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September 24, 2005

How do I become a stringer?

Katrina changed everything.

In the space of a few hours, I went from an anxious bystander to a journalist with support to cover the news. I quit my job. I quit with one day's notice. I just had to pack up and go.

My boss had been logging 18-hour days for as long as I could remember. On Labour Day, I emailed him to say that I might have to leave town on Wednesday. On Tuesday I was in the office by 7:45, but I already had a message on my voicemail. It was my boss. I had orders to be in his office at 11:00. I nearly threw up.

Honestly, shame is a pretty rare emotion for me. One of the best things about my life is that I go years without feeling ashamed of anything. Guilty, occaisionally. Disappointed, often. But not ashamed. If I have anything to be proud of, it's my solid track record of avoiding behavior I might end up ashamed of.

Yet, I was deeply ashamed of what I was about to do. I was going to walk off my job in the middle of a project. I was about to let my team down. I never let my team down. I'm the person stays until 5am to meet the deadline and goes back to Brooklyn, showers, changes, and comes back to Manhattan to meet the client. I smile the whole time.

I went to see my boss at the appointed time. It's a big buildingm, so I set aside some time to puke in the 7th floor washroom if I needed to. Instead, I showed up early, feeling like a psychopath.

I sat down.

My boss spoke before I could say anything. I couldn't believe what he was telling me. He said he'd been a stringer for Gulf War I. He said he understood that I needed to go. He said that if he was my age, he'd be doing the same thing.

My gratitude was a headrush. I just couldn't get the words out.

Luckily, he started talking about what it was like to be a stringer in a war zone. He told me about water purifiers, editors, oil rigs, and special metal cages you could get for your backpack.

I clenched the arms of the chair.

He told me that being a stringer was a hard life, that I'd be broke and miserable. That I'd be sorry that I'd ever left advertising, but that I'd have the time of my life.

"It's like a vacation to a war zone!" he said, "You'll love it."

I was flattered that he considered me the sort of person who'd like a vacation in a war zone. I might have blushed.

He went on, "But do you want this life?"

For a split second, I wasn't sure what to say. Then, I knew the answer.

"Yes," I said.

So, hivemind... How do I do it?


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» Miscellany from Political Animal
MISCELLANY....Lindsay Beyerstein, after spending a week covering Hurricane Katrina, wants to know how to become a stringer. She'd be good, so if anyone reading this has any work to offer her, head on over to her site and send her... [Read More]

» Miscellany from Political Animal
MISCELLANY....Lindsay Beyerstein, after spending a week covering Hurricane Katrina, wants to know how to become a stringer. She'd be good, so if anyone reading this has any work to offer her, head on over to her site and send her... [Read More]

» a filigree of stories from Crayons to Chaos
I'm supposed to have a draft tonight, of my second story on the Z Crew. But my brain is stuffed with too many stories competing for space - two of which are due next week, two of which need to [Read More]

» Being a Stringer from Crossroads
After my last (first) entry to this blog, I decided to find what I could on freelance journalism, ie. stringing. I found that there is precious little information out there on it. Most Google results on the subject point to [Read More]


First, get that metal cage for your backpack. The rest will come naturally....

"How do I do it?"

Put a little thing, my admiration and gratitude in the corner of that backpack.

I think you already have.

Like the others, I have no advice. I just wanted to say "yay you."

Aeg's right. You're already doing it. All you need is someone at the other end of the string.

I look forward to your dispatches from whatever front requires your presence.

You've probably looked at this already, and I have no clue on if it's full of shit or not, but this is a book on it.

Other than that, I'll ask the friends I have who work in newpapers (almost exclusively newspapers of a decidedly non-global scale, from back in my southern origin-zone) and will email you on the off-chance that they have heard anything about how it works.

if you find out, let me know.

i've always liked the line from Almost Famous when Frances McDormand quotes Goethe: "Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid"

first off assemble the excellent work that you've done in the hurricane zone, go over it to correct any typos or grammatic lapses, then assess your resources, cameras, computers and so forth, package your details and experiences and hit the email trail. start at the top and work your way down the list of likely employers. also check out "writer's market" a very good annual resource that lists tons of papers, magazines and news services and other publishing outlets. one of the good things about writer's market is that it has addresses, contact info and submission requirements. don't limit yourself to print media either, you are photogenic and could easily do well on television. you can obviously write (just ask us readers, we'll confirm that) and you are blessed with the requisite courage/madness to give it a shot. be prepared to downsize your life, if you end up freelancing, you will often wait up to several months for a check for your work. oh, go check out kungfu monkey's blog, he has valuable posts concerning pitching ideas for the film industry, those skills when transferred will be invaluable when it comes to pitching story ideas to editors. best of luck, give 'em hell.

