Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Entrepreneurial Journalism

Entrepreneurial Journalism

First off, I’m prejudiced.  I’ll say it right here.  “Entrepreneur” is a fucking hard word to spell and no matter how many times I have been forced to do it—and there have been plenty lately-- I still get it wrong on the first, second and sometimes third try before I give up and spell check it.

Secondly, I hate the word in general.  It sounds fancy, French and all, but everybody, and I mean everybody from mobsters to prostitutes to drug dealers and bootleggers, have used this word to describe the fact that what they’re doing, primarily, is whoring or stealing.  These days however, “entrepreneur” has taken an interesting turn due wholly to the rise of the Internet.  “Net neutrality,” which means that if you have a product or service, you can make a website, put it on the Internet, and make big dough, has ushered in a new age of egalitarian capitalism.  Everybody’s equal on the Internet.  “Google,” is no more important than “Crotchless Panties Inc.” Except for the fact that “Crotchless Panties Inc. is more fun and probably can’t tell you whether Millard Fillmore or Rutherford B. Hays was president first.

The new egalitarian entrepreneurial model has eclipsed all the old fashioned employment models where you actually go to work and get paid.  On the one hand, this is fine because there aren’t many jobs these days.  Manufacturing has mostly been carted offshore and lots of things are automated that didn’t used to be including banks, supermarket checkers, call centers, autoworkers and airplane pilots.  Oh don’t get me wrong.  There are still some jobs, mostly at a McDonalds near you; and of course there’s always sign spinning.  But not everybody’s got the knack for that.  To be a good sign spinner you have to be young, with access to a lot of meth and even sign spinners are having a tough time these days, outflanked by those mannequins chained to car batteries.

So a lot of people stay home, write computer code and make websites.

Dog trainers make websites, people who think they might like to become dog trainers make websites, house cleaners make websites, artists, chimney cleaners, child care providers, perverts who want you to think they’re child care providers, Nigerian princes, house painters, freelance documentarians, vegetarians, Unitarians and veterinarians all make websites.

 “If you build it, they will come.”  That’s the operational principle.  And if you’re going to have a new egalitarian capitalist model, you have to have an operational principle.  Marx said that, I think.
At the dog park near my house there are loads of flyers on the fence for “dog-walking services,” mostly flying around, weather-beaten and frayed.   A lot of people love dogs but since they have to go to work they don’t have the time or energy to walk them.  So they need professionals to do it.  A few years ago some plucky individuals recognized this, started offering to do it for pay, and it worked.  These people multiplied over time and after awhile, the people who owned the dogs they didn’t have time to walk figured out how much dough these dog walkers were making and, since they hated their jobs anyway thought to themselves, “hey, I think I’ll become a dog walker too!”  Then the people whose dogs they walked came to the same conclusion, quit their jobs to become dog walkers, then a bunch more people did it, and more and more and more until there were no more dogs to walk.  The entire dog walking economy collapsed.  It was catastrophic, like with the Dutch tulips.

Another entrepreneurial thing I’ve noticed these days is “web site designers.”  If you go on Google and type in “website design” you will get, like, billions of hits in the time it takes to pull your crotchless panties out of your ass-crack.  Loads of these people will be fifty-something men, the kind who always fancied themselves good with technology and upon getting downsized from their regular jobs because a twenty-five year old agreed to do it for half the salary, taught themselves website design.  The problem is, this shit really is a young peoples’ game.  If you were born before 1963 you’ve got all sorts of debris hobbling your neurons—things like transistors, phone answering machines, V-8 engines, surfboards, leftover drugs, braless hippies, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, bleak Ingmar Bergman movies with stark black and white landscapes occupied by rail thin men in big floppy hats.  Also, Captain Crunch.  Physiologically, this debris has calcified all that formerly wobbly grey matter so that thinking is no longer so much fluid, as it is an act of willfully pushing neuronal impulses through something the consistency of bathtub caulk.  Trust me on this.  No matter how smart you think you are you can’t keep up. 

Kids these days have been pushing buttons since they were in kindergarten and have response times so jacked up on Pavlovian bright color payoffs, booms, bangs, tits, thrills and violent erotic imagery soaked in massive doses of Ritalin administered from the first time they wiggled in their strollers, that they can design and create a fucking website in their sleep.

But back to the reason I’ve been forced to spell “entrepreneur” a lot lately.   I took a journalism course at school.  I used to be a journalist, well, kind of, sort of.  It snuck up on me.  I lived in Arizona for a long time and being a chronically pissed-off liberal in that reddest of red states, I was forever writing irate letters to the local alternative weekly, which morphed into a “guest column” and then one day the editor called and said, “guess what?  You got the job.”  I didn’t know what he was talking about since I hadn’t applied for any job but I said, “Sure, I’ll take it.  You’ve made the right choice; you won’t be sorry sir,” etc, etc.
It was great.  I got to go off about anything I wanted to for nearly four years.  But bye and bye the bottom fell out of both the newspaper business and the economy, and I moved on.  Graduate school seemed a natural segueway at this point. 

