Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Wall Street Journal, Day 22: Still Alive and Kickin'

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - This entry is basically to let all you readers know that I'm still alive and kicking (I have no excuse to offer as far as my lack of updates goes, so I won't even try to stammer one out)---and getting bigger stuff to edit.

Today was probably the first day that I edited mostly major stories that were assigned to me by one of the slot editors. In other words, it was the first day that I felt like I was one of the professionals. (Now I just hope I didn't screw anything up royally...) I got mostly short majors, but it's something.

That's all for today. There are other things I keep hoping I'll have time to write about, but I guess life intervenes. Hopefully I'll write something more substantive soon.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Wall Street Journal, Day 17: Hmm...

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Sorry for the rather lengthy absence from the blog. The Wall Street Journal has been fairly humdrum for a few days, and for once this weekend I wasn't scheduled for any shifts at the State Theatre.

A couple of interesting things happened today at the Journal copy desk. I got another major to work on today, for one thing. This one was more challenging than the two others I've gotten so far, mostly because the subject matter---to put it broadly, mortgages---is pretty alien to me. I had to read it, like, three times before I felt like I actually had anything close to genuine comprehension of what the article was talking about; it was very jargon-y (to put it in Joss Whedon Buffy-speak). Well, at least now I have a better idea of what all those NPR broadcasters are talking about when they refer to the current subprime meltdown. By the way: the majors they've been giving me to edit are what they call "ADI's." I don't know what that stands for---apparently, neither do many members of the copy desk---but apparently these stories are essentially fillers that they send to different publishing regions across the country for a particular region to use if an advertisement that appears in a particular space in one region doesn't appear in the equivalent space in another region. So I guess not everyone will be seeing the labor of my hard work, because I definitely sweated a little bit in trying to edit it judiciously. (Not that people really see the labor of copy editors; I suppose good copy editing is supposed to be invisible to readers anyway.)

An even more interesting thing occurred much earlier in the day, however: one of the copy editors came over to my cubicle---for what seems in hindsight like no particular reason---and we got into a fairly extensive discussion about my college education, my plans post-Rutgers, and also the state of newspapers today. Her piece of advice: print is great if that's what you really want to do, but if you have any sort of passion for anything else, then these days it's probably better to go with that. Newspapers are always getting bought and/or sold, especially these days. Now that Rupert Murdoch has made his offer to buy Dow Jones---and just this past weekend, book publisher Pearson made rumblings of its own of possible interest in working with General Electric to acquire Dow Jones---people over there are starting to get a little nervous about their job security. If you don't mind facing those kinds of worries once in a while in such a volatile industry, she seemed to suggest, go ahead. If you do...maybe this isn't for you. All of this is something that I've definitely heard before, so it wasn't particularly surprising---although, for a brief moment after our conversation had ended, it did get me wondering about things, especially since I'm now thinking a bit more seriously about going to graduate school after I finish Rutgers.

More surprising, though, was the way our exchange concluded. Somehow the conversation shifted to my expressing my interest in writing about movies, and she threw out this tantalizing suggestion: maybe I should approach the slot editors and tell them that I'd like to edit something in Weekend Journal or Pursuits. I had never thought of doing this before; I suppose the prospect of editing some kind of entertainment story for the Journal has hovered at the back of my mind once in a while, but I had assumed up to this point that I was basically doing what I was told at this internship. (That's my passive side rearing its ugly head.) Maybe it doesn't have to be like that all the time... We'll see if this develops into anything. I just hope that, if I do suggest something like this to one of the slot editors, I'm not somehow overstepping my bounds or something.

But again, it's amazing that most of the people over there are so willing to help. Shit, even I'm not always that nice!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wall Street Journal, Day 13: Priceless

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Looks like I came into the Wall Street Journal at a transitional period.

Big news came out of the Journal today: there was a major shakeup among the big editors of the Journal...and I was among the people sitting in a conference room in the South Brunswick office hearing managing editor Marcus Brauchli announce the sweeping changes in store for the paper in the near future. Check out the details here.