I retreated to journalism school to try to learn the same thing, But you have, as other folks here have mentioned, enough of a foundation as a writer without it. And with all the budget cuts in foreign bureaus, you'll have work.

The only piece of equipment I've heard about that sounds essential is one of those satellite wireless broadband cards - you basically point it at the sun and you're there.

Also, Chris Albritton =blank> is in town. Write or IM him. I would.

Sorry for the screwed-up HTML. It's late.

Put together a demo package.

Congrats, BTW.

Awesome for you.
I think people do what they have to do. I wish I had your courage..

*standing ovation*

Jesus, Lindsay.
i subsist by being an advertising freelancer.

You have:

Your wits.
Your freedom.
Your future.

Why not?

Lindsay, I don't know anything about the field you're entering, but I do want to thank you for the work you did on Hurricane Katrina. That part of the country is near and dear to me, and to my knowledge you've never lived there, but you went in so bravely and reported with such understanding and sympathy for these people that you've forever earned my respect. Best of luck.

Just wanted to add my voice to the chorus of admiration for you, Lindsay. You have more courage than most, and certainly more than I. Best wishes and good luck to you, as always.

Great choice. Wish I was you.


I once had a good union job making pharmaceutical products. Then I quit one day to be a govt. observer on commercial fishing boats. I took a massive, permanent pay cut and lost any semblance of a stable life for years. I've never looked back.

Life on a fishing boat is like this: Imagine getting on a bus and having someone weld the doors shut. You're stuck for a couple months with a lot of strange people, cockroaches, and whatever food is given to you. The attraction? Leaning on the rail once, feeling sorry for myself, wondering what exactly I was doing in a metal box full of deck apes, a blue whale surfaced not thirty feet away with me looking down into it’s blowholes. Hours and days of brutal work, boredom, occasional nauseating danger, filth, no privacy, frustration, etc., etc.; then moments of coruscating beauty. 20 years on I'm still working with fish and wouldn't have had it any other way.

I followed hurricane Katrina obsessively, mostly because I was shocked that the Bush Boys could still shock me. This blog was one of sites I visited regularly. Good work.

Yeah, and advertising: who needs that shit? You can write; do something useful with that.

Double congratulations.
Congratulations for following your inspiration.
And congratulations for sharing it so to inspire others.
Thank you.

You may want to pop into DV Dojo on 1st and Bowery. It's a digital video school and rental shop run by a former CBS News producer. They have intensive training on how to produce and file your own reports on video and how to sell them to documentary and news programs from NY1 to the BBC and beyond.

Ooooh, way to go, Lindsey!

You know, I bailed on an extremely promising academic career --- although truth is, that wasn't the first time i've bailed --- and it was the smartest thing i've ever done.

I now consider myself a rural reclamationist. Less hazardous than what you've jumped into, except for the money (money is truly a joke out here :=D ). But a billion times more rewarding.

And even though I think that whole Joseph Campbell "follow your bliss" thing veers off into classic self indulgence for the privileged, I do believe in callings and I do believe we know when we've encountered one of our callings.

And I think you've encountered yours, and I think you've been smart enough to answer the call and lucky enough to do so with blessings.

From here, you just have to go. There will be some people who can give helpful info, but you need to follow your own gut, too. You already know what's right and wrong, you're a tremendously gifted writer and you've got a great sense for what's important. The only other thing I'd recommend is a good Sony digital camcorder and a Mac for editing footage. :=D

Way to go!

Lindsay: You write beautifully. You are amazingly astute. You've got courage.

So what was your question again?

Why not try to sell some of the material from NOLA as you collect your gear?

Lindsay, I'm finding the picture of you on this site increasingly annoying. When you get to the war zone, take a new picture.

Without wanting to take part too vigorously in the group masturbation session, let me just say congratz on a gutsy decision, and good luck.

I'm impressed. It takes guts to change your life around so much...and you've got 'em.

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