Thursday, May 07, 2009

This Business of Writing

A recent profile of Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. (NY Times publisher) asserted that he has bought into the myth that journalism sells, whereas the truth for decades has been: Advertising sells. Journalism costs.

Any writer who has slung espresso or worked a related job to support their habit probably agrees - at least a little.

Gregg Levoy wrote - paraphrasing slightly - that the relationship of the artistic self-employed (such as writers) to the financial and business world has customarily been a bit like that of one warring nation trying to maintain trade agreements with another.

It's an incredibly salient point to the written-media world. Of course, he made it in a book published in 1992 - This Business of Writing.

On Monday, which is incidentally my birthday, I will launch - or perhaps it might be more accurate to say stumble into - an internship program at my local newspaper. The coincidence of taking a significant step into my intended field, and field of study, as I start a new year in my life is especially satisfying as I spent my last birthday finishing my college career - pulling my final undergraduate all-nighter to write my final undergraduate paper. (Did I mention this fell on the day after I walked at graduation?)

As Carol Hanisch's famous 1969 essay proclaims, the personal is political - and the personal is business too (although the phrase isn't quite as catchy). Writers are selling a product, and it isn't a product someone else manufactured or a tangibly separable object. It's the output and expression of their psyches. Given that I am not the only writer to feel composing a piece seems like what I imagine giving birth to be, putting a price on that output is an immensely emotional - as well as financial - thing.

I am leaving a year of crisis - the identity kind and otherwise - having left my student cocoon for the first time since age 5. I am entering a process of turning dreams into goals, narrowing and clarifying in order to be a successful member of society (including being financially solvent. You know, more or less). And I enter it as the media world is just shedding its shell-shock and beginning to cope with its own crisis and attempt to become financially solvent in ways it has never been before.

When Hanisch wrote about the personal and political, others were speaking of the glass ceiling. The profession of writing has maintained a glass wall between business and creation. I believe that there are as many opportunities in the shattering of the latter as the former - and that, anyway, it's inevitable. In destruction there is opportunity for change (a review of which will probably be my next post). Writing and media have been some of the primary catalysts in my development - and as the breaking down of the old system offers the chance for individual impace, this generation of writers will be the catalysts for media.

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