Next steps

You may have noticed the yellow button I added to the sidebar of this blog. I’ll explain in a minute, but first I’d like to tell you what’s happened since early July.

“Summer of change”

When I was a kid, I used to get the same feeling at the end of every summer. I described it at the time as “the epic feeling”. It was like an extended version of the buzz I got from riding my bike off some rickety jump in the forest, far from medical aid: there’s a moment before your tires touch the earth where your brain says, “this will be either wonderful or disastrous.”

Every August, as school loomed closer, I’d feel a similar rush. It’s a weird combination of adrenaline and urgency, coupled with the knowledge that everything you do this fall is going to have consequences. On those last warm nights, like a ladybug, I used to climb to the highest point I could, look out over the city, and try to control my breathing. When I turned 15, I stopped taking summers off, and the sensation dissipated.

Somewhere between Quebec City and Vancouver.

It’s back. My friend Evan dubbed the season now wrapping up “the summer of change,” and I think he hit on something. It feels like everyone I know is breaking up or moving house or launching new projects. But there’s a macro element at play too.

I look back at Québec, at the political scene I would have been covering right now, and everything is up in the air. New parties, new resignations, sovereignist splinter groups, election speculation, fluctuating poll numbers, and a new mantra: that we need to conduct politics differently — even overhaul the system.

At the federal level, this was the summer that Jack Layton died. Say what you will about his platform, the guy understood that human beings need hope. That in itself is a revolutionary idea most days in Ottawa. Now he’s gone, and Canadian progressives have lost one of their strongest unifying voices.

On the media side, Lloyd Robertson is passing the torch. Viewers of the top-rated newscast in the country are losing the familiar, trusted face of a man who’s been in that anchor chair … forever. As every tribute so far has pointed out, it’s the end of an era.

This was also the summer when people all over England found out they could loot and riot for three days straight before police obtained political permission to crack down. Rioting is learned behaviour, and I’d argue the London inferno set a template for serious unrest elsewhere. Even Forbes magazine is now advising its well-heeled readers of a “coming global class war.”

At the same time, they (we?) toppled Gaddafi. My enthusiasm over the latest dictatorial domino falling is tempered by reports the Libyan rebels accepted NATO firepower in exchange for access to the oil fields by companies from NATO countries. Still, a summer of change.

America

Over the past couple months, we also found out that the recession in the United States cut deeper and hurt worse than we thought. The haemorrhaging was only staunched by stuffing the wounds with money. Now even this emergency gauze is running out. If the US double-dips, we could all be going for a swim.

Driving across America this summer, I was struck once again by how much clearer the contradictions seem — the problems built into our shared culture and economy. It’s hard not to envision the decline when you’re riding your bike around the pockmarked twilight of Detroit. Hanging out in the USA is like hitting fast-forward: take political polarization, stratified wealth, unemployment, enraged fundamentalists, and put everything in a blender. Garnish with firearms. Serve to Rick Perry, or Sarah Palin.

Winterset, Iowa. The birthplace of John Wayne.

Paradoxically, I also found some of the most hopeful, helpful people in America. Indeed all the way across the continent, and in my trips around BC, I have discovered pockets of love and support I never knew existed. To each of you who let me stay on the couch, or gave me a meal, or told me your own story, thank you.

Next steps

So, I quit my job. It turns out this was the best thing I could have possibly done for my life and yes, my career. At the same time, I do have regrets. I want to apologize to my former colleagues and employers for the drama. I know I pulled the rug out, and I’m sorry. I hope we can reconcile.

I also regret the fact that some journalists misinterpreted my personal decision as an attack on their integrity or the way they make a living. This was not my intention. Still, there were some instructive nuggets in even the most negative responses.

I think the National Post alone published three articles this summer analyzing my career choice — one an op-ed, one billed as satire, and one a news story that attempted to map a trend of entitled Gen-Y quitters. Each was well written and interesting to read, but only the first really stuck with me.

