The Great Writing Adventure Begins 

Several years ago, I told my wife Rebecca that my biggest regret was that I no longer had time to write.

I hadn’t meant for that to happen. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you when — or how — it happened. Only that one day I noticed that the joy and happiness I’d once felt in life had been replaced by stress and tension. My life and work had been overtaken by the things that overtake all of us. The river had carried me along, and before I knew it I was lost along the shores in the wilderness.

In the midst of that angst, I told my wife that I needed a radical change: Two years to reignite the writing career I left behind eleven years ago. To focus solely and only on writing to see what — if anything — I could do. Two years to set aside as much as I could, and wade back into the writing currents.

That’s not an easy thing to do when you’re Of A Certain Age. At least it doesn’t appear to be an easy thing from the outside. But I was traveling on a path that was surely not sustainable. I was fighting against the river’s currents and losing. And so what didn’t appear easy from the outside felt like the last, and only, choice from the inside.

When the decision was made and gears began to grind, the engine didn’t run as smoothly as I’d hoped. The sparks and grinding caused more destruction than I’d hoped. (The best laid plans, and all.)

But time marches forward, never much one to linger on the bad decisions of people like me. Or you, really. Time just marches. Which inexorably had led us to today.

I — we — are are on the precipice of this new thing. At ten o’clock tomorrow, I leave for Pittsburgh, my home for the next two years. I’ll soon begin a new job as the editor and director of a publishing press. And I’ll spend my mornings and evenings writing, finishing up one book and beginning major editorial revisions on a second. (And, the writing gods willing, I have a monthly project in the works.)

Rebecca is staying in Indianapolis, as much for me as for her. She’s spent a lifetime building her career in this city. I’d say she was the queen of this city, but her title was earned. And she’s on the edge of true and mighty things.

We will travel to see each other each month, and we will continue on with our lives as we have for the last five years: together and in our own way. We aren’t sure what this will  mean for the future, but we’re also not worried about that uncertainty.

We are simply packed and ready to go: onward!

Ten Years, or My New Job

Lawrence Lessig once said he thought ten years was a good length of time to work on a project. After that, he said it was too easy to stagnate (and too easy to prevent others from coming in with new ideas.)

I was a professor one year longer than that, but today that comes to an end.

I officially (and finally) accepted the job as Director and Editor for the ETC Press, which is run out of Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center. Our mission is to build a world-class publishing press, and to use technology (and good old fashioned print) to put our books, writings, and stories in as many hands as possible. My last day in a classroom — and my first day on the new job — will be in July.

I have enjoyed working with my students, particularly on the big projects we did outside the confines of classrooms. I’ll carry with me the memories of those big ass productions, from Linus to Transmedia Indiana to The Invictus Writers to the EMDD Labs.

But the hardest thing I’m going to do is leave behind the longest, best, and most humbling partnership I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t have survived and thrived for the last eight years without my friend and partner-in-academic-crime Jennifer Palilonis. Her friendship, support, super-brain, and force of will can’t really be summed up adequately and so I won’t even try. Instead, I will say that because of her, we can look back at what we’ve done and say, “Yeah, we built that.” The Center for EMDD is poised to become a model for what modern graduate education look like. (You’ll be hearing more about that in the coming months.) 

More importantly, I can’t begin to tell you all how powerful it is to have a professional partner with whom you share absolute loyalty and trust. If you have that, you can change the world. Of course, Lessig failed to mention was that you will meet — and then have to leave — people like Jenn when you start over. That was unfair of him.

But I’ve been thinking about those words — ten years — for the several semesters, and I realized that — at least for me — his idea rang true. Ten years was enough time to spend on Project Professor. My mind had been wandering — and wondering — “What’s next?”

And I’ve found that answer. In that, I also found the stuff of life: joy, sadness, laughter, tears, and always at the end…love.

And so the new clock begins today. Ten years and counting: Now is the time. And this is the place.

By Acclamation

Yesterday, I spent the day in Chicago interviewing professional women softball players for Catch. I had the honor of hearing their stories. While each was different, there was one, inescapable theme: sports had given them a place where they could be themselves, without apology.

Tonight, I watched an historic event as Secretary Clinton became the Democratic Party’s nominee for president. When it happened, Bec King burst into tears. She said, “I don’t even know why I am crying.”

These two events and the messages that I heard from the athletes, from my wife, and from myriad women on the stage at the convention are forever tied together for me. A line of demarcation. It’s a strange phenomenon to be so close to these stories, and yet so removed. I understand them, but they are not mine. This has not ever been my fight.

Like me, I don’t believe those who came of age in the last twenty years truly understand the seismic shift that has occurred. Our world now has more spaces like those that the athletes talked about. We take for granted that they are here. They exist, and so it’s easy to think they must always have existed.

But they haven’t always existed. And there weren’t easily created. And that can only be understood by listening to the stories from those who lived through it.

