Advice to unemployed journalists | Bleader

Advice to unemployed journalists

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Blog. Seriously. That's about it. But allow me to address your questions.

1. That's easy for you to say, you have a job, and are somewhat young and don't have any kids.

Well, for now, yes, those things are true. But it wasn't always so, or at least I didn't have a job in my preferred field, or a job I liked. One of the reasons I had the technical skills to get this job was that my first job out of college was pretty unsatisfying, and I had a lot of undirected energy. So, among other things, I taught myself CSS and fooled around with Web design and Javascript. I didn't pick up enough to be an IT pro, but I learned enough to be useful in my current job.

When I was in college, and immediately afterwards, my friends and I did a short-lived online magazine. Not many people read it, and it didn't last long, but at the bare minimum it was good practice. And I enjoyed it, and we scored some good things, including a photo essay from Iraq.

2. Could I make money blogging? If not, only a fool ever wrote for no money etc.

Contra Mark Penn, no. I mean, you could, but you probably won't, and definitely not from the get-go. But that doesn't mean you can't do satisfying and important work. My favorite blogger in the world is a guy who goes by the handle Billmon. He used to run a blog called the Whiskey Bar, which he killed off because of adult responsibilities, but he still stops by at DailyKos, where he started and made his reputation.

The funny thing about Billmon is that he used to be a reporter, and from some of the stories he told, a pretty high-flying one (now he's in the financial industry, I think). Basically he cashed in, which is fine, but never lost the itch. So he started blogging semi-anonymously, and it turned out he was really good at it. If you don't know him, poke around; he's beloved on the Internets, and for my money his output during the Bush administration was more important than any full-time columnist at any big paper. Better written, better researched, more moving, just jaw-dropping.

And he didn't make much or any money off of it, or make a name for himself (he made a pseudonym for himself, I guess). But for readers like me, he was enormously important, absolutely essential during a dark time in American history. I'll be forever grateful for his hobby.

And there are more people out there like that. Doghouse Riley, an idiosyncratic, pseudonymous Indianapolis blogger, who I discovered in the comments section at Roy Edroso's marvelous blog, which I also love; Edroso recently got picked up by the Village Voice, much to their credit. Digby. The guy who runs T.R.O.Y. blog.  The academics at Lawyers, Guns, and Money. Hilzoy. All these people are as or more important to me than the employed writers whom you've heard of.

3. That seems lonely. And futureless.

It doesn't have to be. Bloggers all over the Web have banded together and formed interesting, vital communities. I've been reading Firedoglake since it was an unfortunate-looking Blogger blog stone-obsessed with the Plame/Wilson/Libby affair (and one of the few outlets really making sense of it) run by a West Virginia lawyer and a Hollywood producer. Now it's a network of blogs - they drew in Tbogg (another popular, anonymous former Blogger resident), the tenacious, gifted young reporter Spencer Ackerman, and perhaps most importantly, a Michigander named Marcy Wheeler who goes by the handle emptywheel.

I don't know that much about her, either - she's an English PhD, a Feuilleton expert, and I think was in business of some kind. She's nails, has an incredible gift for sorting through government documents and making sense of them, and has been competing with the NYT in recent weeks on the torture memos. Dunno where she found the time, but FDL is doing a fundraising drive so that she can go full-time with help, and in a few days they've raised, as of today, about $45k. By just asking (give a bit if you can, she's deserving).

4. No, really, I like working with actual people.

In that case, there are plenty of places in Chicago - or wherever you may be - that I'm sure would love to have your contributions. There's Gapers Block, the Windy Citizen, Chi-Town Daily News, the Beachwood Reporter, and that's just on the Web. Lumpen is an outstanding magazine, as is their sister publication Proximity. They'd all be better off with whatever time and energy you can spare, especially if it's an infusion of veteran experience.

5. Seriously, it's really easy for you to say, since you still have a job.

Fair enough; I was hesitant to write this at all for fear of sounding condescending. But I know from experience how difficult it is not to be in the field, and I would have handled myself better - like, not being so depressed that my fianceé forced me to get cats for the same reasons they give prisoners seeing-eye dogs to train - if I'd had a better idea of the communities and opportunities out there.

All I'm trying to say is that there are a lot of people out there who don't have jobs in journalism whose work is as important to me, often more, than people who do. Some of them are freelance journalists whose names I know; some of them are anonymous people on the Internet with full-time jobs and a desire to write. 

I can already see names popping up. Emily Nunn, who got laid off in an earlier round of cuts, is blogging, and Lou Carlozo, one of the more recent victims, has already weighed in on the Internet. And there are people still in the game who want to see the foundation laid for what's next. (For not entirely unselfish reasons - I worry every day about being next.) There are a lot of people whose contributions will be missed; not, I hope, for long.

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