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).

nathan-barley

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.

  • Dave

    What’s ‘sexy’ networking and where is it happening and how can I participate?

  • Vicky

    I just posted a comment on the previous article as I’d only just read it but as someone who’s found, much the same as you appear to have (being introduced as a journalist *and* a PR tipped me off, heh) that as journalism doesn’t pay, you have to go PR. For entertainment or luxury clients in particular (I worked in sports, theatre, opera and retail PR) this is one of the main ways you get coverage – it’s ALWAYS been that way.

    I have ghost-written columns and interviewed locals appearing in stage plays and even taken the pictures with my Nikon point-and-click and they’ve made it into the paper, because I didn’t give the paper a press release – I called them, pitched the interview, they agreed to it, and I then GAVE them the interview plus pictures all packaged up. It wasn’t anything high-fashion, so the pictures didn’t have to be anything more than the person standing and smiling near a local landmark. My client was happy and the paper didn’t have to do any real work, just supply the space, print the papers, sub edit, distribution (I am being sarcastic about this not being ‘real work’). I worked hard to do that… and so did the publishers. Is this wrong?

    However, the original article and it’s subsequent commentary seems to also allude to the events circuit, where writers (or, at least, people who have the power to get things in the paper) are asked to come along to the opening of an envelope, featuring Pete Price, some people from Hollyoaks and some free cupcakes bullied out of some poor single mother’s kitchen.

    Sorry for my in-eloquence, but I effing HATE this crap. I have a friend who runs a business who was asked by a certain freesheet editor to hand over 200 such items for an event, and when told the price, was told “Oh no, I expect these for free…” When this person was politely told no dice, they said “Do you know who I am?” and also told that the products would pay for themselves in exposure alone. Having more plenty of work at the moment, just by posting pictures of her products on Twitter, Facebook and via word of mouth, my friend laughed and said goodbye to this person. Another new business owner may not be so savvy.

    I suspect that ‘new’ journalists are acquiescent. They are paid around the same as a school leaving admin assistant and their job consists of cutting a press release to fit into an allocated space. You have perhaps one or two big feature writers and long standing news reporters with float columnists who make their money from all over the place, garnering their reputation from having their picture at the top of a column of a respected paper. I’m not naming names because you don’t need them, you can find them in every city, they’re trying to make a living, just like everyone else.

    At 35 I am now sick of the whole industry. It is no longer fun, and no longer holds any passion for me. PR seems to just be a bunch of nobs pretending to be best mates until they get the chance to do each other over. I now have a job I could have had straight out of University. It has some social media elements and some event assisting and web content writing, which I love. It pays reasonably well – and VERY well by Liverpool’s standards, but the kicker is I could have been so much further along had I not gone the long way around to get to it – this thought hit home by the fact that my boss is 7 years younger than me and my boss’s boss’s boss is only 5 years older.

    And um, I never had to undertake any ‘sexy’ networking… wtf is THAT all about?

  • Ninjah

    oh yes, i have also had one of those “dont you know who i am… you cant honestly expect me to pay” moments from a liverpool based magazine editor… needless to say they didnt get what they wanted!

  • NJ Convery

    “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.”

    Surely all the more reason we need the hatchet then?

    A journalist, especially one who is an excellent networker and gets invited to all the fancy events, is in the unique position to pick up the hatchet and get chopping. Boldly flying in the face of the fact that every so often heads (or eyeballs) might roll rather than shying away from calling a spade a spade.