The city’s media landscape is changing, and like everything else, people are figuring out where they fit in. Making It Pay is a problem affecting everyone from the New York Times to the most grass roots ‘zines. Everyone knows this.
In addition, there’s hardly anything more boring than writers writing about the state of writing. It’s hard to do without sounding bitter, self-serving or above your station, and why should anyone care?
So without a hint of irony, here I go. I write for many things, sometimes getting paid, more often not, but with yesterday’s Liverpool Contra piece it was actually articulated – for the first time in absolutely ages – why on earth someone who can string a sentence together should be able to make a living off it. To be perfectly honest, I’d forgotten it was okay to even think so – and I am supposed to be a professional).
But there are some things it seems only right to defend. That site with the dog racing ads popping up in your face actually works hard to be able to pay its contributors and is trying to find that balance to make interesting writing profitable, from experienced writers who are well worth reading. The bombardment with emails and ads is annoying, true, but it is navigating uncharted waters in its bid to survive, and as a news source it is impartial, educated, entertaining and trustworthy.
It’s the new blood, the press release copy-and-paste brigade, that can be a worry. Because if that’s all you’ve ever known of ‘producing content’, why change the habit of a lifetime? And if the ad revenue comes in anyway, and nobody seems to be able to tell the difference between an advertorial and editorial, why bother even trying to make the distinction?
I blog and do not do it to make money, because I’m an idiot. Even if I could, I’m an idiot, and I fret what impact people giving me money would have on what I’d be compelled to write about them (again, this is something many new mags and sites do not seem aware of having to take into consideration).
Saying that, in recent times I made a decision that if something I saw was really bad – really bad – instead of going to town (which is always good fun), unless it was a massive event or tickets were really expensive, I’d just drop the review entirely. That has served me well because of my niche, and paths crossing and all that. As much as everyone loves a good hatchet job (there is even an annual national award dedicated to the form), it’s easier said than done in a town this size. But then the question is raised – is my role now one of supporting the scene I have become part of, or writing as a critic with the best interests of paying audiences in mind? Interesting question (for me I suppose, not anybody else).
This, of course, is what made the Contra piece so bloody exciting. Playing it safe has become the norm.
But actually, another thing worth playing devil’s advocate about is the city’s networking circuit, if only to put over a different point of view. Journalists – especially and particularly those in a strong position, doing their job right – seriously do underestimate its importance to those people trying to build up a reputation and find clients, and getting around in such a manner is a part of that.
Established journos on the papers (and the very rare ilk of online sites who won’t be spoon fed), don’t need you and will never need you – there’ll always be someone else to write about or get a free drink off – so tend to be unsympathetic to how people trying to make a living really need to work hard to get out there and bring in clients to keep afloat, something networking can, in the right situations, help to provide.
Who you know? ‘Twas ever thus. But networking is still a way of getting ahead that can be beneficial – at least on the surface. Putting names to faces is an incredibly important thing. But as Dave’s piece touched on though, it is not always the most talented people shouting the loudest.
My last job involved all sorts of networking, from 6am breakfasts to the dreaded ‘sexy’ kind. And, as it happened, none of it was bad at all. It was just groups of people, chatting about what they do, swapping cards and hoping it might be relevant to somebody at some point. There is nothing wrong with that. Occasionally you’d end up at some awkward do with some silly bugger giving you the hard sell, but – in all seriousness – the one with the cringey name was actually one of the most enjoyable of its kind. I might have been a bit drunk. That always helps.
However, all this niceness begetting niceness of course means it’s hard – really hard – to stick your head above the parapet and call bullshit, which is one of Dave’s main points. I have lots of people in my circle of contacts that I like, admire, am even inspired by their work ethic, and would never begrudge their success… but have no idea how they are really making a living – or such a seemingly good one.
I wouldn’t say that to their faces, though. I might need them one day. So it goes on.