Category Archives: News Stuff

The Right to Write; Write to Right

My perfect, part-time job with Dionysus Theatre wound to a close just before Christmas, so I’m back on the market as a job hunter / freelance writer.

Nearing March 23, my 2-year anniversary since being laid off from the Houston Chronicle after losses of revenue and advertising, I’ve managed to do  nearly everything wrong in establishing myself in the latter category of writing stories that might lead to a freelance career.

Even with the help of my most noble friend, a freelance photographer whose site is linked on this page, I have gone about this freelance business — as, in fact, a real work-from-home business — badly, with the exception of getting on WordPress (also his idea), which I shall REALLY begin to update more often.  As God (or Whatever) is my witness, I shall NEVER go wordless again.

Here’s my 21-Gun Salute to Death by Pen:

1) Put off writing anything until you have a workable outline in the hope that your time would be better employed through pursuing REAL employment. And there is always “must see TV.”

2) Rely solely on former coworkers and friends at newspapers or magazines or internet sites to call you with an assignment.

3) Do not investigate markets (print, online, smoke signals) to see what types of news, feature, special-interest, micro-special interest are contracting with freelance writers in your town, state, region, nation, world.

4) Spend no time contemplating areas in which you have some degree of experience or interest.

5) Do not consider scope.  This is limiting.  You have every right to start with “The Origin of Navel Lint”and expand it to include “The Companion Guide to the History of the World.”

6) Question the wisdom of spending the money to buy a guide, such as Writers Digest, or any current-year publication bearing on how to get your news, features, nonfiction or fiction stories, books or e-books published.

7) Do NOT use a highlighter and-or bookmarks to note the markets that match the faves on your subject list of expertise and interest. Librarians and parents have warned you not to deface books.  You stand doubly warned.

8) Shun bookstores with racks containing local to international magazine racks and newspapers and study ones that match your “I’d like to write about…..” list.

9) Completely ignore the web addresses and names of contact editors and guidelines for submissions, or checking back issues to see if the publication has printed something similar in the past few years.

10) If other writers have written on your subject, consider it taboo and scrub the idea entirely. Do not alter or repackage it for that or other publications. If you find a story on “tree” and your subject is “acorn,” drop all landscaping/gardening/wildlife story ideas from your list immediately.

11) Do not bother honing and expanding your list of subjects in which you have knowledge and-or interest (from expert level to merely curious) while continuing to research the top four or five on the list and matching them to previously overlooked or emerging online/print publications that will actually pay you for your efforts.

12) Send your story idea to “To Whom it May Concern” without learning how to write a query letter addressed to a specific editor with an idea tailored to that particular publication.

13) Never edit your prose. Send query letters in stream-of-consciousness mode. If you get the nod to pursue the article, do not bother to check things as mundane as spelling or pertinent facts, as your time is valuable and you have other research, query letters and articles to pursue.

13-A) Avoid subplots or sub-topcs.  This will only confuse people.

14) Do not sign on to forums or join networking groups with other freelancers. They are your competitors and you wouldn’t want anyone to think you were stealing the ideas of others. Or worse, expose your ideas to potential intellectual product thieves.

15) Join one of the many “hub” sites for writers that offer you the chance to receive royalties (starting with 1-cent per word) for the rest of your life, depending on how many tens of thousand “hits” your article receives on the www. These companies are out to assist talent by teaching you how to douse your articles with “key” words that attract the attention of both readers and advertisers.

16) Stay within the box. Use cliches, bromides, colloquialisms with impunity to create articles that impart a sense of camaraderie with readers of all intelligence levels, including that of plant life.

17) Stay secure in the knowledge that scope and the task of staying on topic are limiting to the creative process. Ignore them. Start your article off with a small subject — “The origins of Navel Lint” — and expanding it into the “Companion Guide to the History of the World.” Or the other way around.

18) By all means, inject your beliefs, philosophies, mention of your achievements, opinions of those who disagree with your opinions, whenever possible. You have the right to write — and  to right the world through writing.  Everyone is intensely interested in what you think.  This is the the kind of dog-fight-dog mud-slinging people will buy, tune in for,  pick as a favorite post or — better yet — rally behind.  Plus, you’ll get extra points in Heaven.

19) Defend your work when hit with suggestions or criticism of any form from editors. Letters of rejection should be immediately followed with your letter to that editor in which you explain how wrong-headed, imbecilic and moronic he/she is. Explore with him/her how the loss of your article is the death knell for that publication.