Apparently, the New York Times had a report about this last night, but I didn't find out about the planned announcement until I heard an NPR announcer mention it this morning as I was driving to work.

First the Murdoch offer (and I heard that the Bancroft family was supposed to present their own ideas for a possible takeover to Murdoch today), now this. What a lucky time to be a Wall Street Journal intern, with so much going on behind the scenes! Obviously, since I've only been working there for about two-and-a-half weeks, I don't have quite as much of an emotional or even professional stake in much of these changes. But---to borrow the phrasing of those Mastercard ads---the feeling that you're possibly standing on the edge of a new age of sorts for the Journal? Priceless.

By the way, I was back to working on briefs. No majors for today. But the major I edited yesterday did make it into today's paper. That was cool to see. (The article, if anyone's interested, had something to do with Citigroup trying to create a microfinance fund to aid poor people in getting business off the ground.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Wall Street Journal, Day 12: My First Major/Weekend

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Today's day of work at the Wall Street Journal was mainly distinguished by the fact that I was given my first major to edit. It was actually a pretty straightforward piece (I probably am not allowed to say anything more about it, because it hasn't been published yet), so there wasn't really much for me to do except look for grammatical or style errors and relatively minor stuff like that. Still, I ended up spending a little less than 1-1/2 hours on it. Hey, I want to get my first major right. And it sounds like I did. Unfortunately, someone else had already come up with a headline, apparently, so the article was the only thing I worked on.

Imagine, me, becoming excited at the idea of writing headlines. Have I become a copy editing nerd or what?


Oh yeah, my weekend.

Saturday was the more eventful day of my Friday-Saturday weekend. Friday night I had to suffer through another dreadfully long dance recital at the State Theatre---only this one had the oh-so-wonderful bonus of trying to string a plot in between the various dance sequences. The show ended up running about 4-1/2 hours! To add minor insult to injury: the dance recital that staged this was the Center Stage Dance Recital, which has a studio in East Brunswick. Almost makes me ashamed to live in East Brunswick, especially when this quasi-musical clumsily stripped the "Money Song" from Cabaret of all its decadence. Desecration!

On Saturday, I stepped into a movie theater for the first time in months. No, I didn't see Ocean's Thirteen (don't really desire to, although I guess I wouldn't mind sitting through it if I was forced to do so; I mean, I did enjoy Ocean's Eleven on its own throwaway level). Instead, I caught up---finally---with Spider-Man 3 (**½ out of ****), which had gotten generally mixed reviews from critics. Yeah, it probably does try to cram too much into it, and the result is rather messy and unfocused. But hey, no one said adulthood was a clean, simple progression. Imagine the complications of adulthood for a superhero! Especially for Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), trying to balance romantic troubles with three---count 'em, three---bad guys, all of whom---true to Spider-Man form---aren't so much villains as they are human beings who make bad decisions. Or at least that's what Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) says to his needy daughter and his angry wife early on in the film.

I ended up liking the film more than I expected, based on what I had heard about it. The only major disappointment of the film, really, is that co-writer/director Sam Raimi seems so intent on getting his rather banal messages across---revenge is futile, you shouldn't get too high on yourself, etc.---that he resorts to pushy, heavy-handed speeches more often than not instead of relying on iconic imagery to make his generally agreeable points more subtly. There are few moments in this third film that equal that strangely moving moment in Spider-Man 2 where the train passengers discover that their hometown hero is "only a kid." The result is a film that is rather graceless, seeming more like the work of a sincere hack. Still, at my young age, I tend to give a lot of points for ambition and intent, and Spider-Man 3 is nothing if not ambitious. I also tend to applaud comic-book movies that at least care to try to craft convincing human beings amidst wall-to-wall CGI spectacle, and I felt some of that same soulfulness at times here. Oh, and daring to turn a comic-book movie---most of which prefer to break humanity down into heroes and villains---into a morality play that scores points against the hero's selfishness and pomposity? Well, in a mainstream movie, I think it's somewhat daring, anyway.

