Saturday, December 08, 2007

A small splash of cold water

It's an interesting time to be in the media industry - come to think of it, it's always been an interesting time, as in the old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." My entire career has been spent waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe I'm a jinx or maybe I picked the wrong industry, because my newsrooms have been frequently haunted by the spectres of efficiency and "this is just a business decision; you understand."

These spectres haunted the electronic media while I was part of it, with mega-mergers making local newsrooms less necessary, especially in radio - if you hook up to a satellite network, what do you need local faces for? In recent years they've lingered over newspapers. A week doesn't go by when some paper or another cites shrinking ad sales, lets some people go or hands out early retirements, and promises to do more with less. I've been fortunate - or maybe not - I've always been among those left behind to do more with less. Strangely, one person never quite can cover as much news as two people can, so we end up doing less with less. Peculiar, huh?

I am ever the optimist, and we recently had a small eruption that spilled over in other places when a commenter was seen (perhaps unfairly) as pouring cold water over my enthusiasm, but I have to caution PintofStout, who wrote in response to my Friday musing:
"I have actually thought about submitting stuff to local papers/websites and trying to swing into the traditional journalism route in order to write for a living."
The problem: We live in an era where more and more media, including local papers and Web sites, are inviting people to provide news tips, write guest columns and submit photographs. It's called community journalism, but the only compensation for all of this content is the joy of having your stuff appear in the newspaper or on the radio or on the Web.

The work of traditional journalists, people who get paid to write and take pictures, has been devalued by this trend. Enough people do enjoy sharing their views and photos that they don't care whether they're paid, and it's great to see more voices in the local paper. I just want to caution PoS and others that you may find that the path to writing for a living is narrower than ever.

The good news is the path has not been closed, and in fact no less an authority than Steve Pavlina has written just this week that working for free is a terrific foot in the door in any endeavor, including writing. Pavlina also has a couple of recent gems about how we're all self-employed and what to do about your conscience when it nags you about your wage-slave job. And the best news is the World Wide Web offers seemingly unlimited opportunities to expose your writing to the world - heck, that's how I got my long-dormant and soon-in-self-print novel out to the world.

So I'm not being discouraging in the end - I'm just cautioning you that the local paper may not be a source of FRNs. On the other hand, it just might - so give it a try. My advice is simply expect the worst so you can be pleasantly surprised when they offer you authentic compensation.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous CK said...

I had not realized that my comments had started a bit of commotion.
In a follow up comment, I had encouraged you to re-read the speeches of Toohey and Mouch as they represent that quotidian. But they also represent something else something drabber. They represent the attempt to make the quotidian the same as the exalted; to erase the feeling of wonder and exaltation one has at ones success or the admiration one might feel for someone elses brilliance and success.
In retrospect, I probably should have just cheer-leaded for you.
Go BW GO!!
But being two clever by half I tried to give warning in a writerly manner.
Now as to the why of it, I have been reading your blog for over a year, I have seen you start things and then amble away from them. What you had started was good but it went nowhere.
And as I also said in a followup comment, I was not intending to throw cold water or subtly shiv your aspirations; I was just giving a warning of what to expect when you actually go for it and start to succeed. So you have had two weeks at it, how goes the effort?

10:34 AM  
Anonymous lewlew said...

I've tried the stringer route. I was so happy to see my name in lights, so to speak, but so bummed to find out that was as far as the compensation went.

The paper was delighted to have me on board, for free. I would have been happy to get my foot in the door doing work for free as long as compensation would follow. Not so, I'm afraid. When I asked about eventual compensation, the conversation ended.

But like you've said. B.W. it's worth a try. Just be persistent.
Yak Attack

1:38 PM  
Blogger PintofStout said...

Thanks for the warning, B.W., but I'm pessimistic by nature and figured as much. Unfortunately, I'm also an idealist and tell myself that being heard and making some sort of difference would be worthwhile.

Blogging has been rewarding to a point. I write better than I did two years ago and my thoughts are much more clear to me. Whatever success I feel with it, though, just makes me want to try for more. I don't even have a solid definition of success for blogging, but just go by feel; some days it feels worthwhile, some days I don't bother.

Thanks for the head's up!

10:55 PM  

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