Laura Ling Sprung Me From Prison at Least 3 Times

Something that’s been bothering me about this whole Laura Ling Thing, is she’s been my liberator several times since we first met-the most recent occasion was one year ago today when she paroled me from the idea there was no place better than working with her so I could run off and join the Obama’s new media team. When I met Laura I was a corporate loyalist — now three years later I even find myself liberated from paying rent for one full year now and in many respects its all her fault. Five months into this whole fucked up thing-one in which I think we all sort of felt in March would just end quickly and then REALLY didn’t-I’ve been unable to come close to returning the favor even once.

Prisons of the Mind

I’m not going to suggest that my “prisons” were anywhere near the severity of the ones that Laura Ling is dealing with right now — but Laura took them very seriously. In fact, I feel comfortable speaking on behalf of anyone that’s ever worked for her — she took our problems home with her and gave us the courtesy of never telling us she was doing it — we all probably can share some responsibility for that ulcer of hers. Reprieves would quietly just appear with no thank you necessary or a funny awkward giggle would arrive when you know she’d tried all that she could do. She was always so much more concerned about how we were feeling than about how any of it effected her and quite a few of us are worried that she’s probably doing that right now where ever the hell she still is.

I will say that the prisons in one’s mind are often one of the hardest ones to break out of. Its walls are sometimes hard to define if you even know you’re there-no sovereign nations (should;) exist in one’s mind. So in that all too familiar Vanguard fashion when dealing with a problem on the frontier of media, lets call a big meeting, sit down — all the brightest young minds and most beautiful people we know will be there and we’ll go through the big Laura Ling break outs, one by one.

JAIL BREAK ONE — Get the fuck out of Gotham.

I first met Laura for a face to face interview in San Francisco in June of 2006 — I found her to be well-organized with a clip board, rigid and frankly a little snooty when compared to the train of others I saw that day. I didn’t think working in her department was right for me. I was wrong.

I didn’t get that job, whatever it was and proceeded to keep open a discussion with her and to an almost daily extent, her Executive Producer Mitch Koss, as well. 2006 was a big year for me — after being brought over from Good Morning America as a Reporter/Producer, I ran the politics page page during the mid-term elections at ABCNews.com. This was the year when the Dems took over the House, and one of our stories about Mark Foley — got our team a Peabody for innovations in on-line reporting. ABCNews.com was breaking hit records every single month and it seemed like the place to be.

Unfortunately by the time 2007, with the election over I found myself making poll after poll after poll about whether this or that famous person had gone “too far”. They stopped vacuuming at ABCNews.com(or maybe never started?), there was a shelf of DUST that ran the length of the newsroom and I was allergic to the place, yet spending 12 hours a day there. Their ranch dressing coffee cups they gave us didn’t seem to have any caffeine in them and our office was located too far away from Starbucks to catch an easy break without getting yelled at for leaving your post.

I had been living in New York for 4 years — Long Island City, Queens to be exact — I was tired of all of it and felt like I was going nowhere every New York minute. I wanted to get the rock out of there three years in, but then had another year to suffer there. I wanted to out but there’s this thing about leaving “the network” — its not easy to do it.

Laura took a chance on “old media” me — and offered me a job to work on her citizen journalism project and their election year initiatives at Current TV in San Francisco. She gave me SEVEN WEEKS in between jobs to polish off my ties at ABC NEWS and move across the country — I hadn’t had a vacation like that since college. She also gave me 4 GRAND for the move — I did it in 2.

JAIL BREAK TWO — Becoming Human Again

After working in the MSM for about four years in New York, working about 20 hours a day at times and living in Queens, I had long forgotten what it meant to be a regular person — a human BEING — because I wasn’t.

For the first few months after I arrived at Current, I tended to apologize for just about everything I said before I said it. I wasn’t used to trusting people after working at a competitive network in a cut throat town-and most of the time when I had ideas about something, it was strategically best to build a coalition of the “not saying noing” before breathing it out loud. In Laura’s world, people were going home after work and not checking their blackberries — or were they? On the weekends, they made plans — or were they? When they went to lunch with each other, they seemed to enjoy each others’ company — or did they actually hate each other? Current was a growing company in those days and Laura’s unit was expanding like crazy — a rare thing in this business and it truly was.

It took me a few times to realize that when Laura kept telling that she wanted me there and to share my ideas, whatever they were — that she probably actually did. The best I could ever do at ABC was take a “no reply” or a “maybe” and turn it into a yes. There were still occasions when I worried about my brake lines being severed in the middle of the night for starting that “beat unit” at ABC after some threats I’d received — I mean you just really never knew.

I think it was a whole four months after starting when I realized — not only could I feel comfortable being myself around these people — I could actually say whatever the hell I wanted and they seemed to LIKE THAT more! SO, I began to do just that. I started telling Laura whatever I could come up with. If I thought something sucked I would tell her. She gave every single one of my crazy ideas consideration and never seemed to tire of them. Sometimes I got tired of me — Laura never seemed to. She was like a Jack in the Box — no matter what she would come back up for more. And every single time, if I was willing to do the work and prove something to her — she was pretty willing and ready to go along for the ride.