20) Never save your work once a story is published, and do not use an idea for a story more than once. No one else but the publication that bought the story is interested in a revision or additional material re-tailored to fit another market.

21) Do not make lists.

Piece of Cake

This week, I’ve noticed that reality — the down side of being unemployed — is beginning to ooze through the veneer of my happy job-seeking world.

In my 14th or 15th week of being unemployed as of the Houston Chronicle’s massive layoffs in March AND with only one more month of unemployment compensation to go without a benefits extension AND with no job prospects in sight, I was still optimistic, mailing out my resume and news clippings packages to a world of hopeful prospects, when I got an interesting call from my career transition team counselor.

 This poor counselor is from the career transition company hired by the Chronicle’s parent company, Hearst Corporation, to help the estimated 200 people laid off from the Chronicle in March, many of us well over 45 years old.  They were to help us, the company’s downsized,  get jobs in this downsized economy, show us — even former reporters with 30-plus years of experience — how to do things like interview wth people and, most importantly, how to “network.”

 Networking is a major concern of career counselors these days. I took the advice, started this blog, signed up with Facebook, LinkedIn, JournalismJobs.com, and about 30 other job sites and social networks to at least be on the cutting edge of the job search as I face this depressed economy still in a state of depression.  I am well networked.

 The counselor was very upbeat, as usual, even perky.  She asked me how things were going, and she patiently listened to my littany of woes and horror stories from the job-search front.  Then she asked if I’d  come to the last day of the Hearst-sponsored training to say goodbye to her and to other team members, as well as other still-unemployed people in the group, while enjoying some refreshment, “a little party,” she said.”

 Just what are we celebrating? While I found it commendable that Hearst cared so much for its former employees, some with 10, 20 years of service or more, that it hired this company to come in with job tips to help us face prospective new employers and new advertures on the job horizons, I had to decline the counselor’s invitation. 

 I love party hats and noise makers and calorie-ladened cake as much as the next gal, but I just had to pass.

 Of the seven phases of grief, I’m still well locked into  shock and anger. I suspect Hearst is throwing the party for those who haven’t found jobs yet and the team that didn’t help me or anyone else I know find one for the same reason it spent the money to hire the career transition team in the first place — to mitigate its own guilt in firing — excuse me, laying off — so many of its most loyal, hard-working and talented employees.

I don’t want Hearst to lighten its guilt load that I suspect it doesn’t feel, but should.   I want that company to feel every bit of pain and gloom and despair and anxiety for its future that I do for mine.

 I told as much to the friendly counselor who obviously still sees the world as a glass half full.  She told me a couple of weeks ago that if I wasn’t getting any nibbles from prospective employers, perhaps it was time for me to “bring some money to bear in the situation.”

What money, I asked.  My source of money seemed to dry up along with my job.  I don’t have the big investment dollars that would help to set myself up in a new company.  I might as well send a resume to Buckingham Palace for the queen job.

What, excactly, are we supposed to be celebrating? The phones that don’t ring? The e-mails not received?  The employers who have shown no interest in hiring people well-versed in a dying industry? The ads on Google about how citizen journalists can make a fortune by writing key-word-ladened copy for less than 20 cents per article?

People were laid off from the Chronicle after Hearst spent the Houston Chronicle’s revenues in trying to prop up its flagging, sagging newspapers around the country, after the company paid lawyers for its legal battles over ownership of its Post Intelligencer, and after — and I’m not making this up — the study of window treatments for the multi-million makeover of the Hearst Building in New York that includes an executive gymnasium.

 I’m looking at having to sell my house before the bank gets the idea of repossessing it. I’m looking at a bank account that won’t cover bills I accrued when I thought my hard work would pay off in job security until I was able to retire. I’m looking at a family who suddenly acts as if I’m poison because they think this is my fault, that I must have done something wrong, even though the Chronicle human resources people  told me and others who were laid off that it was “just a matter of crunching the numbers, nothing personal, no reflection on your work.”

 Nothing personal.  It’s the economy, stupid.

 I wish someone would come up with a forumla that would prevent companies from laying off people near retirement age, and another law that would keep people from acting like hard-working people who suddenly lose their jobs are all rotten bums who are intent on picking their pockets. 

