Is Fake Journalism Viable as a Career? Methinks Nope.

I took this picture at a hospital on a freelance project.

My journalism studies stopped abruptly after my first semester of college when I realized that my true love is fiction & writing it.  So after–or perhaps it was during–my second semester, I did a ninety degree turn and switched from Journalism to English with a Creative Writing concentration.

I spent most of the glorious next four years swimming in the ocean of literature, criticism, contemporary fiction, and writing.  I dropped the Oxford Comma habit, then picked it up again when I ditched MLA for Chicago Manual.

Now, ten years later, I find myself as a practicing journalist.  Would those lovey journalism professors I scorned during my energetic and immersed first year of college be proud of me, or would they think I’m a poser?  I feel like a poser.

I write hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of words each week for newspapers and magazines, and am in hot pursuit of more of this work using my trusty manual, Writer’s Market, and the online service, too. These are invaluable for the freelance writer.

And while all of the editors I work with seem to esteem me and my work somewhere between pleased and just-glad-to-have-a-reliable-freelancer, I keep finding and being offered more of this work, so I must be doing something right.

The jargon eludes me sometimes (though I cheat), and there are many aspects of AP Style that strike me as particularly un-stylish.

I’m kind of devastated by the realities of the print media business, and I am knees-deep in something that feels, in many ways, to be almost dead.  Rasping halted breaths after the world wide web and free content bludgeons it, print media is living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Nobody is paid well enough (especially not freelancers), and in the barren economic environment–or in the failure of print media to adequately prepare for and adapt to new media–the dearth of analysis and criticism that print media can afford its subjects contributes to the general disregard for critical thinking that is all too prevalent.

Still, I love talking to people and learning new stuff.  I love to do research and procure a working understanding of new topics.  And for the Williamsport Sun-Gazette (that I’m not linking here because every time you open their website, you get popups from Publisher’s Clearing House or Netflix), I get to talk to artists and musicians primarily, and I’ve met some excellent people, and learned about some groovy new tunes.  I’ve also talked to some Broadway celebs and authors I admire or respect.

But, I live in Williamsport, PA.  And while there’s tons of stuff that’s happening here that’s amazing, it’s not New York, Chicago, LA, or even Nashville.  We get d-list celebrities and Glenn Beck. Besides which, freelancers for small-town newspapers don’t really get to talk to the national acts (which is totally understandable and I am NOT complaining), and even when I do get to talk to national acts, it’s not like they’re folks who’re up-and-coming.  American Songwriter probably doesn’t want a piece about Foghat.  And the two pitches I’ve made for singer/songwriters that I thought would work there have been handily ignored.  (Again, not complaining.  Rejection is a reality of a career as a writer)

And in this huge Wildcat Comic Con project, I’m meeting even more cool people and learning even more cool stuff.  Ditto my podcasting for Billtown Blue Lit.  And these are up-and-comers.  So I’m hoping to mine a goodly number of pitches from this work.

But I find myself wondering why I expend so much energy and get paid so poorly (or not at all) when the likelihood that this work (or more of it) will still be available for me in even two years is slim.  Staff writers are more-or-less a thing of a bygone age, with staff writers having made a laborious transition to being called editors and getting paid less to do more work, so I don’t delude myself.  I am an apprentice to an industry that won’t be able to provide for my retirement.

So I mostly view this work as personal enrichment, and building a solid base of published pieces that I can leverage into better-paying gigs, plus writing practice because (say it with me), All Writing Is Writing Practice!

(I am also considering applying to graduate school again.  Don’t tell Penelope.)

Too, I’m getting my name into the world, on the internet, and the more people who know about me, who see my name in conjunction with things they enjoy, the greater my odds of being offered freelance writing work of any stripe.

But Penelope says that when you’re in your 30s, you have to stop doing work that people in their 20s do. I feel like I’m doing what I should’ve done the moment I earned my degree, and the realities of efficiency and the limited number of hours each day means that honoring this low-paying work while pursuing better-paying writing jobs is a tightrope walk between self-torture and -affirmation.

And I get Writer’s Digest, and I read blogs about freelancing, writing, media, and personal/professional development. I learn more about how to freelance as a writer every day.  So maybe I’m doing everything right? Or maybe I should just keep on keeping on and quit worrying so much over the theory.