I wasn’t the only one. We had a community of hundreds of burgeoning journalist/filmakers and she liked to talk to them all. There wasn’t a single one who wanted to meet with her in LA that she didn’t make time for. At a certain point it was almost absurd — why was she doing all of this? She could have gone home much earlier if she didn’t take in all of our crap — but the truth is — she loves people, she loved helping them be the best they could be, she saw the VALUE in that — and more than anything — Laura Ling is the most open minded Californian that I’ve ever met, she’s always waiting for new people and what they might bring.

As a result of this freedom, the seeds for Schmooru were not only planted — but we were able to pilot several other things under Laura’s reign, some of which haven’t come out yet — others which have and when ever people actually get to know about them, they attract obsessive crowds. Just look at Current Vanguard in Italy. And stay tuned for Current Vanguard here. She lets people do what they do best as long as they can prove to her they can get the work done, by just doing it.

More than becoming human again, it may seem sappy, but Laura brought me out to California and created a whole new world for me — I hope sometime soon she can be returned to hers.

JAIL BREAK THREE — A half tank of gas @ 5$ a gallon, no cigarettes and 1500 miles to Chicago…

The time I spent at Current TV working under Laura Ling, Andrew Fitzgerald and the rest of the gang that somehow assembled there for that special wrinkle in creative history was the most expansive period for personal growth I’d experienced in adult life up to that point. It still continues to provide for me in all the amazing people that somehow gathered there and have now largely proliferated to all places where you find cool, beautiful and talented people.

I was getting paid to do work that I always wanted to do, was putting away money and in many respects the bonds that I felt like I was building within our journalistic community were just beginning to gel in anticipation of a big election documentary project which had a mainstream buy in if we got it finished. I could not only count on these people, most of whom I’d never met in person to tell the truth, talking to them all on the phone everyday where ever they were — I really enjoyed my life. I was working with friends I cared about — not colleagues — I was living in a town that I loved and I just got a ZOJIRUSHI water heater and filled up the fridge with a year long supply of KIMCHI from COSTCO. Life was good.

When the Obama campaign called and asked me to join their New Media Team about a year ago this week — and told me I had to be there in one week…I wasn’t going to take it. Why would I leave for something that would have me out in the cold streets of Chicago in the middle of November? I didn’t want to work in government. Further — would I give up my objectivity as a journalist — something that had been very important to me(and probably only me it seems right now)?

First my mom told me to do it. Then this guy Kaj Larsen happened to be in the office that day — he was a navy seal and he ordered me to do it for my country. I truly wasn’t convinced until I had a phone call with Laura Ling. I didn’t really know what to expect from her — it was August 1, 2008 — I was asking if I could leave her in one week — and she had hired me to work on the election.

Her first reaction was to ask if I was still happy working at Current and if she had done anything wrong. I was like — I think the reason I’m considering this is for the first time in my life I feel strongly about a candidate and, I’ve never worked on a presidential campaign before in the headquarters. Those two things are something that may never come happen again — I would have always wondered what would have been. But I was still comfortable in my spot in life and I didn’t want to let anyone down.

And what came next is classic Laura. She told me to go for it. That we all had to do what made us excited in our lives. She supported me in every way possible — and didn’t expect anything from me in a return. The last day I was at Current, she took us all out for lunch at a really expensive place and paid for it. I felt like I was leaving them on the train 3 months short of the station. I don’t burn bridges and I would not have left Current if Laura had said I was letting her down — she let me off the hook Scot free.

The Last Time I Heard From Laura

As was common with all things Current, we video journaled every damn thing. Laura implied that doing a video journal might be FUN!. Andrew tried to convince me of the therapeutic nature of talking to a camera every night. I didn’t have to do one, and I sort of didn’t. But I did start one — and here it is

When I got back to San Francisco from the war, my roommate said she liked the subletter better than me and so I unveiled my “video journal” as part of the invitation to my moving out party. Laura was on assignment in Northern China and here’s what she wrote:

Between You and Laura Ling
March 14 at 7:01pm
beckmann!
it’s 7am in northern china. i’m about to head out on a shoot. but i finally had a chance to watch your video. it’s great! what a cool memory to have. you’re a man after my own heart — kimchee and salami are 2 of my favorite things. if only i were single again. hope all is well.

I was in her office hanging out about 2 days later and we didn’t know what happened next. In almost every way, I still don’t and won’t until she returns.

Schmooru is a creative economy. There would be no schmooru without Laura Ling.

In the almost 5 months since Laura’s been gone — considering how actively she sought expansion, we don’t know as a community and as a profession what economies and worlds were not created. Those who don’t know Laura will probably think I’m just saying nice things about her because she’s in a bad spot right now and that’s what people do — but those who know Laura know thats not true. The idea that we can find things to create and channel it through this thing is predicated on the notion that people should do things that are exciting to them. Not that she holds exclusive rights to that idea, but I certainly wouldn’t have met most of you if Laura had not encouraged me to put this thing together and allowed me the space to do so. That’s not only what good managers do, enablers in positions of power are especially rare in this industry.

I think its important, especially since so many of your know her so well and what a tremendous force she is, that when it gets quiet, you make some noise every now and then about who she is and what she stood for — its not the same as having her back here — but it adds more character to who she is as a person for those who only know her by those strange pictures floating around.

There are three things Schmooru and anyone else reading this can do right now:

One is sign the petition (which I’m sure most Schmoos have done).

Second — is send her postcards.

PO Box 2174
Toluca Lake, CA 91610
USA

Third is to join the mailing list of supporters at Lauraandeuna.com

— Beckmann, Toledo, OH 8/1/09

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