Symbols, Facade, Fame & Reality

Recently I visited a brand new, multi-story Walgreens in the heart of Chicago. The entire store was bustling with customers purchasing everything from makeup to greeting cards to alcohol to sushi. And the loneliest part of the store… the “newsstand”.

As someone who grew up with the idea that writing, literature, newspapers and discussion of the above was a part of the civic fabric, like exiled writers in twentieth century Paris, the deadness of this scene confirms that these are past dreams gone for good. Today none of these things would happen tied to newspapers or a newsstand; maybe at a Starbucks? I think not.

On the other hand I saw the Wall Street Journal magazine for the weekend which contained a day in the life of Ariana Huffington of the Huffington Post, who sold out her “empire” to the purveyors of dial-up lines and dusty past web glories. On the top she is petitioned by nine bloggers who want to get paid for their work… but later that night she signs up two new bloggers seeking to join her site.

But why would bloggers flock to a site that apparently incites writers to picket for lack of proper payment to writers?  Fame, of course, and the personal validation that comes from having your name out in public, whether online or on TV.  Up above you can see the crowds forming outside the 10pm evening news which is broadcast live on State Street in Chicago just south of Lake Street.  Perhaps the camera will pan out into the audience outside and you could be on TV, even if just for a moment?

People wanting to get paid for writing this sort of thing are deluding themselves; there is certainly money to be made on the Internet, but to think that these nickels will trickle down to the writers of standard fare such as that found on AOL is ludicrous.  You are being paid in fame, such as it is, and when you step aside and demand compensation you’ll just be passed up by someone else willing to do it for free.

Dan and I are constantly chuckling and those wanting to join a site like “Life in the Great Midwest”, ostensibly to “get their foot in the door” and begin writing.  I’m sure many / most are shills for products or marketers trying to get their name out there; we aren’t interested.  Not that we aren’t interested in new members of the site – we found our good friend Gerry when he asked if we could write for the site and we said sure and now we are lucky to know him (plus a lot of good articles and photos, to boot).

I do feel sorry for writers that are used to some sort of semblance of control and structure in their lives.  You worked in a newspaper or publishing house and received a salary, benefits, an annual raise, and the possibility of promotion.  At the top there was some glamour and the ability to meet someone famous and take part in their fame, however fleeting.

Those days are as gone as the dead newsstand and the abandoned Borders bookstore a bit south of the TV studio on State Street.  No one is paying you for content because, even if someone is making money off it, someone else will create roughly similar content for them, for free. Money has to be made off some other part of the site, or by becoming a public figure, or something else.

Cross posted at LITGM

11 thoughts on “Symbols, Facade, Fame & Reality”

  1. Or using the experience of regular blogging to venture into long-form projects… like writing a book or something. Or several of them. And using your blogging to publicize your other prokects.

    *widens eyes, assumes innocent expression*

  2. What’s bad for the media and the ..ahem…cough..Intelligentsia it supposedly channels is good for the soul, the man, the nation, even democracy.

  3. I’m just stunned that a Walgreens actually carries the London FT…..The death of top 40 radio I would welcome. The death of the newspaper I mourn.

  4. As long as WEB Griffin (Bill Butterworth) keeps writing novels, I will have reading material. Unfortunately, it is a bit of a race to see who dies first. His son is now doing some of the writing, like Steven Ambrose did a few times, and it’s noticeable. Tom Clancy quit writing after his divorce, although he has a series of lesser books out with co-writers. I read a lot of nonfiction and classic novels by favorites like Neville Shute. Newspapers, except for the WSJ editorial page, lost me some time ago. I had to cancel a credit card to get rid of the NY Times. The L:A Times drove me away with Robert Scheer. Then, to compound the felony, he went to USC, my alma mater, to teach. God knows what he teaches but I have found from some other stories that USC has joined the dark side.

    I have spent all my money on my kids and divorces and if I had any I would certainly not give it to USC. I do send some to my Chicago high school and even a few bucks to my Chicago grammar school. After last Thursday, if any is left it goes to Romney.

    I do read City Journal and Sailing a Wisconsin based magazine that is excellent. I also get the US Naval Institute Proceedings and Naval History.

    That is as much time as I have except for medical journals. I have cut back on the latter in recent years but read them in the medical school library.

  5. I disagree that paid content is a thing of the past. I expect that personalized information that provides real benefits will always have takers. But that’s not what these “news” outlets provide. They offer broad, watered down mush that is only personally relevant to the reader/listener by accident and happenstance. We can do better than that.

  6. I have 4kids from age 35-20, and none of them read much of anything on paper, especially newspapers. They do nearly everything imaginable on line, from buying movie tickets to buying cars, and get their news there and on tv.

    My prediction is that by 2020, any paper daily or periodical will be an extreme rarity, used by a niche market for a very limited subscription following, and newsstands will have gone the way of the horse trough.

    Given the abysmal level that the field of alleged journalism has sunk to, I find this prospect cheering, as a clear example of the sort of cosmic justice that the cowardly and deceitful bring down upon themselves.

    As I have previously said, it’s not the bias, which I can see a mile away, but the lack of intellectual courage and coherence, and the utterly useless triiviality of the media’s infatuation with celebities and sensationalism.

  7. Agreed that paid content isn’t a thing of the past.

    But it will have to be worth paying for, stuff like the WSJ or similar items, that either require expertise or someone to sift through the errata and come up with the pithy summary of items that you need to know.

    On the other hand, technology items that are readily available and understandable and celebrity / typical news isn’t going to be worth much because the bar for doing it is very low.

    But in general I am not an expert on any of this other than through blogging, although I do have a lot of “old media” contacts.

    In general there will be far less old media type jobs and those that do exist, like blogging, will be based on hustling not a set career path.

  8. Veryretired,
    ” … the cowardly and deceitful..”, bingo. Perfect for politicians and journalists. The latter are even worse,insofar as they empower the former.

  9. I remember watching a documentary about the end of the Victorian era, and the run-up to WW1, that had some early movie footage of the nobility gathering for the Queen’s funeral.

    In a herky-jerky parade, groups men in outlandish military uniforms milled around a gaggle of equally flamboyant women dressed in 19th century elegance.

    These were the most powerful men and women in the most powerful empire in the world, and they would be almost completely swept away by the coming convulsions of a world which had outgrown the leftover aristocracy of the medieval age.

    In my more optimistic moments, I see an echo of that scene in the endless preening of the journalistic class, and the pet pols they create and destroy, seemingly at will.

    It is my fervent hope that the slim machine I’m typing this comment on, and the electronic world it connects me to, will act on that batch of useless dilettantes much the same way that the last great aristocratic civil war ended the rule of the hereditary nobles in much of the west.

    We now have an international class of elites whose self-perceptions are so disconnected from reality that only the catastrophic failure of the system which supports and maintains them will suffice to clear the path for the next wave of social leadership.

    One can only hope and pray that the spirit which is re-incarnated will be that of Cinncinatus, and not the little corporal.

  10. Carl from Chicago – Instapundit has commented fairly frequently that being able to do hyperlocal news affordably is the killer app for news going forward. Hyperlocal used to be too expensive. Now the prices to gather news of various types are dropping. I would love to talk with you either via some sort of IM, email, or perhaps offline on the subject.

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