Jessica Hume wrote: “In his new role as unemployed blogger, Nagata is no longer bound by these rules. He can now fight the good fight, sharing his thoughts freely on the internet, bring his readers the stories they deserve. If he finds a way to do this — without advertising, shareholders, or a business plan – and finds a way to make a living at it, there may be room for him in Canadian journalism after all.”

I turned this over and over in my mind as I travelled home. When I got there, I began several weeks of meetings with friends, family, and collaborators. My conclusion is this: if you want me to keep writing, I will. You don’t have to call me a journalist, but if you would rather have me participate in the public conversation, I will.

Back to work

What I’m committing to this fall is to go back to work, albeit “without advertising, shareholders, or a business plan.” It’s an experiment.

I noticed something while I was working in television that bothered me deeply. How do so many smart, talented, well-meaning people, working together, create something so intellectually flaccid, even morally ambiguous? Most days it felt like we were actually less than the sum of our parts. What I’ve realized is that this disappointment is not limited to the world of TV journalism. People in all sorts of unrelated fields are wondering about the mandate they’re fulfilling, and questioning the results. I want to keep exploring that.

To start with, I’ll be launching a series of essays starting in mid-September. My focus is the public conversation itself, the thing I’m leaping into. I define the public conversation as the imaginary place where all of us in our different sectors share ideas for social progress. If that conversation is weakened, it becomes much more difficult to find and agree on solutions. What I’m trying to do is use standard journalistic techniques to start exploring the institutions that have historically promoted and safeguarded this thing in Canada.

My theory is there are connections between all of our different worlds, and many of the problems we see right now are actually related. Testing this theory means laying out a foundation, building pillars out of different examples, then trying to find the roof that joins them. I know: bla, bla, bla. I’ll try to explain better in a couple of weeks. Don’t worry, these stories are also full of hockey and drugs and political backstabbing and curious characters. I’ve worked out a partnership to help develop and distribute these articles, and I’ll be posting links on this blog, along with French translations when possible. Like everything else I’m doing, this content will be free to read and share.

I might also pop up on a campus near you. So far I’ve confirmed dates this fall with UVic, SFU, McGill, and Dawson College. We’re going to be talking about television, social media, and career, of course. But my other motive in doing this little tour is to ask faculty and students what they want from Canadian journalism. I want to hear what it is we’re missing, and start developing ideas for how to make things better. These ideas will be a big part of the experiment.

I’m also endorsing an anti-pipeline protest in September in Ottawa. This has less to do with my role as a writer and more to do with my responsibility as a citizen. I have always been an environmentalist, and I think it’s only fair to be up-front about my own beliefs. I’m in the early stages of developing a video documentary along some of these themes.

But my big project this fall is actually in California, where I’ve committed to shooting another documentary, this one about a remarkable individual with a near-impossible dream. This story is completely apolitical. It does have a Canadian connection, but it’s very much parallel to most of the other things you’re going to hear me discuss. I do think there are deeper connections, and that’s what I’ll be exploring in the film.

Like everything I’m putting together right now, this project is only possible because of the amazing people I’m working with. We’ve agreed to try something a little different with this one, format-wise. The plan is to edit the video in the field and release it in three parts this fall, online, for free.

If we can figure out a way to get that story to the people who need to see it, without a network deal or a cola sponsorship, then we can do anything. I’m confident we have the elements in place to make this work. Well, all but one.

The Ask

Back when I worked as a TV reporter, we had this thing called “panhandling”. You probably know it as those parts in a report where the “man on the street” offers an opinion about the story. For fifteen seconds of “streeters,” some stories require an hour or more of standing on a corner, thrusting a mic in peoples’ faces. Depending on the subject matter, it can be pretty humiliating. What’s ultimately helpful for a reporter’s ego is that it strips you of your remaining dignity and forces you to get used to rejection from random strangers. So, here I am panhandling.

