Posted on | July 10, 2012 | 11 Comments
“In the context of journalism, here, we are dealing with a new kind of ‘lead’ – the Symbiotic Trapezoid Quote. The Columbia Journalism Review will never sanction it; at least not until the current editor dies of brain syphilis, and probably not even then.
“Do we have a libel suit on our hands?
“Probably not, I think, because nobody in his right mind would take a thing like that seriously – and especially not that gang of senile hags who run the Columbia Journalism Review, who have gone to great lengths in every issue during the past year or so to stress, very heavily, that nothing I say should be taken seriously.”
– Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing in Washington: The Boys in the Bag,” Rolling Stone, July 4, 1974 (collected in The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time)
The best possible career advice anybody could give ambitious young journalists is this: Get the hell out of the journalism racket.
Go to law school. Start dealing methamphetamine. Go do something — anything — where the work-to-reward ratio doesn’t require a masochist’s appetite for constant humiliation.
However, if you’re one of those mule-headed young fools who refuses to heed such wisdom, or if you’re someone who pursues a career in journalism because you have no aptitude for any honest vocation, please keep in mind these two invaluable pieces of advice:
- Quit your bitching and get to work. Nothing is less interesting than journalists whining about the low pay, wretched hours and miserable working conditions of their trade.
- Ignore the Columbia Journalism Review.
There is no greater waste of time than sitting around reading a magazine about journalism, edited by swine who are self-evidently incapable of earning an honest dollar, and who therefore attach themselves to the teats of an Ivy League university journalism department.
The only thing worse that reading CJR is writing for CJR, and I don’t know how Ben Adler will ever overcome the stigma of having contributed an article to that monument to uselessness:
In 2009, an editor for a new website called The Faster Times, which sought to be “an edgier Huffington Post,” emailed to ask if I was interested in a part-time job. I didn’t know it was possible to be edgier than HuffPo, but their payment scheme was certainly more innovative. Whereas HuffPo paid staff reporters the old-fashioned way, with a salary and benefits, while paying freelancers nothing at all, The Faster Times was creating a third way. Instead of staff writers, it had contributors who spent roughly 10 hours a week blogging and aggregating news on a given topic. In exchange, they would receive a majority of the revenue generated by ads sold on the pages they created. It took me a while to realize the editor was suggesting that I promise to perform a regular amount of work in exchange for no guaranteed payment at all.
Actually, it’s not a bad article, and it’s a crying shame that Adler couldn’t find a respectable venue willing to publish it. The plight of young freelancers in the New Media environment must indeed be dire, when someone like Adler — a promising writer who seems to have real talent — is so desperate that he would be willing to let his byline appear in CJR.
Deperate young freelancers who are unwilling to augment their incomes by dealing dangerous narcotics can probably be excused for such gestures of despair as writing for CJR.
If Dave Weigel hadn’t been growing potent hybrid sinsemilla in his D.C. townhouse for the past few years, he never would have been able to survive on the pittance he gets from those thieving vultures at Slate, and Alex Pareene’s status as East Coast kingpin of the Cambodian opium traffic was the only way he could afford to write for ripoff outfits like Gawker and Salon. Adler examines the grim alternatives:
Today’s aspiring magazine writers might be better advised to start their own websites, promote them on their Twitter feeds, freelance for no paycheck, and hope for good things to happen.
These days, you might start out by writing an unpaid piece for HuffPo or The Awl (and hope it goes viral), or blogging 12 times a day, as a job I interviewed for at Curbed last year required. You might be working from home, without an editor to mentor you. You might be earning no money, or never knowing what you will earn, month to month.
Writing an unpaid piece for HuffPo? My God! This is the most disreputable thing any journalist could ever do, short of joining the editorial staff of CJR or informing the DEA that Reason magazine editor Matt Welch controls the crack cocaine trade in Anacostia. Resourcefulness is required for today’s young journalists, Adler says:
The new approach has worked so far for Emma Carmichael, a 2010 Vassar graduate who moved to New York hoping to break into journalism. While working days at a public-relations firm, she wrote unpaid pieces for The Awl. She credits those clips with helping her land an unpaid internship at Deadspin, Gawker Media’s sports blog. That led to a job as a paid staff writer at Deadspin, and she has since been promoted to managing editor of Gawker.
Deadspin is another plantation in Nick Denton’s blog-slave empire, and “managing editor of Gawker” is a title like SS-Obergruppenführer — a gig with a few perks and a certain amount of status, but unlikely to endear you to the victims of your crimes against humanity. Exactly how a graduate of Vassar (annual tuition $45,580) could be compelled to pursue that kind of gruesome work, Adler doesn’t bother to explain, but he does point out the most obvious problem facing commandants of these online concentration camps:
Meanwhile, every editor of a website with one of these new payment models acknowledges a common quandary: People are willing to wax philosophical or crack jokes for free, but not to do real reporting. “One of the gaps we have is that I would like to have more reporting,” says [former Gawker editor Choire] Sicha [who now runs another site]. “The scale of the economics doesn’t work for that, necessarily.”
And indeed, why should any reasonably ambitious writer “do real reporting” for peanuts, when they could make a lot more money cooking moonshine whiskey or selling bootleg oxycontin? But there’s probably no need to drag Nick Gillespie into this argument . . .
My point is that there is nothing wrong with 21st-century journalism except (a) the continued existence of the Columbia Journalism Review and (b) the shortage of good, cheap mescaline. And if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. IYKWIMAITYD.