Saturday, October 27, 2018

This is the place

I don't know if this will ever see the light of day. It's October 27, 2018 and I woke up to the news of a mass shooting at a synagogue 6 miles from my apartment. Truth be told I had never heard of the "Tree of Life" synagogue until this morning, despite having done several walks through Squirrel Hill and Shadyside both with friends and for the annual ten commandments walk.

I say all this because this shooting didn't directly impact me. I say all this because while it had nothing to do with me, it's greatly impacted my city, some of my friends and my nation. There's something incredibly surreal about seeing every major news outlet you follow talk about streets you've walked in relation to a horrendous tragedy.

Today I walked the streets of Downtown quietly and mostly kept to myself, because the feeling I got this morning was eerily similar to a feeling I felt the morning after the Ariana Grande concert bombing in Manchester, England. If you're unfamiliar, I was on a 10-day workshop with the University of Salford Manchester and we were just wrapping up our stay when the bombing happened two miles from our hotel.

That bombing had nothing to do with us, or any of the lovely people we had met during our stay, but nonetheless we all mourned for this vibrant, cultural town where tragedy struck.

I said to several Pittsburgh outlets when they interviewed us - despite contributing nothing to the actual story - that Manchester is a lot like Pittsburgh. Manchester is at the tail end of a transition from industry to media making and culture. Pittsburgh has shifted to a meds-and-eds economy in a similar fashion.

In the case of the Tree of Life shooting this morning, this was a targeted hate crime by a wacko terrorist. Unnecessary, loud and senseless. There are similarities in both instances, but they were completely different motives, and different results.

I talked a lot in Manchester about how resilient the people there are, and how amazingly homey it felt in only 10 days. I drew all manner of parallels, but I did resolve that that was something I could leave. Horrible as it may sound, that was something I could isolate in my mind as a particular time, place and stage.

Pittsburgh, however, is and always has been my home.

Reading through Facebook today has been an exhausting venture. Both Pittsburgh natives and converts standing on a pulpit preaching about this political agenda or that personal grievance or what have you. For my part, I haven't posted anything beyond a Facebook profile frame thing, and marking myself "safe" for family that lives too far away to understand that Pittsburgh isn't just one big ol' street.

I'm not going to preach politics to you. I will, however, say what I said to my roommate this morning: I don't get it. I simply can't wrap my mind around how someone is able to completely disregard and devalue life due to religious or ethnic traits.

I feel as a society we are failing to recognize peoples' complexity. Your neighbor and your waitress and your mailman have real hopes and fears and loves and goals and heartache. All too often we reduce people to their actions or words in our presence, or worse yet - box them into a single, jaded stereotype.

I don't care where you're from or where you're going, but I want you to know that you are loved by somebody. This world of ours is dark, but through the perpetual clouds of Pittsburgh shine a bright light with bright, lovely people.

I'm reminded, especially as people share the "Pittsburgh Strong" image everywhere, of a poem that a writer in Manchester penned in 2012. He read it at the vigil in St. Albert's Square following the concert bombing and it's called "This is the Place." While it's written for Mancunians and some of the cultural differences are, well, out there, it's comforting and it's strikingly relatable.

We will rise. This city of ours. Because it's what we always will do.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Let's See How Far We've Come 2017: The Year in Review

I just wrote all the birthdays, anniversaries and school schedule on my mother's large kitchen calendar, which must mean we're approaching the end of yet another year. With the change of  calendars comes my my annual year in review post.

Believe it or not, this is my fifth year-in-review post. I lamented last year that I didn't write much here in 2016. While I resolved to rectify that, apparently my unconscious took that as a challenge to write even less. I did publish my five letters from the editor here, but the blog was fairly neglected. I had decent excuses for myself - 2017 was incredibly busy for me personally - but at the end of the day, I like to look back at this site to remind me of what all happened and how I felt in the moment. But enough about my shortcomings - here goes nothing!

I rang in 2017 with my parents at home - any and all plans with friends had fallen through and frankly I enjoyed the quiet. At the stroke of midnight, I became editor-in-chief of the Globe, began my junior year of college, and embarked on what will go down as one of the craziest years so far. I continued my work as a resident educator on the 16th floor of Lawrence Hall. Bobby and I rebooted NewsNight into its current, nightly-news style program. At that point, we were doing the show every other week in the Center for Media Innovation.

The first edition of the Globe in February brought with it an editorial that changed everything. Shortly after publishing, the university president called me into his office and we talked about tuition increases. I'd like to think at this point we have a good, professional relationship and I would say it started there. February brought with it the 50th anniversary of the Globe, and a campus-wide celebration including a Snapchat filter and throwback logo on the front page. On the whole, February was a lot about continuing what I started: NewsNight began ramping up, the paper was in full swing. It was also about looking ahead: we had meetings about taking a trip to the university of Salford Manchester slated for that May.