It's a real mixed bag, and it's nowhere near the level of the first two, but I'll admit that I enjoyed it quite a bit. And I didn't really mind the surplus of villains that everyone else seems to be complaining about. It's not that I don't think it's a flaw---it's the one unfortunate thing about Spider-Man 3 that feels baldly studio-mandated, and it does snap the film's focus once in a while---but it doesn't bother me to a great extent that I write off the whole experience as a lost cause. (Maybe I'm just a sucker for complicated, interweaving plots in movies; Spider-Man 3 is hardly Babel, Syriana or---thank goodness---Crash, but it engenders a similar feeling of thematic richness and complexity.)

Less of a lost cause was the small gathering that a few of my fellow Wall Street Journal employees, Tyler (the other intern) and I had at a bar in Princeton that Saturday night. Not much happened, really; we just talked about random stuff over a couple of drinks (I had two bottles of Blue Moon).

It's actually fairly amazing, though---getting back to movie stuff, because I'm one-dimensional like that---how many people I've met just in these few weeks who actually
know of directors like Jean-Luc Godard or Werner Herzog, not just, you know, Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese. On Saturday, I talked to someone---the husband of one of the employees---who wasn't just a film buff, but a seemingly knowledgeable and articulate film buff. (Stanley Kubrick---of course!---was a major source of discussion, as was the issue of violence in morality in movies; the latter particularly fascinates me, especially regarding Kubrick's adaptation of A Clockwork Orange, which some have called his most morally dubious movie, a claim that I don't think is entirely without merit.) Just today, too, at lunch, I mentioned the name Werner Herzog, and immediately the woman I was eating lunch with shouts out, "Aguirre, The Wrath of God!" Not only good copy editors with a knowledge of business basics and the English language, but also with seemingly good taste in film. Sweet!

Oh yeah, there's a world beyond the movies. Right. I guess the Wall Street Journal is my ticket to that world. Welcome.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Wall Street Journal, Day 11: Headlines

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - "Hong Kong Lawmakers Clear Kowloon-Canton Rail Merger"

"Aeroflot Agrees to Buy Dreamliners From Boeing"

Those were two headlines from today's Wall Street Journal written by yours truly. What's special about those two is that both of those headlines made it into the paper pretty much unchanged. To me, that's some kind of accomplishment; pretty much all of the headlines I've written so far for the minors I've been working on this past couple of weeks have eventually been altered or flat-out rewritten. I'm told that that's not necessarily a bad thing, and that everyone's headline gets played around with. Still, I think it's nice to see two of my original headlines ended up in the paper.

It's probably just a fluke, though. Today I wrote a headline that ended up being thrown out altogether and reworked by one of my higher-ups. It was an infinitely better headline than the one I came up with, though, so I guess it's cool. And I guess that's why there are so many copy editors over at the South Brunswick copy desk---so we have a large pool of, uh, talent. Headline-writing talent, in this case.

I think headlines was one of the major things I was worried about coming into this internship. I've always been hit-or-miss with them; sometimes---with hard-news stuff, most often---I can come up with decent, "just the facts, ma'am" heads, but when a story calls for something a bit more creative, I find it a bit more difficult. I still see editors around me seemingly able to work by themselves and come up with headlines on their own, while I constantly keep asking people around me to critique the heads I come up with. It makes me a little jealous, I'll admit. Maybe it just comes with experience. Hopefully I'll get more of that experience in the coming weeks.


I notice that this blog is becoming---or maybe degenerating---into a straight diary again. I apologize for not spending time on longer, more in-depth entries, especially about topics unrelated to my Wall Street Journal internship. (I haven't even touched on the whole issue of Rupert Murdoch's offer to buy Dow Jones from the majority-holding Bancroft family; maybe I'll get to that soon, especially after a fascinating article about Murdoch's media-mogul history to date was published as a front-page Journal story last week, one which suggested that maybe Murdoch's sincerity about supposedly maintaining the paper mostly as is should at least be questioned.)

I've developed a routine after I come home from work at around 5ish. The gist of my routine is that I take a power nap after I come home, because I've found that without it, I have trouble staying awake while watching movies at night. Yes, even as a copy editing intern at a prestigious newspaper copy desk, I'm still trying to maintain something close to a one-film-a-day movie-watching habit. But taking a brief power nap seems to freshen me up for at least five or six hours afterward before I go to bed at around midnight.

