A year ago, Tumblr did something unprecedented — we created an editorial team of experienced journalists and editors assigned to cover Tumblr as a living, breathing community. The team’s mandate was to tell the stories of Tumblr creators in a truly thoughtful way — focusing on the people, their…
So unprecedented Myspace did it like five years ago. Sad to see any journalism project go, though, and I wonder why Karp decided reinforcing Tumblr stars’ traffic and relevance (and devotion to the site) via “authentic” coverage is a bad idea.
I wish I could say my night ended with Snoop Lion, but at 5 a.m., I find myself wrapping up my review on the hotel’s second floor as Kyle edits photos. “Is there a show we can go to right now?” I’m joking. I’m not joking. 45 minutes later, we’re at the W, in line for the KGSR taping. I thought 8:30 a.m. crowds were flat-out bonkers: turns out, they’d been there all day. The first 300 people through the door get free breakfast tacos: we do not get free breakfast tacos. The KGSR line seems to be an older crowd, the kind that’s crazy like a fox for the day’s main attractions: Steve Earle, on about four delirious hours later, and Third Eye Blind at 9. Third Eye Blind. For this and breakfast tacos, 300-plus people are in line at 5:45 a.m. at a boutique hotel. Kyle and I spend $10 on the stupid tacos and think seriously about waiting it out to hear “Jumper.”
My SXSW diary is live on Thought Catalog. It includes a Zombies performance, true love, indie rock, physical limits and a bad lasagna. Photos, too.
Still, it was great to hear these issues being wrestled with. Even better was hearing Zoladz end the session by pondering whether bragging of omnivorous listening is in fact the new snobbery. (One used to jockey for hip points by claiming one was first to hear Hüsker Dü play for six people at a small club in the ’80s; now it’s bragging that you really, really like Ke$ha as much as Grimes.) But best of all was hearing the panelists agree with both me and Grohl that Pitchfork is not only often too narrow in what it choose to review and what it ignores, but that the influential and formerly Chicago-based Webzine is just no darn good as a model for what music criticism should aspire to be. (Plus, editors there are unfamiliar with one of the most basic rules of grammar—the punctuation goes inside the quotation marks. Learn it!)
I’ll post our notes from the panel (Guiltless Pleasures: Imagining a Post-Snob World) when time allows, but two pretty incredible things happen: after we cited Kanye West and Grimes as two examples of post-snob artists, who tap into and transcend genres and traditional audience groups as the biggest rapper in the world and a tiny DIY success, respectively, canonical rock critic Chuck Eddy interrupted us. He wanted to know why we hadn’t cited Ke$ha. (Because Kanye was our “mainstream” example. We later assured him we all liked Ke$ha.) I didn’t recognize him and told him we’d be doing a Q&A in just a few minutes. Turns out Jim DeRogatis, whose work I love and books I own, had shown up too, and had a nice, complimentary chat with Simon and me after. (Lindsay, Skyping in, was back in New York.)
But the point of the panel, which may have gotten lost over the course of our hour-long session, was a journey to the bottom of snobbery as the imposition of taste on others: why it exists now, examples of it in action, why we should get past it, and artists and listeners who are. It wasn’t really a panel about critics, though in retrospect a panel led by three critics inevitably becomes one. Snobbery as we defined it is basically about not being a dick: I don’t think any of us was actively recommending everyone abandon their taste and listen to everything - that’s a form of snobbery, too. Here’s what I think I said in response to one question: “It’s not about Taylor Swift being better than Radiohead. It’s about my love for Taylor Swift being as meaningful as your love for Radiohead.” This got a cheer. This is a long conversation, and I would like to keep having it.
For the record: neither of us said Pitchfork is no darn good. I think they’re mostly great at what they do, or we wouldn’t have had a Pitchfork writer on the panel. But as the lines blur between mainstream and indie and the site’s mission evolves, I would at least like to see them write about Paramore.
But the truth is, in times when I couldn’t sell a pitch to even the smallest of alt-weeklies, my parents were able to help me out with a rent check. If those times had stretched out too long, the worst thing that could have happened was I might have had to move back into their house. I was never going to starve or be homeless for lack of a paycheck.