Anybody care to weigh in?  I’d love to know what you think.  I approve all comments, even if I think they’re wrong, unless they are decidedly trollish.

Six Weeks to Geek: Zombie Lore, a Panel

My Geek: A Brief History

Much to Fella’s eternal chagrin, I’m not much of a geek.  I didn’t grow up sucking down comics, tapping controllers, or digging on horror flicks, Magic the Gathering, World of Warcraft, anime, or any of the equivalents thereof.  My most successful forays into gaming were with Mario Bros. on 8-bit Nintendo, and a little later, Mario on Game Boy, first generation.

I am, by most reports, a hipster (much to my eternal chagrin).  I like indie rock and Wes Anderson movies, specifically his, but also that genre of artfully rendered pictures about quirky people who are either narcissistic or intellectual, and I read mostly literary realism by authors who people outside of Creative Writing programs have not heard of.  I’m trying to increase visibility of good, smart books as a personal crusade, and in so doing, I’m learning to branch out.

I’m discovering that the book market–with all its hard lines and rigid categories and neat definitions–is going to need to undergo metamorphosis in order to remain intact.  We are clearly not learning enough from our friends in the music industry.

My brother is of the DC/Marvel persuasion (I have heard him pontificate on the virtues of one over the other), plays video games; I have had a modest number of decidedly geekish boyfriends along the way, but a peripheral awareness has been the beginning and end for me.


I was mildly intrigued when Child’s bio dad was reading Sandman by Neil Gaiman et al, and I was reading it over his shoulder, but I imagine you can understand why those memories are fraught for me, and why I have not been eager to revisit.

When Fella and I first got together, he explained patiently (if with an edge of condescension) that geeks and nerds are two different things, and that I would require an education in all things geek.

Thus there was Zombies 101 early on Fella’s and my date-having time line.  That was our last course on geekery, as Fella found my lack of interest frustrating, and I found his interpretation of my contemplative absorption (and sometimes sleepiness) as disinterest to be frustrating.

It was around Halloween, which is my favorite holiday, and I made a brain jello that I served with canned Lychees at the Historic Genetti Hotel in Downtown Williamsport.

We watched Night of the Living Dead and The Serpent and the Rainbow.

New Respect

Until recently I was one of those regrettable studious sods who dismissed things known as comics strictly on grounds that some well-meaning collection of intellectuals and smarty-pantses whose taste and judgement I admired, wrinkled up their noses at the comic or graphic novel, pronouncing the word as if it stank of rotted skunk.  It was the same disdain they showed toward anything known as genre fiction.

Don’t misunderstand.  I am not suddenly gleefully reading The Hulk and Captain America or Tom Clancy and Danielle Steel.  I’m just starting to see that it’s not ALL crap, and that it might be useful for us literary types to expand our definition of genre, or our definition of literature.

You can read more about this problem at Billtown Blue Lit, and on this blog here.

In any case, I am sure you can imagine the tandem flurries of incredulity and joy in my house when I announced a few months ago that I would be moderating a panel at the coming Wildcat Comic Con on Zombie Lore with Dave Sims, John Weaver, and Jim Zub.  More, that I would be immersing myself in the context and culture (more academically than physically).

So over the next six weeks or so, I’m going to be taking in a plethora of geek fodder.  I’ll be reading World War Z, The Zombie Survival Guide, and probably at least a few of the stories in an anthology of short zombie fiction called The Living Dead.  I’ll be watching more zombie movies, and reading more comics as I prepare for the interviews I’m doing with people as awesome as Dean Haspiel and David Small and others I won’t mention until the interviews are finished.

And I am fortunate to have as tour guides the panelists listed above who are well versed in Zombie Lore and, from what I can tell so far, have reasonably literary taste.  I am also fortunate to have automatic context for some of my new comics reading in my work as a journalist.

Tuesday night, after my presentation at ComiXnite, which I am pleased to report went over well,  I met with my fellow panelists to discuss the angle from which we’ll approach our zombie discussion.  It is going to be a lively and interesting talk.

Each week, I’ll be posting at least once under the category: Weeks to Geek.  You can enjoy the ride with me.