I wish I could fund these projects entirely with construction and restaurant jobs, but I can’t. Luckily I’ve been offered a grant from one partner, and the universities have promised to help out with travel costs and speakers’ fees. I’m still living in a tent with an extension cord, so that cuts overhead. My family and friends have been very generous this summer with food, and my grandmother’s tiny garden is exploding with produce. (“I’m drowning in beans,” she yelled, as I was typing this.) I’ve also been eating a lot of blackberries. Unfortunately, money doesn’t grow on thorny bushes.

What I need in the short term is to rent two camera kits. The editing gear I know I can get second-hand. I’ve decided to keep the Ford Ranger, because of how handy it will be as a production vehicle. This entails monthly insurance and car payments, plus fuel and basic maintenance. I am also, so far, keeping my cell phone. Its capacity to create an internet hotspot anywhere there’s wireless coverage is proving very useful.

Beyond that, I would really like to provide my collaborators with some kind of honouraria. Several people have signed on to work significant hours with no expectation of pay. This is hard to ask for. Eventually, I would also like to invest in a few pieces of equipment, so I can record interviews and field audio for podcasts. Right now though, the priority is those cameras.

Many of you got in touch offering to buy me a beer. Don’t get me wrong, I like beer. But what I’m hoping is that I can take an advance on that pint, and use it to produce something really cool.

If anyone donates, I’ll be happy to publish reports detailing where every dollar comes from and where it goes. Just let me know if you’d rather be anonymous.

If you’re not comfortable with the whole giving-money-to-a-stranger-on-the-internet thing, I get it. I can also take donations in kind, if you have time or equipment you can spare.

Thanks.

55 comments
  1. meaghan said:

    Looking forward to seeing these projects! I’ve been mulling over a lot of things similar to your first post this summer. For me, though, that anticipatory feeling is always now, in the autumn – the start of a new year; the trees metamorphosing and squirrels stocking up give everything a sense of impending change.

  2. Matt said:

    Perhaps I’m just blind but I don’t see the donate sidebar anywhere…

  3. Smithy said:

    Oh. You’re asking for money.
    It would have been preferable for you to just put the Donate link up and not beg for dollars.

  4. Why do we fail to achieve what we are capable of? One word – fear.

  5. Miriam said:

    I wonder if you are going to collaborate with other like-minded journalists?

    This is excellent news. Public discussion & accountable journalism is so vital to a democracy.

  6. Mimsy said:

    ok then, I will donate some of what I refuse to pay for cable tv because, although I enjoyed watching you covering Quebec news, I have had more entertainment value and intellectual anti-flaccidity since that day in July when you left your job and headed home to a cricket-chorus of response. I look forward to reading more from you and your colleagues and collaborators. I think Smithy’s partly right about the donate button: leave it up, and let us know the true costs of independent journalism, but no apologies and no justifications. You need a camera, transportation and communication. You need to eat. It’s not much different from any other enterprise: if you keep it simple and honest, the overhead is low: if you start going for the big splash (and big profits), costs will soar for everybody and we’ll have one more bloated corporate body floating in the sea of our discontent.

  7. spencer said:

    Hahahaha

  8. Cam said:

    Congratulations. You are a principled and thoughtful person, and possess an inquiring mind. I look forward to you making this world a better place.

  9. Cam said:

    BTW, how does someone contact you offline to report tips on stories?

    • If you send me a direct message on facebook or Twitter, I can follow up with you by email.

    • Believe it or not, you can click on my sketchy beard.

  10. good luck, and careful Kai… there’s a fine line between selling an outright ad and going into sponsorship/partnership situations or taking donations and listing those who donated to you… this will definitely prove to be an interesting experiment.

    Not unusual, though; there are people who think themselves journalists all over the blogosphere. What IS unusual is for someone with ethics, education, experience and eloquence.

    Best of luck
    Jessica
    (a newspaper editor and acquaintance of your mother through the love of paddling!)