This is what props up the system of internships, low rates, and writing for “exposure”: the middle- to upper-middle-class parent who can drop $900 for rent money here, or $2,000 for a broker’s fee there, or who can simply co-sign a lease. Their budding writers get breathing room that millions of other mothers and fathers couldn’t imagine being able to provide.
And these children can compare themselves to the really rich kids in publishing, the ones who magically have a downtown apartment and money for drinks, and feel themselves struggling to make it. There they are, in a smelly apartment with roommates, riding the subway, maybe short on cigarette money before payday. They—we—are earning it.
From this spot-on Cord piece, which among other things smartly addresses how class problems underly seemingly racial ones. But I want to get into what he’s written in these paragraphs.
The above describes my initial circumstances as a journalist: my parents paid for college, paid for me to stay in L.A. the summer I interned at Billboard, paid for me to fly to New York to intern at Entertainment Weekly. EW, generously, both paid wages and provided housing for a substantial portion of the internship, but after that I sublet my cousin’s very expensive Upper West Side apartment for two months while I kept working in mid-town. I spent my EW savings on a new laptop, a work expense, which cleaned me out. I lived rent-free for the next year, at my Grandma’s and my parents, during a time in which I finished one final quarter of college, started freelancing, did a paid internship at the L.A. Times and got my first job, first part-time and then quickly full-time at Access Hollywood.
In fall 2008, I moved out of my grandmother’s house and split a shitty two-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood with my friend Nick. My bedroom did not have a real wall, but we did have two parking spaces. I was 23 years old. I’ve paid my own way ever since. I was well-compensated at both my full-time jobs; freelancing is dicier, but doable with my current budget. If I had school debt, any of it, maybe two or three hundred dollars a month, I would be eating ramen for most of my meals, not going to SXSW, and probably not doing the work I love.
The framing of all this is really important: what do writers want? If the goal is, “To be a full-time, paid, professional journalist,” then maybe that means working at the Snoozeville Town-Herald — or the New York Post — instead of pitching thinkpieces on television shows to The Atlantic from your overpriced Brooklyn apartment. I’m an arts journalist. A lot of the people having this discussion are arts journalists or artsy enough - opinion writers, general interest bloggers, etc. What we’re doing is allegedly fun — more so than being a newspaper beat reporter, a job that still exists in most cities in America, even ones that aren’t New York. If you have written an essay about a television show and been paid for it, and I have, the bar on which you get to complain about your career rises about 10 feet. We should all be aware that going into this was a trade-off.
Being a journalist is more like starting an indie rock band than not: the competition is ridiculous, the start-up costs (let’s count both touring and recording) are formidable and even if you’re successful, the ceiling presses downward like an Indiana Jones death trap. Your product is given away for free on the Internet and generally stolen, by YouTube uploaders or Huffington Post editorial assistants. But you also get to be in an indie rock band (or write about them), and that feels as good as money does a lot of the time. Otherwise we’d all be in law school — and I can name you a half-dozen writer colleagues of mine who are. We could stand to learn something from musicians who’ve realized that playing music isn’t enough: you’re a business, and you have to run it for yourself.
The issue is not “Should writers be paid,” Christ. The waters - from 50-year-old veterans to J-school grads to fashion interns to Apple bloggers to the schmucks giving away breaking news for free on Twitter - are unbelievably muddy. There’s no answer that fits all of them — everyone has to decide for themselves what their goals are and what their time is worth. It’s frankly not my problem if there are 2,000 music bloggers diluting the music review pool: my problem is paying my rent, so I stay focused on that. The issue is “What paid opportunities exist for writers, and how do we expand them and grow a supportive consumer base for interesting, diverse work,” so that career paths don’t have to have multi-year subsidies and actually end in a career, not a couple of good albums before grad school. Let’s think about that instead of editors, their own paychecks semi-secure, bemoaning their freelance budgets and wringing their hands. This isn’t idle talk: I already have one failed Kickstarter behind me. But tomorrow’s another day. Right?
