The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Dying on Deadline: Fear, Loathing and a Frank Confession of Professional Failure

Posted on | July 11, 2011 | 65 Comments

Barbara Espinosa of American Freedom called Sunday evening, wanting to take out an ad for her “Hair on Fire” radio show on KFNX 1100-AM in Phoenix. She sent me the graphic, and when I saw it my thought was: Great. A two-column square.

Because I don’t have a two-column space anywhere on the sidebars, nor do I have the necessary code skills to customize the template and create such a space.

Failure. Again.

It was probably either Vince Lombardi or George S. Patton who said, “Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you . . . a loser.”

Being an intensively competitive personality is a sine qua non of success in the news business, which is why every newsroom is a seething cauldron of thwarted ambition. Nobody goes into journalism aspiring to be the guy who proofreads obituaries, but somebody has to do that job, and if you don’t strive constantly to win, win, win in the news business, you’re gonna lose, lose, lose until one day you find yourself proofing obits.

Failure cannot be rationalized or excused or tolerated. If you are assigned a story and fail to get the story — if you miss the deadline — the time you spent pursuing that story cannot be retrieved. Your salary that day was just wasted money for the publisher. It therefore behooves you to avoid failure, to view every assignment as a do-or-die mission: Get the story, and get it in time, or get the hell out of the business.

Lately, the do-or-die has been more about dying than doing, and the question that has haunted me in recent weeks is this: Am I suffering from depression — a mood disorder — or is my sense of utter failure an objective assessment of reality?

“Oh, that’s just the Irish in you!” said Barbara Espinosa, when I shared my increasing sense of frustrated desperation with her during our phone call Sunday night. And I would very much like to believe her.

Blaming some temperamental Gaelic personality quirk for the overwhelming onset of the Dark Mood would be a convenient excuse, but it still would be merely an excuse. And winners don’t need excuses.

What do I mean by “failure”? On Thursday, I scrambled the jets to push the story about KTTV’s stunning in-depth report on Janice Hahn’s gang-intervention program. Let the people who got phone calls from me that afternoon testify what a frenetic whirlwind of action I was Thursday. And for a while, my efforts seemed to be successful — “seemed” being the operative word.

Dave Weigel, Breitbart TV, Big Government — I cite three big names on a long list. Not only did my post about the KTTV report get Instalanched, but Da Tech Guy got Instalanched, too. An Army of Davids was marching triumphant and yet . . . no Memeorandum thread. As I remarked on Twitter, I’d never seen that much “blog weight” on a story without it triggering a Memeorandum thread.

Those who’ve read “How to Get a Million Hits” know Rule 3 and, although I’ve never fully explained my theory of the Memeorandum algorithm, many are the bloggers who have succeeded by following my advice: Use Memeorandum as a source for blog fodder, link or hat-tip Memeorandum on stories, aggregate the other blogs also commenting on the same story and, sooner or later, your own blogging wll begin to be linked at Memeorandum.

Memeorandum itself doesn’t throw a lot of traffic. It’s not Instapundit or Ace of Spades or Michelle Malkin. But if dozens of bloggers are using it as a source — and it’s an extremely valuable tool  — it offers extraordinarily effortless possibilities for coordinating collaborative coverage.

The failure to trigger a Memeorandum thread for the KTTV news report on Democrat Janice Hahn’s criminal allies was inexplicable. And this crushing failure was emphasized when I saw Zombie’s report on the CA-36 special election at Pajamas Media.

Zombie was in the district, getting paid to cover the election on the ground, and I was not. And this was also entirely my fault.

Hadn’t I once done freelance reporting for Pajamas Media? Indeed, I had —  from the DNC convention to the 9/12 March on Washington in 2009 — and evidently had been “weighed in the balance and found wanting,” because they stopped calling.

UPDATE: When I was in California last year, I dropped by the L.A. offices of Pajamas Media and had a long, cordial chat with Roger Simon. He assured me of his continued friendship, but didn’t express any interest in having me write for them again, which is kind of a Gigantic Clue that my contributions were of absolutely no value to PJM.

Being a self-proclaimed capitalist, such a clear signal from the market — that there is no demand for one’s services — is the kind of message one cannot long afford to ignore. Whatever it is that I am selling as a professional journalist, PJM can get better value elsewhere. And if my work as a reporter provided no value-added to PJM, why should any other news organization pay me to report?

It’s strictly business.”

UPDATE II: Da Tech Guy also called Sunday to check on me — after I’d Tweeted about being “in a black pit of depression” — and I hastened to assure him that, however objectively disastrous my professional failures might be, there was nothing to be concerned about, nor anything anyone could do to help “cheer me up.”

OK, I’m lying: The tip-jar hitters helped cheer me up.

So my deepest thanks to VJ in Virginia, Andrew in Ontario, Ruth in California, Jeff in Walla Walla, Barry in Missouri, Jennifer in West Palm Beach, Philip in Englewood, Mike in El Segundo, Leslie in Oklahoma and even to my buddy Ladd Ehlinger Jr.

Evidently there is some demand for my services, after all, but the frustrating sense of failure still nags me. Let me ask readers: If what I’m doing is actually worth doing, shouldn’t my phone be ringing off the hook with offers from people wanting to pay me to do it for them?

In one of those lemons-to-lemonade calculations, the only answer I can find is this: God must be trying to tell me something.

Instead of having me work for someone else — a hired hand — it is evidently the Divine Plan that I should be out here on my own, flying solo, doing whatever work comes to hand, exercising independent judgment as a sort of one-man band of journalism.

Either that, or it’s time to go back to driving a forklift.

UPDATE III: In the familar category, “Woodward and Bernstein Never Had to Deal With Crap Like This,” I just spent three hours on family chauffeur duty, which included about an hour of getting lost on my way to picking up my son’s friend Chad.

There are no sick days or holidays in the blogosphere, no two weeks of annual paid vacation, no staff to cover for you when you take a day off, no way to hang a sign in the window, “Gone Fishing.” There’s no one to talk to, no local pub where bloggers meet up after work to gripe about the crappy working conditions and low pay.

So what I did, while I was out on the road trying to find my son’s friend Chad, was to call a couple of blogger buddies to talk shop. And this only amplifies the objective assessment of the situation (i.e., it sucks) because everyone is equally miserable, if not more so. There is no complaint you can make to another blogger that will not be answered with “Hey, sorry to hear about your arm getting chewed off by a tiger shark, but if you think you got it bad . . .” And then they explain their own source of misery, which is guaranteed to be worse than whatever happened to you.

If any of us had any real aptitude for success, we wouldn’t be blogging, would we? But I digress . . .

Jeff Goldstein linked up on the Ann Althouse situation, and Leather Penguin grabs hold for a thorough fisking.


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