Thus, for instance, it has allowed me to explore, with fresh eyes and ears, the intoxicating mad visions of Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski in the past week or so. Most intoxicating of all is, of course, Aguirre, The Wrath of God, which is probably the best of their five collaborations (the 1982 Fitzcarraldo is, by comparison, merely an epic-length footnote---and, notwithstanding the by-any-measure awesome stunt of lugging an actual big ship over a mountain, a fairly disposable one at that). There's so much about it that's memorable, right down to the way Herzog shoots nature within his chosen 1.37:1 frame to poetically suggest nature bearing down on these characters; it's as if Mother Nature is thwarting Aguirre, Pizarro and others simply by the sheer force of Herzog's mise-en-scéne. (The closest recent equivalent to this kind of rendering of nature is probably Terrence Malick's The New World, although Malick's imagery is more overtly spiritual, less overbearingly pessimistic.) Wonderfully bleak concluding scene as well, with all the monkeys on the ravaged raft and Kinski moseying around, declaring "Ich bin der Zorn Gottes" ("I am the Wrath of God"). Who's with him? At that point, no one except the bright yellow sun that peeks through the clouds. I think Aguirre has become one of my new favorite films.

I actually did some fairly interesting things this weekend---Friday and Saturday---but perhaps I'll get to them in more detail in a subsequent post. For now, bed beckons soon. Such is life in the working world, I guess.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Wall Street Journal, Day 9: Two Down, Eight to Go

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Another week down, eight more weeks to go.

Apparently I've forgotten basic grammar things like pronoun-antecedent agreement and parallel construction. Here's an example of the latter, in a brief about Korean Air Lines planning to launch a low-cost carrier in a couple of years:
Korean Air's low-cost carrier will operate domestic routes and short- and mid-haul international routes using a Boeing 737 fleet, it said.
What's wrong with that sentence? Stupid me, I actually didn't catch this until Tim---the guy who's been looking over my editing jobs this past week and giving me input---pointed it out to me. It's not clear what the "it" in "it said" is referring to---the carrier or Korean Air. It looks like it's referring to the nearest thing to "it," the carrier. But obviously that's not what the writer intends to say in the sentence.

Isn't that dumb that I didn't catch something like that?

Guess it's a good thing, though, that I'm making these mistakes early on and having someone catch them for me, so I can know to shield myself against making those same mistakes again. As Tim said to me today, "This isn't really a hard job, except that you have to be perfect every day." Oh the pressure!

Still, it was nice to see Tim come over to me with yesterday's batch of edited articles and tell me that he didn't see the same mistakes in the new batch. It's all about learning curve (or is it "the learning curve"?).

I think I'll leave this entry at that and perhaps come back tomorrow with more.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Wall Street Journal, Day 7: Not Quite Major League, But Something Like It

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - A minor bit of excitement for me today at the Wall Street Journal copy desk.

So in the late morning, I was working on a brief for the Global Business Briefs page of Wall Street Journal Asia (I can't say what it is; don't think I'm allowed to, as an employee). At least, initially it was supposed to a regular old Global Business Brief. Suddenly, at around noon, I discover that it's been turned into a regular article, albeit a short two-column one at the bottom left corner of one of the pages. It's probably the closest I've yet come to working on a major; yes, it was technically wire copy from Dow Jones Newswires, but it's something that actually warranted serious attention from some of the senior editors. "You almost done with that story?" I was asked at one point. For one instant, I almost felt like I was part of the team.

Well, it felt rather special to me, anyway.

Otherwise, it was just another day at the office.

It's kind of weird: I do feel somewhat like I've basically been thrown into the sea to try to figure all this stuff out for myself. In the space of only two days since I started the internship proper, I was already editing stuff by the third day (apparently, some of my fellow interns at the New York Times had to go through a rigorous training process during their first week), and I already feel like I'm starting to blend in with the rest of the copy desk. Perhaps "assimilation" might be an accurate word to describe it. As far as guidance goes, I'm basically either a) getting it from the editors around me whenever I ask them a style question or steal them away from their current work to look over a headline, or b) getting it via written comments from some other editor on the staff on the printed versions of the articles I've edited during the day. Everyone has been really helpful, and the comments have certainly been valuable---but it does feel just a tad...distant.