March began with spring break and the Intercollegiate Broadcast System Awards in New York. I'm proud to say that the previous September's interview with Sarah Koenig brought me, Vinnie and Brandon a win. The conference was enlightening, but the night we won the award was a whirlwind: I began the day standing in a line in Times Square to get student rush tickets for Sunset Boulevard alongside Kayla Snyder and a girl named Trillium. After winning and taking pictures, I bolted the 13 blocks or so from the Hotel Pennsylvania up to the Palace Theatre in a suit. IT WAS COMPLETELY WORTH IT. March also brought the Globe's 50th anniversary celebration in the Lawrence Hall Lobbies. There's so much to say but suffice it to say: we invited as many people as we could think of, and 121 people came out to celebrate the history of our little paper.

April brought with it several conferences, the first being the Society of Professional Journalists conference in Detroit, Michigan. I didn't win anything myself, but our paper took home several accolades and I was a finalist for two Mark of Excellence Awards. I turned 20 in April, the day before Eastern Orthodox Easter. Emily Bennett and I went to New York City to participate in the New York Times Editor workshop. That Thursday evening we went on an adventure that became my radio production final, Night Court. As much as I would love to link you to Night Court, I'm also super hesitant because it's a dramatized version of actual events, and I haven't actually the permission from the subject to publish it. For what it's worth, though, it earned me an A and featured the voices of Kris Chandler, Bobby Bertha and Carrie Reale. I finished my work as a Resident Educator, and ended the 2016-2017 school year.

May began my summer and my foray into public radio with an internship at WESA in its newsroom. It also brought with it my whirlwind trip to Manchester, England. It was billed as the trip of a lifetime, and it certainly was. I spent 10 days in Manchester, and met some amazing folks like Adam Roberts, Megan Hayward, Megan Hornsby, Callum Phillips, Fay Toulios and Tom Hinkley at Shock! Radio, Siobhan McAndrews from BBC Radio 6 and Geoff McQueen who was our lecturer for the week. It was a crash-course in UK radio and capped off by - several things. The course itself was capped off by an on-air show with Wythenshawe radio, but there were several other adventures within it including a bar crawl that ended with me being cursed, there was a concert in the basement of a place called the Soup Kitchen, and countless other mini-trips.

As I said earlier this year, the trip was most noted by the outside world by the Ariana Grande Concert Bombing on 22 May. In retrospect, I had been able to sample in some way, shape, or form the culture and art of Manchester before that. It'd be irresponsible of me to say that I got to know the place well, but it certainly felt like it by the end of the trip. I say that because thinking about the bombing - it's heartbreaking to think about such a vibrant, cultural place to become the target of a terrorist attack and have to deal with the aftermath of tragedy. But if I've learned anything about Mancunians, it's that they move on. Be it World War II, the fall of the textile export industry, or even May's heinous act, they come back strong.

June brought with it my experience at WESA-FM, Pittsburgh's NPR News Station as well as my summer job at Forsythe Mini Golf. To tell you the truth, June, July and the first part of August kind of blur together for me. At WESA, I was lucky enough to be a part of several stories and learn the workflow of a full-fledged public media operation. I was able to do a 3-minute feature on noise in Pittsburgh and some other odds and ends throughout the summer. I also learned the trick to South Side Parking: don't. I can unequivocally say that Forsythe was my favorite job to date. I got to be outside, help people and use my inner whimsy to operate a mini golf stand. I had fantastic bosses - Sam and Kristi are not only great bosses but I'd like to consider them friends. It's a true family business over there - when I had to head back to school in August, they hosted all three of their employees for dinner at the family homestead. I have a whole playlist of music that I played over their stereo in the Golf Shack, and every once in a blue moon I'll play it to reminisce.

August brought back the rush of school. I finished my internship and my employment with Forsythe and moved back to Point Park - this time to the boulevard apartments. Greg came down and we watched the solar eclipse in village park. The full time professor union struck their first-ever contract with the university, and the Globe broke the story. I began a new semester of classes and we were full steam ahead with a new semester of the Globe. On the first day of school I made two dumb decisions and had a meeting with the president. Ultimately, all three of those things were resolved. But it's funny looking back at it all to see what worked out and how it all ended up working out.

September brought with it the full insanity of the school year: we launched the Pioneer Public video series for the Globe, I took on 5 classes, and apparently made it my mission to work as many hours as possible to make myself sick. We began season 2 (really 3 but we can't count that one pilot as a season) of NewsNight and I returned to work at the Post-Gazette for high school football and basketball season.