An Open Letter to Berkeley J-school Dean Edward Wasserman Regarding the Proposed $10,250 Fee

On September 14, 2014, the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s dean announced his intention to pursue a $10,250 fee. The news came as a shock to alumni, students, and educators. Doubly concerning was Dean Edward Wasserman’s decision to pursue this increase without faculty support.

In the last week, I’ve had the chance to talk with fellow alumni and reflect upon what this increase would mean for the culture of the school. Today, I sent this letter to Dean Wasserman and various media outlets that covered the initial announcement.

**Update: At day’s end, I received a heartfelt and polite response from the Dean. The particulars are here.**

* * *

September 19, 2014

From:
Brad King, Class of 2000
www.thebradking.com

To:
Edward Wasserman, Dean
University of California at Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism

Re: Proposed tuition hike

Dear Dean Wasserman:

My name is Brad King (’00), and I’m writing because I’m concerned about the new $20,000 tuition fee you’ve proposed for incoming students. I fear the unintended consequences of your initiative on the J-school and its legacy.

I care deeply about this issue because the J-school changed my life.

As an Appalachian kid from a small town, there weren’t many ways out. This isn’t to say my situation was dire. I lived in a good, solid, working-class town with hard-working people who did an honest day’s labor and expected to be treated fairly in return. However, the roads leading out of our little town were covered with quite a bit of brush. Finding your way out wasn’t easy.

Growing up, I was lucky. My mother and father encouraged my love for reading. I devoured books and stories. I read magazines, such as boing boing, The Whole Earth Review, and Mondo2000, that grew out of the cyber-culture in the Bay Area. This may seem a small detail to you, but for me those publications meant everything. As I looked around my hometown in 1984 when I was 12 and realized there weren’t other people like me, I could always dial into the BBSs in Berkeley and read what was happening in that exotic place. I found a community of like-minded people years before I stepped foot in California.

In 1997 when I decided to attend graduate school, I sent my application to only one place: the Berkeley J-school. (I didn’t realize how crazy that was at the time.)

I applied knowing full well that in order to attend I would need to work a full-time job and take out student loans. In my two years, I packed away enough debt that I continue to pay it off in 2014.

Still, not a day goes by that I am not happy with my decision to attend.

Even though we were near the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder, I don’t mean to suggest we were poor. I’m not a cultural warrior who claims to come from an impoverished background in order to build an argument on the backs of those who truly suffer. I merely mean that my family’s lifestyle was modest. My mother, father, and extended family pooled money so that I could attend a good state college, but that was as far as our resources went.

Because of this I accepted that I would pay my Berkeley tuition, which was part of the toll on the road to a better future. It was a way to clear a bit of that brush off the roads leading out of my hometown. The tuition was my own personal investment in my future, and it has made all the difference. I owe my career and my professional life to the Berkeley J-school.

Today my full-time job is as a professor at Ball State University. Since my graduation from Berkeley, I’ve worked at Wired magazine and Wired.com, I’ve written a book (and have another in the pipeline), I’ve worked at MIT and Carnegie Mellon, I’ve taught programs in England, and I’ve been asked to speak about storytelling in the digital age in Hungary and South Korea.

I have served on the advisory board for South by Southwest Interactive for more than a decade, and I’ve hosted its largest entrepreneur event (Accelerator) since its inception; I currently serve on the advisory board for the Indiana Writers Center; and I serve as both an advisory board member and an editor for Carnegie Mellon’s ETC Press.

None of these doors would have been opened had I not graduated from Berkeley, which is why my heart ached as I read your email about the tuition.

In 1998, I worked a full-time job and took out $40,000 in loans to attend the J-school. With the proposed tuition hike, my loans would total more than $80,000 (assuming I could find a job to cover rent and living expenses.)

I can unequivocally tell you that with your proposed tuition hike Berkeley would now be forever out of my reach.

This isn’t a plea that is ignorant of university funding. A professor myself, I understand the financial realities of running an independent program. I just spent 2 1/2 years meeting with my university’s president and cabinet working through a budget for a new program.

Our current national funding crisis requires all parties in higher education to rethink our operation. My issue: While it’s very easy to create short-term funding avenues, those decisions can undermine the culture of a school.

No matter what the final decision on the tuition hike, I know the J-school will find students. It was at one time a highly ranked school and I know the faculty will once again restore that reputation.

But if the hike is enacted, Berkeley will have effectively cut off access to a large swath of those on the wrong end of the socioeconomic ladder.

So I write this letter to you with a heavy heart.

If the tuition hike is approved, I can no longer in good conscience support the J-school. I have to ask myself: If a school takes no interest in attracting the people who come from where I have, why would I continue to give my support? More importantly, how could I justify such support as I travel and work in Appalachia?

If the fee is adopted, I’ll take down my diploma in my office, I’ll cease conducting entrance interviews, I’ll stop judging student competitions, I’ll no longer visit the campus, and I’ll remove Berkeley’s Knight lectures from my classes. When I speak and give lectures, I’ll use Berkeley as a case study in what went wrong with journalism programs in this country.

