who is Nate Thayer thinking so highly of himself and better than us? This makes sense; we like to think ourselves better than others, not the other way around. We also really don’t want to think about how working hard =/= success. It scares us and once you add some jealous, thus in short, we decide that Thayer is uppity, unrealistic, ungrateful, and possibly lazy.
There’s a larger issue here, and I’ve addressed it before.
The world is filled with people who think they are Writers because they bang away at a keyboard for hours. I wish good luck to everyone. I do.
But none of the most deeply thwarted or unrealized ambition — and there is enough of it to light L.A. for a century if converted to electrical power — justifies trashing someone who has actually succeeded in the field. Someone who (!) chose to turn down an offer of $125,000 from The Atlantic to turn out six stories a year.
Dozens, if not hundreds of writers I know, would kill for such an opportunity and will never ever get it. Not because we suck. Because it’s one of the very few well-paid spots ever available to any writer, with a Big Name Magazine that many people would also kill to even write for and will also never get the chance.
Whaddya mean I can’t get it?
This is a deeply un-American thing to say. It flies in the fantasy that we are all — yes, we are! — such special little snowflakes that we will all get a ribbon or a prize or a trophy just for showing up and trying really really hard.
It does not happen that way. It is just not going to happen for many people.
This week on Facebook I’ve watched a former journo crow with (well-deserved, hard-won) delight that she is now casting major stars for her network television pilot. Do I wish I were in her shoes? Hell, yes!
But I’m not. And hating and trashing her for achieving something I’d reallyreallyreally like to have, but do not have and may never ever have?
So those who are busy sucking their thumbs and clutching their blankies and hissing that Thayer is possibly
“uppity, unrealistic, ungrateful, and possibly lazy.”
need help, my friends.
He wants to earn a living using the skills he’s spent decades acquiring.
The latest American National Magazine finalists are in, and the list is — as usual — heavy with the names of male writers, whose work appears predominantly in the Big Name Magazines, the ones that every seriously ambitious writer here eventually, (or even initially) aspires to: The New Yorker, The New York Times,Rolling Stone, Harper’s, Esquire and The Atlantic, to name a few.
Here’s a piece in the American monthly magazine Mother Jones on this issue:
And now the problem has once again reared its head: On Tuesday, when the 2012 National Magazine Award finalists were announced, exactly zero women were nominated in the big brass-ring categories—reporting, features, profiles, essays, and columns. (Some women did get nominations in other categories, most encouragingly two nods in public interest journalism, although more typically for pieces about breast-cancer economics and “mommy tucks.”)
Erin Belieu, founder of a group whose goal is to encourage women writers, VIDA, tells MJ:
A friend of mine defines this kind of intellectual segregation as the “tits and nether bits” ghetto, a place in which women only speak to other women. Meantime, men are allowed and encouraged to speak to whomever they want. These issues and questions are ones we at VIDA hope editors may think through in the future when assigning articles to reporters. And we also want to give women writers the confidence to say, “Hey, I can write about whatever I want. I have authority. I have expertise. I have a unique perspective as a person, first and foremost.”
I’ve seen this firsthand, having worked in New York as a journalist since 1989. Read the cool magazines and year after year the majority of bylines — and their editors — are men tackling the serious, smart, lengthy stories — of 3,500 or 5,000 or even 25,000 words.
Women’s magazines very rarely offer that sort of real estate to any writer, simplifying most stories into 1,000 to 2,000 words, barely enough to scratch the surface of a complex story.
And, frankly, many of us do not wish to write primarily or exclusively about health, nutrition, kids, celebrities, sex or marriage — the go-to evergreens of women’s magazines. It’s somehow (insultingly) assumed that women only want to write about womens-y stuff.
Which means that tough, complicated stories, the kind that only get coverage (and budgets to do it right) in the Big Name Books are hard to get your hands on. Unless you get the assignment — and enough pay to do the work well and enough room to tell the story intelligently — you’ve got nothing to show in order to win the next challenging assignment.
As much as this may horrify some of you, I did some of my best magazine work for Penthouse magazine, including the story that led to my first book.
Men and women writers all know why this issue is so important — being published at this elite level of exposure matters, a lot. Once your work has appeared a few times, sometimes even once, in the Big Name Books, book, film and TV agents come a-calling and other editors add you to their Rolodex. You need those names on your book jacket to prove you’ve got some heft, that your ideas are worth $26 and a few hours of a reader’s time and attention.
You need that level of challenge, to prove to yourself and to editors, agents and publishers, you’ve got the goods.
Being ghetto-ized into writing about mascara or breast-feeding won’t cut it.
Ambitious writers — of any gender — all want, and need, that street cred.