October felt a lot like September - too much work and not enough me to go around. I had to make a mid-semester hire for our Arts and Entertainment section, and we began using both television studios on campus to produce NewsNight - an adventure in ridiculousness and coordination. At the end of the month, I made a point of stopping the constant spin. Alongside Vince and Beth and some friends, we rounded out the month with a trip to Hundred Acres Manor and watching the Great Pumpkin in the apartment. It was in October that things got a little rough, but also when I decided to take some time to spend more time with friends and be more **festive** with my life.

November was an entertaining undertaking - I spent a weekend in Carnegie shooting a video press kit for the Andrew Carnegie Free Library alongside Nick Kasisky and Robert Berger. It was also in November that I started trying to figure out what's next after the Globe.

And so this is Christmas. Well, New Years. December was insanely frontloaded with finals and such. After that were several short, quiet Christmas festivities. I was informed earlier this week that I was named General Manager of WPPJ for the spring semester. So that's what I'll be occupying my January, February, March and April with. But as with the past two Decembers, I slowed my 120 miles per hour year to a more manageable 60 or so...

I could honestly copy-paste last year's ending to this year's post. At the end of the day, I'm incredibly excited to see what the future holds. This year has been a great amount of work but I'm glad to have done it all with some of my favorite people in this world. I've traveled across the mid-Atlantic and to Manchester and all sorts of places. I've played miniature golf, attended an inauguration, celebrated the 50th anniversary of a paper as its editor, and it's hard to believe that this is the "start" of my life, but it's easy to see how these are some the greatest moments in my short life thusfar.

As for what the future holds - I don't know. I know this much: I'm greeting 2018 with optimism and some new energy. I hope I can have half as great a year as this one moving forward.

So here's to you and yours - have a happy, peaceful and pleasant new year! Go fight win!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Reason to Live and a Reason to Grow

It's been a while since I last posted here. Quite a while actually.

I've been so hesitant to openly express myself since the whole Carlynton clarification debacle, and it takes quite a bit of time for me to sit down and actually write outside the conventions of journalism and broadcasting and essays and the six other types of  writing we're expected to do in college.

So why now? I'm in a transition period. As I said in my kind-of-out-there letter from the editor this week, I've been so obsessed with the bookends of life that I sometimes forget that life is the culmination of a bunch of small turns and moments and interactions.

I've learned quite a bit this semester about my craft, about the world and about myself. I'm transitioning my way out of one of the wildest stretches professionally I've worked within: the job of Editor-in-Chief of the Globe.

I can't say I was surprised by the amount of work that went into it - it reminded me a lot of being Senior Patrol Leader mixed with the journalistic training that I've been working on in some way, shape or form since I was in fourth grade.

What I did find surprising, and perhaps this is my own naivety, was the mixture of ego and apathy that I encountered - both among writers (or lack thereof) and the editors. I hired some fantastic folks to edit the paper, and I feel like that showed this semester. However, an inherent apathy towards collaboration frustrated me to no end. I had huge plans going into this semester and for a plethora of reasons, those never came to fruition.

It seems things start getting bad for me personally in October. This October I started feeling the effects of taking on as many jobs as I had, and for the first time that I can remember, I met that feeling with an allowance to be human for once. Have my grades suffered? Probably. Do I mind? No, because I can't - unlike so many folks I've seen before me - say that I'm burned out.

Burning out is significantly different than being exhausted. I will readily admit that I am incredibly exhausted being a full-time student, full-time editor, part-time television producer, part-time studio technician and ten thousand other things I usually forget to list.

Being burned out is getting to a point where you no longer want to do what you do - and have no motivation to change that feeling. Being burned out is laying down and resigning yourself to mediocrity. Being burned out is handing yourself over to vices and distracting yourself from facing the reality that you don't have any motivation to continue.

At least that's my rough colloquial definition.

At this juncture in my life, I still want to be a journalist, but I feel far more confident in my ability as a producer than I do as a reporter. I feel far more confident in my ability to craft, manage, write and produce content like the WESA noise story and the Carnegie-Carnegie VPK than I do crack open some wildly investigative thing. That's not to say I can't do it (because I can and would like greatly to do so), that's to say that I feel most comfortable working within a news/feature genre. I digress.

I've learned that pretending to be a social person results in being asked the same question over and over. In high school you're asked what college you're planning on going to. As you start college people ask - and still do - what you're studying. If you're particularly unlucky, you get the question: so what are you going to do with that? I'm almost a year out from graduation, and let me tell you, the closer the months get the more nervous I am of what's on the horizon.

