The other day Julia entered my office with a magazine in her hand, opened to a particular article. “Read this when you get a chance, it’s really good.” It doesn’t matter what the article was; in this case it was an essay from Harper’s called “The One in Front of You: A Consideration of Charity” by Sallie Tisdale. She was right. It was excellent.
That happens all the time. Our interests probably overlap more in nonfiction than fiction, though Julia does read a number of the same novels I do. Between us we accumulate a healthy pile of magazines as well. Stuff like Harper’s, Mother Jones, The New Yorker (though it seems we’ve let our subscription to that lapse; I need to look into it), and Believer. I like outdoor mags too, like Outside, and I regularly get copies of Men’s Journal when I travel. Julia takes a few fashion magazines, I pick up Mac magazines and the occasional sports-related one too. We read a ton of this stuff and are constantly passing articles back and forth, or discussing them. Much more-so than we do stuff we read online, probably, and we discuss articles we read probably more than we do novels.
Those freelance rates are freakin’ ridiculous. As Akimoff says in his post: “I once thought freelancing offered a good return on hard work. I no longer believe that.” It’s depressing. Journalists, especially good ones, deserve to make good livings. The research and sharing of solid, factual information is a bedrock of our society, and it’s being washed right out from under us.
It reminded me of a recent article I read (via the Independent, a local weekly I used to do some freelance work for) about how our local newspaper, the Missoulian, has recently seen “four seasoned reporters” leave. That disturbs me. First, because I have friends who work at the Missoulian still (and a couple of the folks mentioned in the article are acquaintances of mine; it’s a small town), and second, because I value solid journalism. In a case of “if I’d known then what I know now” at 18-20, I might have become one.
Everyday folks still want their information, they just don’t seem to want to pay for it. When a news outlet, like the Missoulian, puts up a pay wall, people freak. Yet, if those same people aren’t buying papers, how do reporters get paid? Ad revenue via classifieds is way down because a) people don’t read papers, and b) sites like Craigslist have taken that business. I’m not going to argue that newspapers and other “old media” haven’t done a shitty job reacting to a changing environment when it comes to information delivery, I’m sure they have. But it seems to me much of this is another case of our tendency to want the lowest price, all the time, and we’re shooting ourselves in the feet. Is there really an excellent source of mainstream news and investigative reporting available to people? What I’ve seen, and heard, for the most part, certainly isn’t.
I fear the future of how this stuff shakes out, much more than I worry about the state of books and publishing. I love the magazines I read, and I think some of the best writing available is happening in this arena. Certainly the writers of many of my favorite books, nonfiction at least, have come from these ranks. Maybe it will all get figured out, I don’t know. I just know that nobody I know ever clicks the ad links and such that websites show. Hell, most people, with the right browser plugins, never even see them. So I don’t know where these organizations are going to get their money to stay solvent. I just hope they do.