Steve Lopez Event
“There will always be amarket for story-telling.” These are the wise words Steve Lopez said lastWednesday while visiting Cal State Long Beach and giving advice to the futuregeneration of journalists. Lopez, most recognizably know for being the writerof the book The Soloist, had worked at many newspapers until being hired on at theLA times in 2001 and it was during his time at the newspaper that he met andstruck up a friendship with Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, the homeless musicvirtuoso. It because of Ayers that Lopez has a better understanding of themental health realm and journalism and was able to speak to us on both subjects.
Lopez began writingabout Ayers in his column in 2005 after hearing him play on the street. Thefact that he had barely met with this man for less than five minutes anddecided that there might be a story in him, prompted questions at thequestion-and-answer event about his choosing of topics worth pursing. Lopezdescribed four actions that must take place in order for a topic to be awinner. One is that each writer must find out his/her specific interestsbecause if a topic is not worth it to the writer than it won’t be worth it tothe readers. Second is variety. Lopez stated that despite the movie perception,he did not write about Ayers everyday, he did not have enough material and notevery topic is found to be interesting to every reader, therefore it mustchange enough to keep the readers guessing. Third is each writer must find theuniversal element in every story; the overall idea; the point of writing aboutthe topic in the first place. Last is the use of “real” stories. Ayers’ storyis a perfect example of a real story, because it evokes emotion out of the readersand is the main reason why the reception of his story has been immense.
Obviously one of thequestions asked at the Wednesday event was in concern to the changing role ofprint journalism and the possible end to it. There is a “revolution happeningin the journalism world,” what with the growing use of internet and thedownsizing of actual newsrooms. In my opinion, the best advice given during theentire lecture by him was this: “just be prepared to learn many different waysto tell stories” and I believe it to be true. Although his resume is long, whatwith writing three novels well-before beginning his column, even he had tolearn different ways of “story-telling” being as his column is now a web-onlycolumn (“Talk back to Lopez”). He also gave the piece of advice to get as muchexperience in as many different types of media as possible; publishing, online,print, broadcasting, etc. because you never know what opportunity will hit you.
Lopez not only spoke onjournalism but mental health services and Nathanial himself. Lopez stated thatwith a book and movie about the experience he hopes people don’t think that hejust wrote Ayers off as an “old column” and verified that him and Mr. Ayers areas close as ever and the relationship is as “challenging and rewarding’ asever. Since the column, Mr. Ayers has made many strides as has Lopez. ThoughNathaniel still does not trust drugs, he is living in an apartment part of theLamp Community and regularly attends concerts and benefits that he is invited toowhich also means he has began to trust modes of travel such as trains and cars.He also has developed insight into his condition and works to combat it. Lopezdescribes the whole experience as life-changing; he was “never a giver untilmeeting Ayers and experiencing goodness in reaching out.” When learning offacts such as one in a hundred are diagnosed with Schizophrenia, Lopez almostleft journalism field in order to go into mental health services, but hispassion for writing stopped him. Since the high publicity material on Ayers,there has been renewed interest in Skid Row and the mental health realm, withthe movie producers of the movie of the same name donating huge sums to SkidRow services.
Alight has shone on the mental health services as it has on the journalism worldas a whole, all because a passing-by journalist saw something different in a Los Angeles homeless man. After attending the speaking event andhearing Lopez talk about Ayers and the story of second chances as well as hisview on journalism, I have a better outlook on the profession and what itentails and what I will have to do to dive in a journalistic career.