    • Mimsy said:

      sorry I missed this earlier, thanks for the link and keep up the good work

  11. Flora said:

    Let me know when you’re coming to McGill, I’d love to see you/maybe do an interview for the Daily!

  12. Impressed and Hopeful said:

    Kai, do take a moment to check out The Human Project:

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thehumanprojectapp/the-human-project-app

    If you or others are interested in following (or helping out with the Kickstarter campaign), please ‘like’ us on Facebook, volunteer at campaign headquarters, join the conversation… We intend to build an app that kicks off a global conversation on what it means to be human in the 21st Century, why we need to think differently about who we are and how we broach the myriad challenges we face as a species… we’ve reached our initial funding goal (in just five days) and have articulated further goals in campaign updates (20+ days to go, the response to date inspiring). Oh, and please do keep writing!

  13. Kai,

    You’ve a warm place to stay, a cold beer, and a guy to look at your rough cuts the next time you are in Montreal. The journey begins today.

    Marc

  14. re: “define the public conversation as the imaginary place where all of us in our different sectors share ideas for social progress.”

    Would love to chat about Fair Vote / proportional representation / electoral reform sometime. You’re welcome to crash here next time you are in Ottawa. julien.lamarche@gmail.com

    BTW, I don’t see the yellow sidebar. I’m using Firefox 3.6 on Ubuntu 8.04 (Linux)

  15. Heather said:

    Congrats. I think you are doing the right thing. I’m on a small fixed income and can’t donate right now, but will save up so I can give something in the near future. Asking for money can be hard, I know, but don’t hide the donate button in your beard! Make it easy for people to give.

  16. Shawn said:

    As mentioned in a previous comment, check out kickstarter.com if you have a good project idea. At very least they have an actively engaged audience…

  17. Seef said:

    I’ve read a few of your posts and I agree with your point about journalism being driven by corporate interests. I remember the sick feeling I got when I saw Lloyd Robertson doing a piece on Britney Spears’ latest troubles. When your national anchor is forced to do celebrity gossip, journalism is dead. I should rephrase that in non-passive language: The executives who decide to put pap’n’crap ahead of their responsibilities to the public are putting two bullets in the head of public debate.
    Television as a medium is now geared towards, in my opinion, two categories of people: those too stupid to get on the internet and search for information themselves, and those too impatient to invest any time in doing something worthwhile when they could be watching someone else doing something ‘worthwhile’, like sports, cooking, talking, traveling, partying, spin-doctoring, overdramatizing, dealing with the realities of life and death, just living in general. There are a minority of programs that deal with real issues in a meaningful way, exploring and discovering, but they are ignored by most people. Your challenge is to work within this medium to effect change, not to abandon it altogether. ‘The medium is the message’. If you, with your God-given talent and opportunities, don’t use your gifts inside this medium to create the kind of change you want to see, you may end up being as effective as some dude somewhere in a small town that nobody knows. I’m sure you can find enough like-minded folks out there to either create enough critical mass to get something rolling or to join something already in progress. Everyone knows Jon Stewart, but he’s not just Jon, he is the face of the scores of people who all share the same outlook and work to present it, and he is also the beacon for millions of people who are forced to tune into a comedy network to get an alternative to corporate whitewashed newsgathering. And I mean whitewashed in more than one sense. One example is the excellent Democracy Now!, an American independent media effort that surpasses the PBS news show in its breadth of topics. If you want something important to do, you could do far worse than to become a freelance contributor to an organization that remains committed to both the principles of journalism and the public interest that are in widespread decline. Hitching your wagon to freight train is mondo better than reinventing the wheel.

    • Shawn said:

      Nothing wrong with reinventing the wheel as long as its a better and more effective wheel. It does tend to be a thankless process however.

