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Society of Professional Journalists Southern California Inland Pro Chapter

Pub Date: Nov 1, 1997 | Columnist: Michelle Lovato

"The Internet is a natural progression for newspapers. . . a progression they will be forced to take."

Renae Ross, Microsoft, Southern California, Internet Business Development Manager

A Special Report

Society of Professional Journalists Southern California Inland Pro Chapter, Professional Development Conference

By Michelle Lovato, Authorlink! California Correspondent

TEMECULA, CA/10/25/97–The Society of Professional Journalists Southern California Inland Pro Chapter held its 1997 Professional Development Conference for an interested crowd of inquisitive reporters Oct. 25.

The day-long event was held at the Thornton Winery in the lush green hills of Temecula, California. On tap for the day was a heated debate between the editorial bigwigs of some of the country's largest ewspaper providers.

Joe Happ, assistant to the editor and publisher, represented the Riverside Press-Enterprise. Managing Editor Tom Bray was with The San Bernardino County Sun. Dick High, president, South Coast Newspapers, spoke on behalf of the North County Times and Jim Okerblom, 21-year veteran and general assignment reporter represented the Union-Tribune. The discussion centered on the war for readers in Southern California.

Dick High, who was the only community newspaper representative on the panel, presented a new challenge to the other three corporate giants. It was a bit of a David and Goliath story as the CEOs discussed how large newspaper corporations are being brought to their knees by smaller newspapers which can cover community events with more detail and consistency. Corporate representatives said they are being forced to add editorial staff and rethink the way they cover news. It was called "the battle of the readers", in which all representatives agreed that beefing up editorial staff and adding depth to their stories was an absolute must.

Microsoft's Southern California Internet Business Development Manager Renae Ross also spoke to the crowd. Ross said the internet was the natural progression the news industry would be forced to take in the technological future. Ross said her research showed that there are 3 million internet households. She projects that by the year 2001, the number will grow to 18 million. One third of all web users displaced watching television, according to Ross and one third replaced reading a book or newspaper with logging onto the 'net. Of those web users, Ross said 16 percent used the internet to make a business purchase. One third of those businesses had less than 100 employees, and one half of those businesses had less than 20 employees. Ross said companies like Dell sell $2 million in goods everyday and Amazon Books, a relatively new company, went from $3.1 million in sales to $43.9 million in six months.

"It's all about what Bill Gates calls Web Lifestyles," Ross said.

Ross said news makers can post websites using a vast variety software available from Microsoft. Ross said the industry is wide open to papers and publications of all sizes and warned that if large newspaper corporations ignored the technology that would lead the world into the new millennium, they were likely to be stomped on by smaller competitors.

Sidebar:

Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist David Freed

Transfers Talent to Telling Tall Tales By Michelle Lovato

Then there came the day that Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Freed sneaked into work early, cleared his desk and left a letter of resignation. It was time, Freed said, to leave journalism. That was of course, until CBS called and offered him one more job.

David Freed began his 18-year journalistic career in Colorado Springs, Co. and sprinted up the corporate ladder. By 1985 he was an investigative reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering the Los Angeles Police Department. In 1991 Freed traveled overseas to cover Operation Desert Storm then shared a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Los Angeles riots. But by early 1993 Freed had seen the glory days of his career in the City of Angels tarnish.

"One morning I woke up and said, 'I don't want to go into the paper today," Freed told the Southern California Inland Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists Professional Development Conference.

"There comes a day in every journalist's life when they realize they are writing the same story over and over." With that, Freed walked away from a prestigious career in journalism to pour his efforts into becoming a successful screenwriter.

Like many dreamers before him, Freed experienced the harsh, cold shoulder of the publishing world. In other words, nothing happened. So, in an effort to recoup morale, Freed did what any dedicated writer would. He went on vacation. Little did he know that when he returned home, a curious phone call from CBS News would pull him right back into the stressful life of investigative journalism.

"CBS called and asked if I would help with the O.J. (Simpson) story," he said. Freed admitted that he didn't want to go back, not even for a story as sensational as O.J.

"They said, 'Here's how much we pay.' and I literally said, 'I'll start tomorrow." Freed said his final stint as an investigative reporter on CBS's news staff was a wonderful experience.

Soon enough he was back to work on his alter career. His regimen of rising at 3 a.m. to write had produced more than half-a-dozen unsalable screenplays. His early characters included Officer Friendly, a mealy mouthed school resource police officer who magically transformed into an action hero when he placed his magic puppet atop his dynamic digits. Freed admits that was a little far out. He also "optioned" a book about a European grandfather who became a folk hero in Europe. Unfortunately, America wasn't ready for the free-wheeling bicycling grandfatherly role model Freed created. He received many responses from the movie industry, but nothing as infuriating as the one that motivated Freed to write his first saleable work.

"One of the studios said the script was too small, too soft to be a studio picture," Freed said. "So I wrote the biggest, hardest, stupidest action movie I could think of. It went out on a Friday and the studios offered me money by Monday."

What Freed had written out of spite, began his second professional writing career. He then sold the movie adaptation to Fox Network.

"Glaciers move faster than movie making," Freed said, who had become unsettled again, and began looking for yet another career.

One day, while Freed sat thinking about all the crazy things he might want to do with his life, he got the idea to write wild and unreasonable letters to a large group of very important people and ask for jobs he would never be able to receive. Freed created a "regular guy" character named Fred Grimes and spent several months writing letters to people like former President Jimmy Carter, the editorial staff at the National Inquirer, California Senator Barbara Boxer, and the Chief Executive Officer at St. Martin's Press. Freed, under the guise of Fred Grimes asked to apply for the job of being the before and after model for a new Jack LaLanne TV show, the American Advisor to France, the job of Poet Laureate, and a wine tester who promised never to swallow on the job, and, of course, a book salesman for St. Martin's Press. Freed then sat back and waited for the often humorous, surprising replies to roll in.

He is now on a book tour, sponsored by St. Martin's Press, his publisher. It seems that Freed ended up getting one of Fred Grimes jobs afterall. The book, "Dear Ernest and Julio: The Ordinary Guy's Search For The Extraordinary Job," is available at bookstores everywhere.

Copyright, Authorlink 1997