“Chris Brown Blows Up at Parking Valet Over $10 Service Charge” is somehow not an Onion headline today
There’s a misleading debate happening between “exposure” and “paid work.” Being on Twitter is exposure. So is sending an email. That’s not what you want here. It can be worth it to write for free if 1) you need to build a catalog of work that shows you are a serious, experienced professional when editors Google you 2) The byline is impressive enough to include in your email pitch to the editor at the place that will pay you 3) You really want to write the piece and you weren’t doing anything tonight, anyway.
Journalists are “discovered” about as often as bands at SXSW. Put another way, no one is going to read your article on McSweeney’s, but everyone knows what McSweeney’s is. That’s worth something. Work for free if it helps your hustle.
“I am sure you can do what is the common practice these days and just have one of your interns rewrite the story as it was published elsewhere, but hopefully stating that is how the information was acquired. If you ever are interested in a quality story on North Korea and wiling to pay for it, please do give me a shout.”
Appreciate this writer standing up for himself (and the cause). There’s already some backlash about the value of freelancers, but look, either you want to run HuffPo or HipHopReblogs.net or whatever, or you actually want to have a publication that does reporting and (attempted) original thinking. Reporting costs money. No one is asking for a million bucks here (O.K., just Andrew Sullivan), and I’d guess in aggregate, one original reported story does make back what it costs — it just makes it back for the dozens of reblog sites that fair-use it. But everyone plays that game now, so we’re all in this together. The goal, I have to believe, is to generate enough cash to have competent people do the fun/important/interesting/talked-about stuff, even if it doesn’t itself turn a profit - otherwise, why bother? Why not sell shoes? I know plenty of publications are trying, which I appreciate, because they are paying my rent.
*Full disclosure/humblebrag, I write for the Atlantic occasionally and they pay me a fair wage.
Planet Money did back-to-back coverage of The Magazine and Maura Magazine the other day and as someone who is aware of and interested in both, the disparity of the numbers seemed to call for more investigation. In my experiences with UNCOOL and Playlist Club and so on, I’ve gotten somewhere between a 5-10% “conversion” rate on turning my alleged Internet followers into customers; the more followers you have, the lower the rate, probably, because your feed is full of spambots and more casual observers. Maura Magazine is apparently sitting near 1,000 (out of Maura’s 12,000+ Twitter followers, which would align with my experiences), while The Magazine says it has 25,000 — a comparatively astounding number. Marco Arment, the app’s founder, has 50,000 Twitter followers; Marco.org has 25,000 Google Reader subscribers. Not 250,000. 25,000. Enough for every single one of them to have purchased a Magazine subscription. I don’t know how to believe it, but I do. Marco is also the creator of Instapaper, of course, but I don’t believe he’s advertised his side-gig to that app’s multitude of users. Maybe they’ve received an email I don’t know about. What’s the missing link?
Arment walked me through the numbers. He has 25,000 subscribers who pay $1.99 a month. Apple takes a 30 percent cut, leaving Arment about $35,000 a month.
This cost of putting out the magazine is a bit over $20,000 per month. It comes out every two weeks, and each issue costs about $10,000. Roughly $4,000 goes to writers. The rest goes mostly to copy editors, illustrators, photographers and editors.
Via. I am a The Magazine reader (and rejected pitcher). Let’s guess that editor Glenn Fleishman gets half of that extra $6,000 per issue, which would pay him a reasonable $72,000 a year.
A thought on Choire’s thought: It stands to reason that print newspapers and to an extent magazines, with their space limitations and wordcount-oriented budgets and competition with the stories on the next page or column over, would run the shortest, clearest possible headlines. On the Internet, SEO considerations aside, there is no real need to tighten up. “Why” or “Here is” or whatever Gawker/Buzzfeed construction is in vogue this month is more conversational, closer to the way people actually talk than the choppy Hemingway nightmares of Man Bites Dog. It’s no wonder they keep getting clicks. As social sharing continues to replace keyword importance, we’ll only see more of it. Why shouldn’t we?