Off The Record: On Religion, Politics & Equality
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It used to be impossible to make a living as a writer. It was like being an actor, you had a host of other jobs to pay the bills while pursuing your true passion. If it used to be impossible to make a living as a writer it is now impossible-er.
I know first hand. I am a writer – an investigative reporter to be exact. The stories I write take weeks of research, typically on the ground reporting and another couple of weeks to write and fact check. My kind of writing doesn’t fit in the kitty video* click bait world of “news” we live in. Media consumption is not even a 24-hour news cycle anymore. It is the 24 minute news cycle where headlines and sub-heads stand in for articles. Who needs to read an article when the title is provocative enough to inspire a share on twitter, launch a hash tag campaign and flood Facebook feeds.
I make nothing writing. Nothing. I survive on the good graces of my husband and grants when I can get them. Grants are not easy to come by. The mere act of applying for a grant is like an investigative reporting project all its own. And that is after weeks of research to find a grant to apply for.
Let’s just say it is difficult to the point of surrender. This is not to say I am not lucky. I have gotten several grants and am on my way to Australia next month thanks to the Open Society to report on the 2014 HIV/AIDS Conference in Melbourne. One of the producers told me that OS is funding a handful of reporters specifically because newsrooms and freelancers have no money to send journalists to cover actual news anymore. Aggregator sites cobble together regurgitated pieces from AP or Reuters stringers, link to NYTimes stories and cough up a piece of easily consumable third hand information.
Since the news cycle is in no longer 24 hours but 24 minutes (or seconds?) long, this is what happens: I pitch a time sensitive story, get the green light from an editor, write the piece, it gets hung up in editing and/or lack of editing, the story blows over, dies and gets killed. So, after spending say a week of reporting (including actual reporting like calling sources, calling officials for comment, etc.) my $250 story (which doesn’t begin to cover my time) is dead and I get a kill fee of $62.
Thanks Daily Beast! Yes – Daily Beast. Probably due to short staffing my article was handed over not to an editor but a writer who personally couldn’t be bothered to edit, give feedback, etc, probably due in part to his own workload. I would have empathized with the guy had his outsized opinion of himself made it impossible.
So, I sent a subtile “fuck you” for wasting my time email to the writer forced to be editor and the executive editor and will never pitch that outlet again. Some times you gotta burn a few bridges. It could have been any publication, really. It just so happened it was the Daily Beast – but what can one expect from an online publication that specializes in sharing photographs of George the Boy King and politics?
So is the life I have chosen.
Friend and fellow lady-journo, Robin Marty, for one has had enough. This week she launched “Clinic Stories” at fundraising site rally.org. We are all familiar with the Kickstarter and Indigogo campaigns – I even had some success two years ago funding my NOLA to NYC project in the wake of Hurricane Sandy with Go Fund Me.
Marty’s campaign wasn’t started lightly or with a short end goal in mind like my NOLA to NYC project (it was only to finish a photojourno project and associated hard costs).
She told me:
I’ve started this project and fundraiser because over my last year of freelancing, I’ve learned that quality, well-researched, detailed journalism really can’t be easily accomplished in a web based world unless you are a staff writer. A fee from an online publication may pay for the time it takes to actually write the story down, but seldom the hours of research leading to it, much less the expenses required to go and do on the ground reporting. But seeking out funding to cover those costs don’t just slow down the process of getting a piece published and add extra barriers to the final product, but add to the additional unpaid hours needed to seek out and pitch not just a publication but a grant program, too.
Basically, crowdsourcing for Clinic Stories is like going to my friends, family, colleagues and readers and saying, “Here are the types of things I want to write, will you pay for it?” It takes out the hours of proposal writing, the rejected or modified pitches, and lets me spend the time where it is more useful — research and writing stories people want to read. It will essentially let me be my own staff writer, with every donor as my boss, and will let them decide if a story is interesting and one they want to read, rather than an editor at a publication who may feel it’s too local or doesn’t have enough of a national audience to be worthwhile.
Amen sister. Could this be the new way forward for independent journalists like Marty and myself? Probably. She’s already raised over $6000. I am sure this is because of her track record reporting on clinics and abortion rights for a long time. Her articles have appeared in Rolling Stone, Politico, TPM and numerous other outlets. She’s got the cred. And I didn’t even mention that Robin (and the wonderful Jessica Pieklo) literally wrote the book on this: Crow After Roe – how separate but equal has become the new standard in women’s health.
This from the Clinic Stories page:
What is the link between parental consent laws and the Army of God? Why do some anti-abortion activists believe that abortions are being performed on people who aren’t pregnant? Which state has the most pro-life advocacy groups and what does the Personhood movement have in common with the failed Albuquerque fetal pain ban?
These are the questions Clinic Stories hopes to answer. Clinic Stories is a 12 part series that will look at 12 different clinics or cities in the country, telling the history of legal abortion through location and the people inside and outside it.
Robin will be writing long-form pieces – 5K + words. That is no easy feat let me tell you. Robin has a passion and extreme insight into her writing on this subject; these stories will be treated as she treats her three kids, with love and intensity. Two things, in my personal experience that make a really, really fucking good investigative reporter.
Keep your eyes on Marty’s project. Not just because covering abortion rights and clinics across the country is a vital public service but because her model is probably the only way this kind of writing and reporting will survive.
* I love kitty videos