Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gay Talese, Blogger, Posts An Item About Beggars On City Room Blog. No Surprise, It's Pretty Good.

Gay Talese -- the former NYT reporter, author of several brilliant books, winner of a George Polk career achievement award (just yesterday!) and famously resistant to most forms of modern technology -- has just written what may well be the first blog post of his career, for the NYT's City Room blog.

Talese seems to have adapted perfectly to the form. It's a fun, breezy account of a recent series of interactions he had with panhandlers in his Upper East Side neighborhood. Hoping to help one boost his income, Talese took out a piece of laundry board from his jacket pocket and penned a new pitch on the spot, to replace a sign that said "Homeless. Please Help" and wasn't quite working:

“Please Support Pres. Obama’s Stimulus Plan, and begin right here … at the bottom … Thank you,’’ Talese scribbled, and handed it to the man, who put Talese's rewrite to work right away. The author then went home, printed up two dozen more signs and taped them to more pieces of laundry board, for distribution to beggars throughout the neighborhood:

The next day, on Sunday, and during the Monday holiday as well, I handed out these boarded messages at random to people who approached me for money, explaining why I thought their economy would be stimulated by my street signs. I further pointed out that the big bankers and industrial leaders the government was bailing out had lobbyists and public relations companies doing their bidding; but these wandering men who were seeking handouts in the street had to tap into the topicality of their plight, had to link themselves into the headlines and the top priority of President Obama. Stimulus, stimulus!!

Of course, Talese the reporter has followed up on his pitch, and, with his customary immodesty, claims some success:

Jimmy Roberts, who had stationed himself on Fifth Avenue near 58th Street, said on Monday, “It’s a powerful pitch.’’

Of course it is; Gay Talese wrote it!

Maybe the man who still -- at last report -- communicated with the outside world only by phone, mail and fax will now embrace the blogosphere. What a crazy new chapter for an amazing NYT career that began when Talese was hired as a metro reporter in 1956.

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