Lately, however, the question my friends have been asking me is if I will be involved with the Globe after my term as EiC. While it makes sense to ask, I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to be doing. That's a combination of choices by Emily Bennett (the next Editor) and me (I applied to be news editor because I love laying out pages). But, as Gregory Alan Isakov's song says, "Time Will Tell."

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A final letter from the editor

Author's Note: this originally appeared in the December 6, 2017 edition of the Globe, which marked my last letter as that paper's editor. 

I’ve always been far more interested in the bookends of life than I have been with the in between bits. It makes sense for my chosen field, I guess. After all, journalism professors encourage you to seek out anecdotes about turning points in your subjects’ lives.
The downside to being so preoccupied with the major twists in life is that you forget to look at the moment you’re currently in unless it’s a moment of transition. I’ve personally challenged myself this semester to not look at what will eventually be, but rather, what is actually happening in that moment.
I can’t say I’ve had much success with living in the moment, but there have been some amazing moments these past 12 months. We celebrated the paper’s 50th anniversary with an incredible gala. Our staff survived the great Lawrence Hall flood and #globetastrophy of 2017. We documented the full-time faculty union forging their first contract. We brought you stories of triumph, heartbreak and everything in between.
Week after week, I am impressed with how creative our staff is, in both finding stories and designing this paper each week. Editors have kick-started our Pioneer Public video series, an Arts and Entertainment Section and countless other flairs that have consistently raised the bar for our publication.
Have we fallen short? Sure. I personally messed up last week’s front page headline, we still have no on-the-record idea of when the Starbucks on campus will open and I’m waiting to hear back on the status of touring the Playhouse, but all in all, I would say this has been a fantastic run.
I’m continually grateful for the staff here at the Globe, my supportive friends and family and the folks who actually read the paper every week. I cannot tell you how many hours I’ve spent in 710 Lawrence Hall, but I can tell you there’s no group more talented, creative or bizarre than the people who put this paper together every week.
I would be remiss without thanking Kristin Snapp, Josh Croup, Anthony Mendicino, Dave Grande, Gina Catanzarite, Dr. Hallock, Dr. Dorsten, Dean Paylo, Caleb Rodgers, Lou Corsaro and the countless others who have helped me grow as both a journalist and administrator this year.
The impossible thing about collegiate newspapers is that this paper must be a teaching tool and a tool to inform. Our staff are all at once editors, students and teachers. We’re in a unique position in that the turnover is ridiculous, but without fail, and sometimes out of sheer spite, the Globe keeps on going. We prove every week that a volunteer army can achieve incredible things. And I’m thankful for that.
Call me crazy, but I believe we’re headed in a positive direction as a field. I feel like this campus, region and country are hungry for a group of journalists willing to go an extra mile to share the truth with the electorate, and I hope what we’ve been able to accomplish in 2017 demonstrates that the next generation of journalists are here to meet that challenge.
I’ve thought quite a bit about this bookend in my life – and while I will miss the rush of leading a team of talented individuals, I look forward to rejoining as a writer with the perspective of the whole. In the end, legacy means next to nothing at a college level.
To my incredible staff – I wish you the absolute best. You’ve taught me so much about this paper, this campus and myself. To my fourth floor Thayer sister and our next chief, Emily Bennett – I wish you calm winds, following seas and to be blessed with an amazing staff like I have been.
To Point Park – Keep fighting the good fight.
Go. Fight. Win.
Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Outlook is everything: A welcome back letter from the editor

Author's Note: this appeared in the August 30, 2017 edition of the Globe. 