While we’re at it, maybe somebody would find a way to bail out the profession of  journalism and keep the news industry, well the “media moguls,” anyway, from succumbing to bad management practices that are helping, along with a fickle public, to drive the nails in its coffin..

Cake?   No, thank you, Hearst.

 Eat THIS.

Why I’m not getting a job

Citizen journalism, a Google-spawned idea that everybody can do the job I’ve done during the past 35 years, is so very democratic. Just take a peek at my mail at internet jobsites for journalists looking for work:

“Talented writers for start up News website — Are you a good writer? Do topics like world events, business, cars, sports, entertainment, love, etc interest you? Ever wanted to voice your opinion on something you’re passionate about? If so, we have a great part time job for you!

“We are a small, start up website looking for talented, competent freelance writers to help us kick off. What we want to do is usher in a brand new era of journalism – citizen journalism. Articles that are written by the populace, by the people, on a vast variety of different topics pertinent to everyday life.

“Requirements: Be an active member of this news community, by publishing articles, and commenting on articles published.

“Qualifications: Able to create and write on poignant and creative topics. Unique writing style. Can write without error. No prior work experience needed.”

It’s that last bit — the qualifications — that gives me pause, or as a really Southern new journalist might say, gets my dander riled.

I went to school and learned libel laws, took every imaginable course for professional improvement and, as I mentioned, spent quite a few years at quite a few newspapers and magazines where I honed my skills.

At small newspapers, I was the reporter and also the photographer (including dark-room film and photo print processing), as well as the editor and the design/layout person), all for about $5.50 an hour in 1970’s-’80s dollars. I built a salary and a career, until the Houston Chronicle layoffs of March 24-25, and, yes, eventually I earned more.  But never, even in my best year, did I crack $50,000.

I was never sued, either, for being on the wrong side of a libel case or for getting the story so wrong that it prompted someone to take me to court — an important feat I’m not sure citizen journalists or their sponsors can appreciate just yet.

I’m guessing it will one day take the the court system to finally argue the legitimacy of the “citizen journalist” after they inadvertently and unknowingly libel someone.  It may be the courts that will decide if the citizen journalist or his/her sponsor site that is answerable for that mistake.

The people who went into real print journalism, and — by the way — pioneered the early online versions, didn’t do it for the money.  It was our job.  In some cases, an almost sacred duty to get the news out in a manner that was accurate and, yes, fair and balanced (before Fox News made those words a bad joke). 

The idea that the news had to also be entertaining came a lot later.

In my early years as a reporter, I traveled on my own dime or with some company mileage compensation, sometimes into territory most people wouldn’t enter on a bright, sunny day, to get the story, to cover or promote the event, to bring attention to a cause or individual or organization that deserved the credit or exposure.

Yes, we got paid enough money to live on, if we didn’t live too high on the hog.  We also got the reward of seeing our byline and, if we were good at this particular calling, in the knowledge we’d done a good job, that maybe we’d even helped somebody along the way.

Here’s the part I left out from that citizen-journalist job description:

“Compensation: $15 per article of at least 500 words long.”

And that posting on Elance represents the high end for the citizen journalist, who will doubtlessly have to hold down another day job and will only be a journalist as a lark or for pocket change. A side hobby.

Many of the sites offer substantially less than Elance. Examiner.com pays $10 per every 1,000 hits. Writers, copywriters and editors bidding for jobs on Helium and ODesk accept pennies, agreeing to do several hundred articles for less than a half-penny a word.

Of course, everything is more globalized and even experienced journalists on these sites are competing with people from Sri Lanka and other countries where people scramble over half a cent.

I just wish I’d known in 1974, when the U.S. Navy was at a loss as to where they could fit me in their Vietnam-era service, that this was going to happen.

Back then,  Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had just cracked Watergate and had brought down a president, so being impressed with the power of the pen, I told the recruiter I wanted to be a journalist.

Had I known what my profession, vocation, great calling of my life would become — could I have foreseen that I would be thrown on my butt at age 60 during “downsizing” layoffs at legitimate but now-poor newspapers or have imagined the rise of the citizen journalist — I should have told them “Boatswain’s Mate.”

“Writing Well is the Best Revenge” — D. Parker

Welcome to my new home.  It’s a work in progress and will start coming together Real Soon Now as I post comments about community, Houston, state, U.S. and international news, the events and the media that comments on them.  Think Dorothy Parker meeting Maureen Dowd while flirting with William F. Buckley (and Dr. Hunter S. Thompson serving drinks).