calendar, since the Minnesota forecast was for two sunny days after two weeks of miserable rain and cold, cold temperatures. The prospect of meeting with a couple of OEN correspondents sealed the deal, and in spite of the promise of sunny weather, and I went ahead and got credentialed. Those who know me understand how important the whole credentialing thing is with me. Makes me feel like a real journalist.

The next step was to ask publisher Rob, what exactly he hoped me to gain for OEN from the conference. He mentioned a few “gets” that would be interesting, and I did what any journalist would do and fired off a note to the press officer, expressing interest in setting up a couple of interviews. This would be easy, I thought. The press officer replied that the way it would work would be for me to register at the press desk on opening day and figure out from there how the conference was handling interview requests. The next step would be to approach speakers after their panel presentations.

I pulled on my signature cowboy boots (35 years ago my signature dress was this hippie smock thing) and eagerly hightailed it over to the convention center. Proud of my credentials with the lavender “press” ribbon attached, I had to find my way back to my car because the goodies bag the press received was so loaded with paper “stuff” that it was too heavy to lug around. I wonder what NCMR did to the carbon imprint of Minneapolis?

Next step was to track down the guy who could make the interviews happen for me. I did not have to look for very long, because Craig Aaron, the Communications Director for the sponsor, FreePress, spotted my cowboy boots, approached me, and asked me the cool question, “Who are you with?” He answered his own question when he read my name tag and mentioned that he knew Rob Kall.

Now, I’m thinking that this is going to be really easy.

I told Aaron that Rob was really hoping I could chat for a few minutes with Naomi Klein. I also mentioned that I was quoting the tenets of Klein’s Shock Doctrine in my work about New Orleans, so she might want to seriously consider an interview. I was inching towards begging mode.

Aaron fumbled for his card and told me to email him with my request and that he would “see what I can do,” but “I am not promising anything.” And, the best way to accomplish my mission would be for me to “approach Klein after her panel.”

Call me psychic, but I sensed my prospects sinking at that point.

Klein had several presentations over the weekend, so my plan was to wait for the excitement of her star quality to die down. I would casually approach her when she was all alone and destitute at the coffee stand, handlers gone, those white umbrella things that the video crews use to diffuse the floods packed away, and her books sold out.

I never heard back from Aaron, even though I sent him a very nice email. It was late into the ninth hour of the conference, and I had totally struck out on my quest, when I ran into Aaron and joked with him about him not answering my email. He looked at me like he had never before in his life seen me and kept poking at his PDA, mentioning that things were “crazy” and just plain old walked away.

OK, it was up to me now. Klein was about to speak at another panel in the main auditorium. With less than three minutes to go, my purple credentials got me past the press pit and to the foot of the stage. I did what I have done for 35 years and crawled on hands and knees to the table where Klein was looking over her notes. Card in hand, I probably frightened her when she looked up and suddenly saw a head appear in front of her microphone. In a very carefully planned, non-aggressive manner, I slid my card across the table to her and mentioned that I was working in New Orleans, and that the Shock Doctrine was still very much in evidence there, and that free press really could use some assistance there, and how could we make this happen? Could we please talk for a few minutes after the panel?

Klein looked at me like I was nuts and took my card without saying a word. I felt dirty and crawled back through the press pit and a photographer took my picture as I slouched toward my proper place in the rear seats of the lecture hall.

Klein gave a good speech and mentioned how important New Orleans was. As of this writing I have not heard from her or her staff. Maybe she misplaced my card—yeah, I am sure that must be the case—she keeps saying how important New Orleans is.

Still, I had an ace-in-the-hole, since I write for another prestigious internet publication. Granted I am only one of 2,000 bloggers, but Arianna Huffington was really pumping up the energy about New Orleans being forgotten and how the mainstream press had Attention Deficit Disorder and how the Huffington Post had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder regarding forgotten stories. To paraphrase Sally Field, “I really, really like this woman,” and want to keep writing for the Huff Post and don’t want to be fired because of anything I say here. Arianna, I love you, but not in the “Ellen way.”

Huffington actually called for more writers from the podium. I changed tactics, since the security around Huffington and Dan Rather was pretty intense. I asked security to deliver two handwritten messages backstage and then I fired off emails to Arianna’s staff.

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill Magazine, the Huffington (more...)

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