I’m a sucker for a great metaphor. But metaphors need fact checking.
So when I decided to name my new journalistic mission Michael Schulder’s Wavemaker, which debuts at this very moment, I called an esteemed oceanographer I’ve gotten to know over the years.
Her name is Sarah Oktay and she runs the Nantucket Field Station of The University of Massachusetts.
“Sarah,” I asked. “I want to make waves in journalism. Perhaps I can model my approach after the way waves are produced at sea. Tell me, Dr. Oktay, how are waves made?”
“It usually starts with some kind of breeze,” Dr.Oktay told me. Wind is a fluid, she explained. (I didn’t realize that.)
When the wind blows over the water these two fluids create friction. Over time “the wind establishes a grip on the water which creates a wave.”
When thinking of wind on the water Dr. Oktay suggested that I imagine a giant hand brushing against it.
OK – but I, Michael Schulder, do not have a giant hand. I’m just one guy. A lone journalist. Can I create a strong enough breeze to create a big wave?
“A wave can be created by a light breeze,” Dr. Oktay explained, “provided it blows long enough.”
That, I can do. I have been known to take a story idea, and keep pursuing it for a long time, until it breaks news.
But I have big aspirations. I’m not looking to create just any wave. I’m aiming to create the kind of wave that has the force you see in the accompanying photo.
I stumbled upon that photo, just as I stumble upon most of the stories I love to tell, serendipitously.
It was taken by a surfer in Hawaii named Clark Little. He’s not a one shot wonder. He has taken loads of magnificent wave photos that can only be shot by a guy who doesn’t mind getting pounded by the surf. I had to call him.
It all started, he told me, when his wife asked him to get a good photo of a wave that they could put on their wall.
So surfer Little got a waterproof camera. And he got hooked.
Look at the power of the wave he captured on his camera.
It helps explain what Dr. Oktay described to me was a wave’s ability to transfer energy over long distances. Another central Wavemaker mission!
I showed the wave photo to Dr. Oktay without telling her that it was shot in Hawaii.
She guessed correctly that it was a deep Pacific wave. Why?
“The translucence. The transparency. It’s extremely clear water. Not a lot of algae. Crystal clear.”
What more could you want from a journalist. A powerful, transparent force of nature transmitting energy over long distances to power the minds of curious people with knowledge and insight and perspectives they can’t find anywhere else.
I could tell you much more about waves. But I need to take a deep breath. I must sustain the breeze.