I spent the next year learning about the “new” journalism and I learned plenty.  New journalism is a lot different from the old, the kind where you investigated and wrote stories like Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane.  All that’s gone.  The new journalism is, you guessed it “entrepreneurial.”

There are two kinds of entrepreneurial journalism.   The first is “backpack journalism.”  There’s a substantial up-front cost with this.  You’ve got to buy a video camera, mics, wires, I-phone, editing software and a laptop with high processing power to run it.  Then, and this was the hard part for me, you have to learn how to use the fucking editing program.  This involves a computer screen display of sound and video translated into lines that look like seismograph readings, snatching bits of one line with a clown hand and dragging it to another line.  In the end, it’s all supposed to run seamlessly, as in you can’t tell where the edits are.  My initial and only attempt came out looking like I’d interviewed a bad stutterer.  The whole idea is that as an entrepreneurial journalist, you find, create, edit and produce your own story, all in the back seat of your car then zing it to the news outlets before anybody else does.  If you’re lucky someone buys it.  The guy who taught us this gave us an example of excellent “opportunity seizing behavior,” his own.  He got the scoop on a nasty car accident by pulling off the freeway, walking back up the off ramp and crossing the police lines like he owned the place.  Nobody said “boo” to him.  “Seizing the day is everything, people.”  That’s what I learned about the new journalism.  It’s fast fast fast.  Report, produce and sell.  It also involves a lot of networking, branding, Tweeting, being Linked In, and being at spiritual oneness with your IPhone.

After selling enough stories this way you’ve got loads of stuff on your CV and then, ah, something happens.  I’m not sure what, exactly.  I’m thinking of that old “Far Side” comic where the professor is standing in front of a chalkboard loaded with calculations but right in the middle is a cloudy bit that says, “then a miracle happens.”  I’m also thinking that the kind of entrepreneurial journalists this works out for either have trust funds or have to live in their parents basements for very long times.  I mean, think about it.  If you’re practicing backpack journalism you can’t get a regular job at Starbucks, for example.  Suppose some terrorists blow up the dam or someone had a wardrobe malfunction, you want to go cover it, but your stupid boss won’t let you go?  “Are you kidding?  Who’s going to make these double caramel lattes?  Get back to work, you dolt.”

Of course the other thing you can do if you’re backpack journalist is create your own website.  This involves learning to write computer code and takes a very long time.  If you don’t like fiddling with a bunch of impossibly arcane crap that would drive a Rhesus monkey out of its mind in about two minutes, you probably won’t enjoy this.  Once you’ve got your website up and running you can put your stories there and theoretically, if you’re the right kind of mover and shaker, get as much traffic as the Huffington Post.  Of course you’re competing with a lot of Internet traffic including somebody’s cousin.   Butchie’s 5th birthday party Facebook page, but you never know where the break’s going to come from and that’s the excitement of the new journalism.  No more working for “the man.”  You’re free to create, invent your own “brand,” become a news gathering universe unto itself and if the dough’s a little slow in rolling in, well, be nice to your parents.  They try to be as nice as they can but you really can’t blame them for imagining you’d be out of the house before you reached your 38th birthday.

The second kind of entrepreneurial journalism, the kind I’m doing right now is called “blogging.”  “Blogging” comes from “web logging,” which didn’t used to be a thing but now it is.  Virtually anyone can become a blogger: human rights activists, computer salesmen, swimming instructors, religionists.  My white supremacist Nazi prick bastard neighbor before he got evicted.  Some blogs get read, most of them don’t because, let’s face it, who’s got the time to read everybody’s opinion?  Reliable surveys indicate most blog readers are woodworkers, fetishists, fans of Sarah Palin, gun enthusiasts, people recovering from surgeries whose TV’s broke, and convicted felons.

Of course just having a blog does not guarantee you’ll get readers from the aforementioned group and it doesn’t imply that you will make any money with your blog.  Arianna Huffington makes a bunch with her blog, but I have a feeling that has to do with another modern journalistic practice called “link-baiting.”  I believe link-baiting might be ethically problematical, but nobody worries about those things anymore.  Link-baiting is when the headline on the web page says, “Lose 50 pounds in two days with special miracle food!” but the story is about farming subsidies in a Republican controlled district in Nebraska.  Publications that do a lot of link-baiting get paid according to how often stories get clicked on, not on whether people actually read them or not.  My guess is that people looking to lose massive amounts of weight quickly aren’t particularly interested in farming subsidies in the Midwest, but then there is a lot about the new journalism I find hard to grasp.

Well, that’s about it for now.  I hope all of you interested in the new journalism profession have found this interesting and informative.  I will be back next week with the first in my ongoing series, “An Historical Perspective on the Dog Walking Industry: could we have learned something from the Dutch Tulip catastrophe, or are some things simply the workings of fate?”

1 comment:

Tim Page said...

You write as naturally as a tree bears fruit (a SMART tree, not like that damned supposed avocado in my back yard). Reckless, hilarious and brilliant -- in a better world, you'd be syndicated.