  18. The gadget was, Theres no harm?But more info, the broad story.Customer loyalty (), which can satisfy.In this article Hello world, Google guidelines it free forex swapping.Gain acquaintance about, reward and praise.,

  19. Half Canadian said:

    tldr

  20. scf said:

    I suspect you might find a number of boobs who are willing to forgo their donations to the homeless, the ill and the destitute and send it to you instead. So I suppose the concept of saving your earnings is beyond you? How about venture capital? Begging is your preference? Gotta love the progressive mindset. Remember, sooner or later you run out of other people’s money.

  21. Wannbe A Hero Like You said:

    You are the poster boy for the entitlement generation

    Your future is bleak as long as you think the universe revolves around your petty, juvenile thinking

  22. Kai,

    The apology to your former colleagues won’t take. Betrayal is one of the ugliest things you can do to others. In a sense you have betrayed your peers and your former employer. You have also told the Canadian public that you are a dreamer, and idealist, a likely Marxist and a spoiled brat.

    Forget writing, you need to go to a community college and get some real skills so that when people stop offering you a couch, you can rent your own.

    No one will trust you in the scribe industry. You cannot keep your jejune feelings to yourself. If I know the MSM they were probably a lot more enamored with your exotic multiculti name than your journalistic ability or your personal politics.

  23. ebay said:

    Goof

  24. Patches said:

    “So I decided to quit my job on a whim without first lining up another source of steady income. Now I am out of money. Rather than trying to find a job and earn money on my own, I am going to ask you to just give me some of yours. Even though there are people starving and cold, living on the streets, I deserve your money more than them because JOURNALISM. I can afford a cell phone and to travel across the continent in my Ford Ranger, but I need your money! I am entitled to live comfortably without actually working for a living, therefore you should send me your money.”

    I am so glad I’ll never know what it feels like to be a spoiled, selfish, entitled mooch.

  25. Bri C said:

    try working for a living, some blisters would do you some good.

  26. Dave Balderstone said:

    You actually have the f*cking gall to ask me for money after quitting your job?

    ROTFLMAO!

    Do please let us all know how begging as opposed to working goes for you.

  27. Kevin Jaeger said:

    So your new career is as a beggar. Good luck with that.

    Driving around the continent in a gas-guzzling vehicle and protesting against the oil industry must make sense to someone, I suppose.

  28. Jim said:

    This redneck can save you alot of hassle my friend. You are wondering why social progress isn’t happening, why the ‘public discussion’ is dumbed down below all relevance, and why nobody cares.

    It ain’t us, Kai – it’s you. You have been raised in a leftist bubble. That has done more to mislead and deceive you than anything else. Observe:

    The media is dominated by the political left: it is no accident that nobody trusts the media, and the blame for that lies squarely at the feet of the people that run it.

    The schools and universities are dominated by the political left. They are cranking out papered morons with ‘degrees’ in fine arts, gender studies, and basket weaving. Leftist principles and principals force educators to lower everyone to the lowest common denominator. A high school diploma is now meaningless, and many university degrees are too. In the 50′s children learned Latin in high school. Today in university they are taking remedial English.

    Our gubbermint is infested with career lefties and their policies. Our rights and freedoms are being eroded, and we are expected to look to a nanny government that is corrupt, and run by people who aren’t fit to shine shoes in a whore house.

    The upshot of all this is that anything socialists and lefties take control of – they destroy. They don’t mean to, it’s just that they refuse to see what is happening and acknowledge why it is happening. The same way you want a war with the oil industry while driving across the country in a 4 x 4.

    You made the right choice in walking away from that, fella – and I congratulate you on your courage. My advice to you at this point is that you are now (possibly for the first time in your life) – in a position to learn. You should do that – and THEN publish your scholarly essays.

    You have some very difficult lessons ahead. Good luck with them.

  29. You are young and healthy. Get a job. What you are doing is called panhandling. I would love to travel around, see the sights, and do whatever enters my head at any moment. But if you want to do this, you have to pay your own way. And God willing, one day I will get some leisure time. I work hard. I give a lot of my income away. But I will not be giving any of it to indulge your self entitled laziness.