Still, I think I'm getting the hang of things here, and I certainly don't hate it to the point that I dread getting up early every morning and driving to work. In fact, I'm quite possibly enjoying it so far.


Obviously, one personal drawback with this Wall Street Journal internship is that it's not exactly movie-related (except, maybe, in the pure business-of-Hollywood sense, with the exception of film critic Joe Morgenstern's solid writing every Friday). Yet that hasn't stopped me from injecting my enjoyment of cinema into my job in some way. Here's a bio that the global copy chief asked me to write as an introduction to myself:

Kenji Fujishima was born in Queens, N.Y., on December 4, 1985, where he spent his first six years in Queens before moving to East Brunswick, N.J., in 1991, where he has lived ever since. He is one part-time semester away from completing his undergraduate education at Rutgers University, where he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Media Studies with a minor in Cinema Studies. Chief among his interests is film: watching movies, thinking and writing about them, discussing them to anyone who will listen. For that reason, he did become the Film Editor for the Inside Beat, the weekly entertainment section of Rutgers’ daily newspaper, the Daily Targum. But he also enjoys listening to good music, reading a good book and, of course, editing interesting stories. As far as his future is concerned, he is still thinking about whether graduate school is in his immediate future, and he is still figuring out how he plans to balance practicality with passion.

Immediately after that, I got an e-mail in which one of the other copy editors told me about how his younger brother's wife had an IMDb page. And later, one of the other editors introduced himself to me and said, "You're the movie guy, right?"

If it's one-dimensional for me to only get excited when most people talk with me about film, then I'm tempted not to beat myself up too much about it at this point. I love what I love.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Wall Street Journal, Day 5: 9 to 5---Almost

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Not much to report, really, on this, the first day of my four-week stint as the 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. intern at the Wall Street Journal. As the daytime guy, I'm working mostly on the Europe and Asian editions...and it turns out that most of the briefs in the Europe and Asian editions are Global Business Briefs, which are all situated on one page inside the paper. Only one of those briefs have headlines---the, er, headlining one. So today I didn't really get much practice with headline-writing, and though I did work on the brief that ended up being the head brief in the upcoming Asian edition, the brief already had a headline attached to it. It looked good enough to me, so I went with it (although I later discovered that someone had changed it for the Europe edition). Mostly it was fact-checking, cutting for space and grammar-checking for me through my eight-hour shift. Some of it, frankly, was quite boring. But I guess one has to start from somewhere.

Now that Tyler and I are separated, there's a new system: every time I finish editing something and am about to send it off to the slot, I'm supposed to print out the article. By the end of the day, I'm supposed to give all the articles to someone to look over and constructively criticize. (For all the editing we do on computers, pen and paper, it turns out, is still the best way to edit for the sake of an intern learning the ropes.) Sounds reasonable.

I think that's about it for today. I didn't really have much of a problem waking up at around 6:30 a.m.---I had gotten a lot of practice waking up mad early during my two weeks at Temple (and keep this in mind: I often woke up on less sleep than the approximately six-and-a-half hours I got last night). The only possible drawback: I ate breakfast at around 7:15 a.m. and, because of the early afternoon deadline for the Asian edition, I didn't really eat lunch until a little after 2 p.m. (I feel weird going to lunch before then, with the Asian edition down to the wire, even though again, anyone who didn't know when the deadline was wouldn't be able to tell in the environment I'm in). In the meantime---what did I have? Water. A brownie. A peach. Two pretzels. And then after lunch, when I found myself near-drowsy, I went for a couple of granola bars, which were so crunchy and hard that they actually did wonders keeping me up. (Maybe I don't have to start drinking coffee after all...) And then one of the other copy editors sitting to my left offered me a cookie with chocolate on top. A rather haphazard diet, I'd say. I wonder if this internship will somehow affect my eating habits too...