This is a tricky subject. Bringing up the women’s question — I mean the women’s fiction question — is not unlike mentioning the national debt at a dinner party. Some people will get annoyed and insist it’s been talked about too much and inaccurately, and some will think it really matters. When I refer to so-called women’s fiction, I’m not applying the term the way it’s sometimes used: to describe a certain type of fast-reading novel, which sets its sights almost exclusively on women readers and might well find a big, ready-made audience. I’m referring to literature that happens to be written by women. But some people, especially some men, see most fiction by women as one soft, undifferentiated mass that has little to do with them.
It takes some serious cojones to keep on pushing when you get the distinct impression your voice, ideas and perspective — whether “female” or not — isn’t wanted.
I don’t care if you take notes on a cocktail napkin or in a fancy-schmancy Moleskine, but I do care deeply about the basics of classic, old-school, shoe-leather journalism. Call it hand-wringing or navel-gazing. Whatever. As someone who’s devoted her life to these values, I care a lot about this issue — why we do what we do and why that still matters, the specific medium in which you find it and read or listen to it be damned. Anyone who wants to know what’s really going in their world needs to care as well.
He profiles two conservative bloggers and how they so effectively spun the “debate” about Sonia Sotomayor.
For his part, Sexton says: “It is a beautiful thing to live in this country. It’s overwhelming and fantastic, really, that an ordinary citizen, with just a little bit of work, can help shape the national debate. Once you get a taste of it, it’s hard to resist.”
Of the two bloggers, Bowden writes:
I would describe their approach as post-journalistic. It sees democracy, by definition, as perpetual political battle. The blogger’s role is to help his side. Distortions and inaccuracies, lapses of judgment, the absence of context, all of these things matter only a little, because they are committed by both sides, and tend to come out a wash. Nobody is actually right about anything, no matter how certain they pretend to be. The truth is something that emerges from the cauldron of debate. No, not the truth: victory, because winning is way more important than being right. Power is the highest achievement. There is nothing new about this. But we never used to mistake it for journalism. Today it is rapidly replacing journalism, leading us toward a world where all information is spun, and where all “news” is unapologetically propaganda.
In this post-journalistic world, the model for all national debate becomes the trial, where adversaries face off, representing opposing points of view. We accept the harshness of this process because the consequences in a courtroom are so stark; trials are about assigning guilt or responsibility for harm. There is very little wiggle room in such a confrontation, very little room for compromise—only innocence or degrees of guilt or responsibility. But isn’t this model unduly harsh for political debate? Isn’t there, in fact, middle ground in most public disputes? Isn’t the art of politics finding that middle ground, weighing the public good against factional priorities? Without journalism, the public good is viewed only through a partisan lens, and politics becomes blood sport.
Television loves this, because it is dramatic. Confrontation is all. And given the fragmentation of news on the Internet and on cable television, Americans increasingly choose to listen only to their own side of the argument, to bloggers and commentators who reinforce their convictions and paint the world only in acceptable, comfortable colors. Bloggers like Richmond and Sexton, and TV hosts like Hannity, preach only to the choir. Consumers of such “news” become all the more entrenched in their prejudices, and ever more hostile to those who disagree. The other side is no longer the honorable opposition, maybe partly right; but rather always wrong, stupid, criminal, even downright evil. Yet even in criminal courts, before assigning punishment, judges routinely order presentencing reports, which attempt to go beyond the clash of extremes in the courtroom to a more nuanced, disinterested assessment of a case. Usually someone who is neither prosecution nor defense is assigned to investigate. In a post-journalistic society, there is no disinterested voice. There are only the winning side and the losing side.
There’s more here than just an old journalist’s lament over his dying profession, or over the social cost of losing great newspapers and great TV-news operations. And there’s more than an argument for the ethical superiority of honest, disinterested reporting over advocacy. Even an eager and ambitious political blogger like Richmond, because he is drawn to the work primarily out of political conviction, not curiosity, is less likely to experience the pleasure of finding something new, or of arriving at a completely original, unexpected insight, one that surprises even himself. He is missing out on the great fun of speaking wholly for himself, without fear or favor. This is what gives reporters the power to stir up trouble wherever they go. They can shake preconceptions and poke holes in presumption. They can celebrate the unnoticed and puncture the hyped. They can, as the old saying goes, afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. A reporter who thinks and speaks for himself, whose preeminent goal is providing deeper understanding, aspires even in political argument to persuade, which requires at the very least being seen as fair-minded and trustworthy by those—and this is the key—who are inclined to disagree with him. The honest, disinterested voice of a true journalist carries an authority that no self-branded liberal or conservative can have. “For a country to have a great writer is like having another government,” Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote. Journalism, done right, is enormously powerful precisely because it does not seek power. It seeks truth. Those who forsake it to shill for a product or a candidate or a party or an ideology diminish their own power. They are missing the most joyful part of the job.
What do you think?
Do you care whether the stuff you read is reported from a position of putative objectivity or fairness? Do reporters’ or writers’ motives (or who’s signing their checks) matter to you?