“We shouldn’t have to chase the ghosts of the future.”
That’s what I told my roommate a few days back with regards to his anxiety over running into someone again with the start of the new school year. The story isn’t relevant, but the advice is.
Let me be probably the 50th person to tell you: Welcome (back) to Point Park University.
By now you’ve probably had most of your classes. If you’re lucky you’ve made some great friends or reconnected with some of your favorite people. That said, a lot of unknowns lie ahead. I can’t tell you if you’ll be cast in a show or how midterms will go or if that cute girl you met in the elevator will agree to go out with you.
Here’s what I can tell you: a lot of that depends on your outlook.
Growing up, I was a really anxious kid when it came to the start of school. Even in my senior year of high school, I was nervous as to how classes would go and if I would successfully do all the quintessential “senior year” things.
What I failed to acknowledge in those moments were the opportunities that lie in a new day. Yes, you have no idea what life is going to throw at you. But the future has not been set yet, and you should use that to your advantage.
I’m still an incredibly nervous person (ask anyone on this staff), but I have learned that the best approach to the unknown is to acknowledge it and react proactively. Plan for the future, but be willing to throw that plan out the window if it doesn’t fall into place.
If you’re holding a copy of the Globe today or reading us online, that means we did something right. We’ve had major issues with the technology that we rely on to lay out the paper. All the writing was done over the summer break by our volunteer writing army. And of course, news broke that changed our coverage plan. With so many moving parts, at one point last week I wasn’t sure we would get the paper out.
Again, I forgot possibility in the mix, and the power of the team we’ve assembled. Over 50 people banded together – designers, writers, photographers, delivery folks and editors – and made this edition not only possible, but a beautiful testament to student-run and student-driven journalism on campus.
From the very first edition of the Globe, we’ve been looking for contributors from all perspectives. As we have since 1967, we relied on volunteers to contribute to us in order to put together this paper each week. If you’ve been waiting for a chance to get involved – consider this your invitation.
On my last first day of high school, Coldplay’s “In My Place” was the song playing on my car radio as I pulled up. The anxiety that had filled me that morning melted into a determination to seize the year that lie ahead.
So take this start (or restart) as an opportunity to find your place and embrace the unknown in all of its uncomfortable, quirky forms.
Thanks for reading,
Alexander Popichak

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

I've come to look for America...

I feel like the Simon and Garfunkel song they're currently using in Volkswagen commercials fits my bizarre mood at the moment - it reminds me of a wanderlust and paranoia that I don't actually possess but kind of want. Well, more the wanderlust than the paranoia but I digress.

It's been a while since I last wrote here. I've tried a few times to take a crack at writing again, and while journalistically I've been fairly successful, the personal writing that I used to have a good groove at I've gotten decidedly, well, rusty. So here's hoping that draft number 5 sticks!

I count myself incredibly lucky. As much as I despise long stretches of active travelling (being on a physical plane, bus or train for 6+ hours), I do really love to travel. I've been able to do a lot of that recently. I've been to Washington, D.C. twice (for inauguration-related things), New York City twice (WPPJ and the Globe),  Detroit, Michigan (the Globe) and most recently, Manchester England. 

I've learned an awful lot about travel and myself these past few months. For one: I don't much mind living out of a suitcase at this juncture. 

Also, if I travel with a camera I take a lot of pictures. Hundreds. Only about 10% of these ever see the light of day, and travelling more has built a backlog of images, but nonetheless they exist for me to mess with as I see fit. 

I don't remember how I got into photography, but I do know that I've been getting progressively better and smarter with it. I prefer landscapes to people (which shouldn't surprise anyone who knows me well) and I prefer vivid color and depth to brightness. 

There's a fine line between documenting a trip and actually experiencing that trip. There is no way to non-intrusively document a trip. For the most recent trip to England, I attempted to do so by isolating my intense photography to two days and keeping a personal audio recorder with me to record little things like the tramlines and the behind-the-scenes of a radio show.

I should probably explain why I was in Manchester. I was in a group of eight Point Park students (3 animation students, 5 broadcast students and 2 equally displaced and confused professors) and went to study radio in the UK as well as seek a cultural exchange. It was a ten day trip most noted by the outside for day 8 when some soulless fellow decided to detonate a bomb outside an Ariana Grande concert. 

I've said my peace in the media swarm that followed, and I maintain that I personally don't add anything to this story. To me, my 10 day stint in Manchester was a wonderful cultural exchange where I met some amazing people - like Tom Hinkley who works with Shock Radio, or Samantha Potter who was on a two week intensive with the BBC, or Geoff McQueen, a fascinating lecturer from Scotland who served as our general guide throughout the Manchester Experience. 

I consider myself incredibly lucky: I've been afforded the opportunity to travel to some amazing places for minimal expense (DC both times, NYC the second time, and Detroit were completely paid for by the University). I'm now working a summer job with Forsythe Mini Golf as well as at an internship with 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh's NPR News Station. 

And I'm not satisfied, or remotely comfortable. Which I consider a blessing. A wise man once challenged me to get out of my comfort zone. Never too far, but far enough that it's something new. In that case, it was camping with the scouts. Which led to a New York City trip 8 years ago. And I have kept moving forward since. 

I have this philosophy on life wherein if I'm comfortable either I'm not trying hard enough or there's something amazing about to happen. 

I consider myself lucky: I've created two radio shows, a television show, planned four floor events as a resident educator, and a 50th anniversary event for a newspaper that I have no business heading just yet but am anyway. 

I start getting super introspective during the summer, because for once things slow down a little. I've always had trouble properly relaxing, but I feel like I'm getting a little better with that.

I'm not sure where I'm going next, but frankly I welcome that unknown.