These will neither impact your day-to-day operations, nor will it dent the school’s reputation. I have no delusions of grandeur. My small, collective actions will simply be my final contribution to the soon-to-be-removed inclusive culture of the J-school.

I believe whole-heartedly in elite education, and its transformative power. However, I reject socioeconomic elitism. The proposed action may not undermine the education at the J-school, but it will most definitely favor those with more means.

Berkeley has meant more to me than I can ever adequately express. Earning my degree was one of the single, best moments in my life. North Gate Hall was – and has been – a lighthouse for me, a beacon that helped point me in the right direction. Under your watch, however, I fear its light is fading for people like me.

Sincerely,

Brad King, Class of 2000

The Time is Now

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Review: Mitt, a Netflix Documentary

If you have Netflix and 90 minutes, I’d highly recommend you settle in for Mitt, a Netflix original documentary that follows Mitt Romney and his family through 6 years of presidential campaigning.

This isn’t a political documentary so don’t expect lots of policy wonks or behind-the-scene battles over strategy like The War Room. Since the film’s thematic subject isn’t politics, it seems unfair to critique the piece through that lens. Instead, the filmmaker seems to have made Mitt as a counter-point to Romney’s public record, which is forever implanted in the public consciousness. This is the last chapter of “A Man in Full” (if I may steal a line from Tom Wolfe).

Instead of a linear narrative that pulls us through an election, this is a series of vignettes built around very specific, very public events. By using those moments and pulling the curtain back, the film both humanizes the process of campaigning and paints a mosaic of the Family Romney.

For me, the two most interesting elements of the film:

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January: The Year of Focus Update

We know that the best way for humans to change their behavior patterns is through tracking mechanisms. If you want to lose weight, you have to count (somewhere) what you are eating. If you want to get stronger in the gym, you have to count what you are doing.

Without that tracking mechanism, we lose accountability.

So each month, I’ll update the blog with an summary analysis of what I have tried to do in the Year of Focus, in which I have laid out 4 broad goals.

Phase I: Know More

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The Year of Focus

SummerOfRun7I think thematically.

As each year comes to a close, I spend December sitting with the work of my previous year. I sift through what I’ve created, I look at what I didn’t create, and conceptualize what I want my next year to become.

I’ve always been methodical and particular in my thinking, but I’ve become much more directed in that thinking in my sobriety and as I get older.

Just in the past few years, I’ve dedicated my time to:

Each of those represented a singular goal on which I could affix my gaze. No matter what happened during each of those time frames, I could always pull myself back to the center.

This year as I’ve been evaluating my life’s work this year, I’ve started asking myself a very serious question: “What’s next?” My answer, while still in flux, is coalescing around the idea that I have lost focus in my life. I’ve become too complacent, allowing myself to be pulled along by the tidal forces around me.

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“What’s Next?”

Lately I’ve been asking myself a simple question: “What’s next?”

I go through these moments of self reflection as I near the end of a large project. In this case, I’m in the final stages of rewriting Dungeons & Dreamers after several years of on-again/off-again work with my friend and co-author John Borland. The book is now with the copy editor, marketing plans are underway, and we’re just waiting for the last screws to be tightened.

Certainly my time has already been taken up with other activities: So Far Appalachia is underway, my teaching at Ball State continues, and a semi-secret project at the university continues.

But those are projects I’m doing. They aren’t the answer to “What’s next?”

As I’ve reflected on that question, I’ve skimmed an article penned by my former boss.Writing in MIT’s Technology Review, editor Jason Pontin argued “Why We Can’t Solve Problems” in today’s technological world. The premise: We once tried to land on the moon; we now try to make the best software app. We have stopped trying to solve big problems because they are hard.

He talked about this dilemma at the TED conference:

For the past few years, I’ve been aimlessly searching for the Big Problem that I want to work on. As it stands, I’m starting to get the sense of what the problem is. It’s been percolating in my head for a few years, but I’ve not moved forward on it in any meaningful way.

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“I have discovered a corner of the universe where I am at peace.”

A message from the universe

A message from the universe

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly four years since we last spoke.

On our good days, The Muse was not only part of my life, but also the center of the streams of my thought about who I was. She was the constant center, the North Star, and my lighthouse.

On our bad days, she was the Unstoppable Force against my Immovable Object. We were elements that smashed against each other, chipping away at the pieces of our souls, and shattering the worlds around each other.

We were love, and hate, and anger, and fear, and hopelessness, and happiness.

We were a violent and slow erosion.

Then, one day, we were simply not. As sure as she had appeared in my life in 1992, she was gone in 2009.

As we got healthy, we realized the hurts we had leveled against each other, the wrongs we had committed in the name of our relationship, and the remains of our tattered core were our White Whale. Whatever had once been had long again been damaged beyond repair.

With one, short conversation, our life together came to a close. It was a final, dry goodbye devoid of the pain and love that marked our time in orbit.

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