  30. FREE said:

    Pay your own way, otherwise your just a leech.

    Its called work! Work or starve but don’t expect other to pay your way.

  31. FREE said:

    …and if your looking for sympathy look in a dictionary, it is in there between shit and syphilis.

  32. K said:

    To the “get a job” crew:

    Define “job”… shoveling meaningless shit around for someone else who pays you an arbitrary paycheque based on your supposed skills or whether or not you sat through a certain amount of schooling, which somehow dictates the “value” of your time? What about writing thought- and controversy-provoking articles that people, even angry, smug, or self-entitled people, take the time to read, and asking for donations – which anyone is free to give or not give, in any amount – in order to cover project costs and groceries… why does it matter, when millions of regular people make a living directly or indirectly off of suffering and destruction? How many hours have you spent doing shit-all while on the clock? Who’s paying for that, and why is it legitimate simply because it’s an official “job”? How can you define what is a worthy or unworthy form of employment?

    You could, you know, just not read this blog if it makes you so upset that Kai is doing what he wants and people actually want to reward him for it. If you’re miserable or overworked or making compromises to your health, sanity, and values in order to put food on the table, that’s a really hard place to be in, and it must be difficult to see someone trying, and possibly succeeding, to live outside of the system that you feel bound to. But there is always a choice to be made, even when you’ve convinced yourself that there are none.

    Personally, I think Kai would have been more of a “spoiled brat” if he had stayed at CTV and accepted consumers’ money in order to churn out repetitive, trite stories. Humbly asking for what you need should never be looked down upon, especially when you’re providing some kind of service; by your logic, artists and musicians, craftspeople and any freelancers are all panhandlers, so long as they aren’t working for the man. Let me ask you this: If he published on paper, and sold issues, would he still be a beggar?

  33. Bri C said:

    To “K”,
    How does it work then, if most of the planet decides to quit, and run off to find themselves, and ask others to support it? Are you telling me honest, hard work and being proud of your labors is evil? Don’t get me wrong, I hope he can find a useful way in this world, but I hope Kai can do it without asking for money and earning it instead. Come down to the Saskatchewan oilpatch, work alongside some great young men, write about that. It is human nature to work hard and succeed, not just survive. We are the ones that all the artists, writers and such get the funding through taxation and support. Try to run the planet without us……..

  34. Stay with it, Kai! Your role is to kick over awkward stones that most of us avoid. See Aug 11 blog “Kai Nagata’s Lonely Road” by someone in the same boat 40 years ahead of you.

  35. I get it said:

    Hi, Kai-

    Your essays, your big move this summer, and your future plans resonate with me in a big way. I’m relieved to read someone who can articulate my troubled thoughts about the ways of journalism and the media industry–where they’re going, what they’re driven by.

    I hope your skin is thicker than mine: It’s disheartening to read the comments, a scorn-forum I usually don’t even bother with. A lot of the criticism I see there is what supports the status quo, and it sure doesn’t represent my views or those of my humble little group of friends. SometimesI think we come from a different planet than the vocal majority, that’s for sure. That majority Includes my parents, sadly!

    Thanks for being out there, speaking up, trying to create positive change (integrity, non-profit driven content, naming the stagnancy where you see it). I’m on board.

    Sutton, Quebec

  36. I get it said:

    Oh, one more thing: if your archived blogs were arranged in a different way (like by choosing a date of posting) it would make it simpler for new readers to catch your serial blogs in order. I want to send links to friends who haven’t read you yet but it’s confusing to have to send them down to the bottom of the page first to catch up with older blogs.

  37. Mike said:

    I was one of the 2-3 undergraduate UVic students at your talk yesterday; I had class, or I would have followed you out of the room to speak with you more. All I can say is; good job with the talk, good job with the writing, and good luck. I’ll be watching this and the Tyee for your most recent work eagerly.

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