March 27, 2012 · 1 Comments
By Danny Schechter:
The New York Times has launched a new “Op Doc” feature to add videos. They are partnering with The Sundance Film Festival that then wrote to directors whose work they have featured and suggested submitting.
I rose to the occasion and queried The Times about a project I am working on about my Bronx High School, DeWitt Clinton, one of the fist in the City (1897), home to well over 100,000 students in its 100 plus years and now at risk as large schools are no longer in fashion. Its about the fate of public education.
The initial response was positive. An editor’s associate found it “interesting”–a term I find patronizing. But hey.
Here’s the exchange:
To: Lindsay Crouse for Jason Spingarn-Koff
From Danny Schechter
RE New York Tines Op-Docs
My name is Danny Schechter, known as the “News Dissector,” a New York educated and based filmmaker (formerly with ABC and CNN). I have made films on many subjects and won Emmys but the one I am proposing for you—and which you heard about from Sundance –where I have shown films—is more personal and anchored in my New York City High School experiences at DeWitt Clinton where I served at the editor of a high school newspaper that led, in turn, to a life-long career in journalism.
At a time when public education in New York is at risk, when charter schools and smaller schools are in fashion, DeWitt Clinton’s future and century-long legacy is at risk. That’s why I jumped into the breach here.
This venerable school is living in a bubble of uncertainty and may face closure as part of the Mayor’s school closing program.
This is the hovering “news peg!”
Clinton has survived the burning of the Bronx, as well as the crime, drugs and urban erosion that’s driven so many “old neighborhoods” into poverty. Its mix of students has changed. Its resources have been cut. Its teachers and many students are hanging on with great courage for a future that doesn’t look all that bright
What I would like to do a personal essay drawn from my own experiences about why we have to care about our kids and schools and what a difference they have meant for me, for this city, and in Clinton’s case, the country. The school building –known as “The Castle on The Parkway”—opened on the very day of the market crash of 1929. Now its students are trying to survive the current crash and many are losing out in a jobless economy that is hitting youth and minorities the hardest.
That Bronx-based High School, DeWitt Clinton, named after the New York Governor who built the Erie Canal among other breakthroughs, was one of the city’s first, founded in 1897, and a conveyor belt into the middle class for more than 100,000 New Yorkers. At one point, it served 14,000 students in five annexes
Today there are 4000 kids there, many immigrants, and working class kids keen to learn but often without the skills they need.
From its earliest days, Clinton was known for athletics and academics producing an amazing number of luminaries including entertainers, musicians’, writers, NY Times journalists, and sports greats. Burt Lancaster went there; do did James Baldwin, on and on.
DeWitt C was especially celebrated for its ethnic and racial diversity on almost every level except one when I was there between l956 and 1960—females. It was an all Boys school for decades before it went co-educational—and that is, ironically, what saved the school. Girls brought new energy and focus.
Along with my brother Bill, also a Clinton grad, and with an assist from two veteran teachers, we are making a film about DeWitt Clinton High School, not just as boosters but as citizens concerned about the collapse of public education.
We produced a trailer designed to raise money from Alums who figured would respond more to the glory days than its current problems—nothing like the film we plan to make—and you can see it and some of the historical footage we have on VIMEO at http://vimeo.com/35147331
I did an earlier and funkier version of the video—less about the great and the good—and narrate it at http://vimeo.com/27748979. I am also in it. We have since shot some very compelling material of grads and current students.
I have been profiled in the Times, and have published letters. My op-eds these days mostly appear on AlJazeera, but I would like to write one as well, and you and the paper would be amazed at the response it will invoke from Clintonians of every generation.
Education has built New York and its absence will imperil it.
The School inspires a special kind of loyalty at a time when education is such a mess, especially for poorer kids in the outer boroughs.
This is a real New York story, based in the “boogie-down Bronx” which is hanging on and hoping on.
I can do more of a treatment if you want one.
Many thanks for getting in touch—your pitch is interesting and we’ll review. In the meantime, I’m attaching a Q&A on the op-docs pitching process and am available as you have questions.
Thank you for your interest. I’ve reviewed and it’s certainly a worthy subject, though I’m sorry to say we’re not able to take this.
What to say? It’s your call. Earlier I told Lindsay I hate the word “interesting” which is often used so condescendingly. Ditto for “worthy.”
You are rejecting something I never submitted. I sent links to two videos about De Witt C –one for fundraising, the other, more of a feature and said that I would want to do something more personal about NYC’s first high school and one that graduated more than 100,000 students of all backgrounds from the Bx into the middle class, and me into a life in journalism….
Now its future has been put at risk by bureaucrats who are presiding over the destruction of what was a great model of Public education.
Rather than ask what I had in mind, you say you are “not able to take this” when “this” does not yet exist.
I assume its not about being able–but about interest about what’s happening to kids who are being written off and refuse to go quietly into the night.
I wish I was surprised.
Suggestion: have a look at the NYTeXaminer.com, the online site that offers a daily critical take of the Times to which, I still subscribe. That might make a fascinating Op Doc
NYTX Update March 27, 11:55 AM
From The Editor: To clarify: based on your pitch, I do not think the proposed video will work for Op-Docs. As we state in submissions guidelines, you are welcome to submit either completed videos or pitches. We evaluate pitches to help producers conserve time and resources.
Deferential Conciliation (For the record: My pitch was about the issue, not any proposed treatment.)
Thanks for clarifying:
Other than disappointment, no hard feelings..
Question to New York Times Readers
Do you think I will get another chance to op-doc, especially after making this exchange public? I doubt it
If you want to support our DeWitt Clinton film, tax deductible donations to:
The Global Center
PO Box 677
NY NY 10035
(Mark DeWitt Clinton film on your check)