MARVIN KITMAN TAKES THIS METHOD OF ACQUAINTING THE PUBLIC IN GENERAL, AND HIS FRIENDS IN PARTICULAR, ABOUT THE STRUGGLE T0 COME TO TERMS WITH THE REVOLUTIONARY PRACTICE OF WRITING WITHOUT GETTING PAID, OR BLOGGING. THIS IS FOR ALL WRITERS OUT THERE, WANTING TO BE WITH IT, WHATEVER ‘IT’ MIGHT BE.
To blog–or not to blog. That is the question that has plagued humankind since Al Gore invented the Internet. Should I cast my lot with the 6,789,235 writers--up from 4,378,278 since last I began walking the ramparts pondering this calamity (March 18, 2013), and growing . Should I join this band of bothers who already are having fun and the excitement of writing for nothing, a self-destructive mania that seems to have gripped the creative fancies of so many other otherwise intelligent citizens in the 21st Century?
Should I stop being an old fogey troglodyte reactionary who expects to be paid for their services and listen to all the converts to the revolutionary scheme of not being financially rewarded for their labors? I will become relevant again, the siren song goes. Dude, your name will be on everyone’s lips. You will be linked and twittered. You will get exposure. The cover of your books will be all over The Internet.
Usually, it’s young people who make the web sound like the greatest thing since the invention of the paycheck, many of whom are still living at home off their parents, while they fearlessly invade outer space.
It would be, in the words of my financial role model as a writer (Martha Stewart) “a good thing.” It would be good for my career, open up new job opportunities and assignments with the younger generation of editors, increase my marketplace value. You can’t afford not to do it, dude.
Should I stop with all the delaying procrastinating tactics, inventing lame excuses, the most silly being this four-part series agonizing about the only true way to achieve fulfillment and spiritual happiness as a writer today?
Stop the whining, I can hear the “with it” people thinking. Just do it. Be like us. Jump!
Before I go on with this exercise in futility, if you will, I want to thank all the proprietors of web sites and other venues who since I began explaining my problem two weeks ago have been knocking down the virtual door with offers to write or give speeches for free. You know who you are. I just want to single out several who could use the publicity. The East Hampton Star, for example, invited me to write a Guest Column. Among the other offers that came in over the transom: ConsumerMojo.com (“Helps you make good decisions”). Who What Why (“a journal of Forensic Journalism: Thinking hard. Digging Deep”) invited me to join the news behind the news crowd where they still break stories like who shot JFK. Mediachannel.org, the News Dissector people, offered to print my stuff at any time. So did The Planetary Gazette. And for no honorarium there was the mitzvah of giving a talk at the little Shul on the Hill (Congregation Adas Emuno).
Why, I wouldn’t be surprised if The New Leader by the end of what may seem like the longest Situation Wanted ad in history asked me to resume my career as their last TV critic even though they went dark in 2010. I need to stand back so I wont be virtually trampled after this second stab at wrestling outrageous fortune while dodging the slings and arrows heading my way from the blogging establishment.
To catch up those who are coming into this show with the curtain already up, I want to make clear what is wrong with me. I have not blogged until now for two reasons.
First, I am a follower of Samuel Johnson. You all remember what Doctor Johnson said: “Sir, no man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”
Strictly speaking, it is not completely accurate to say The Internet is a pay-free zone. The latest statistics show 99.4% of bloggers are underpaid. By that I mean not paid at all. And this condition was prevalent, even before the Recession of 2008. This is an outrage too long ignored and in need of redressing.
My qualifications for examining this egregious state of affairs, as noted in passing in the previous chapter, is that I was an early victim of the con game being perpetrated on writers. Arianna Huntington tricked me into writing for no money. I am still analyzing how I became one of the original seriously underpaid exploited wretches.
As a TV critic, I had always been a great admirer of Arianna Huffington.
What I admired most about her was her flexibility in politics. She began as a noted conservative and is today a passionate liberal. She is the poster girl for bi-partisanship. In between she went through a period of being a radical centrist.
I also admired the hundreds of millions of dollars she received in a divorce settlement from Mr. Huntington, a Senate candidate from California who came out of the closet.
When Huffington Post went live in May 2005 it was called clubby, incestuous, so Old Guard. It had all these Hollywood machers like Tim Robbins and Rob Reiner speaking out on topics they may or may not know anything about. It had about it the smell of social climbing shoes by Jimmy Cho and Blahnik.
But it was to become an alternative to MSM. Adrianna and her minions helped frame meaningful discussions and propel coverage of scandals: Libbygate, Abu Gharibgate, Katrinagate, Firing of Eight US Justicesgate. She wasn’t too strong on the issue of abuse of writers.
Arianna was like spider woman, a publicity-seeking, eight-legged predatory arachnid (order Ariannae, class Arachnimedia) with poison fangs that suck out a writer’s desire to make money. Hundreds of distinguished names were already hanging in her sticky web, logging frequent flier points on ego trips.
So when she called me “dahlink,” I was the fly to her spider web. Little did I realize she was to give new meaning to the expression free speech.
As Henry Schlieff, Court TV CEO at the time, and later a founding father of Hallmark TV put it upon hearing the news that I was about to become a media critic for Arianna, “Kitman, you’re finally getting paid what you’re worth.”
To make a mark in journalism, whether a William Randolph Hearst, a Joseph Pulitzer, a Henry Luce, you need a new concept. Arianna‘s was to be not paying contributors. It was Arianna’s vision to build a Utopian society by giving writers and other opinionators equal opportunities to occupy a seat below deck at the oars of the HuffPo galley, all pulling together to make her a household word like Drano.
I was hardly an expert in high finance but there seemed to be something wrong about her concept. I began studying Ricardo, Adam Smith, Lord Keynes, Karl Marx. I read biographies of my hero captains of industry like Andrew Carnegie, Jay Gould and Jack Welch of GE. None of them had thought of such a brilliant scheme.
“She is following the Google business model,” explained Roger Ailes, one of the great media innovators who came up with concept of “fair and balanced” right wing journalism. “Google’s primary purpose in business appears to be steal everybody’s content. We’ll own everything. Nobody else will own anything. Then we’ll sell it back to them in one way or another.
“They are like a guy opening a bank with no money. Then going around stealing everybody else’s money and putting it into their banks.
“That’s what Google does. That’s what Arianna does. Takes everybody else’s talents. Convinces them they are on an ego trip being with her. And that it’s good not to get paid.
“People go in saying, ‘What do you mean I’m not getting paid?’ By the time Arianna gets finished with them, they come out saying, ‘I feel important. I don’t need to get paid. All those years I was paid I was being foolish.”
I finally got it: Huffington Post is the true meaning of a non–profit institution: work for us and you don’t profit.
In Ailes’ opinion, it’s hard to live by this concept in real life. “If I came to your house to fix the plumbing and you’d say, ‘You should know you should not have to pay for stopping a leak in the faucet. There still seems be a need to pay for some talent services. I don’t know about you but I don’t want starving surgeons. I don’t want him eating a cracker when he is operating on me.”
Ailes advice to HuffPo bloggers: Since I’m not being paid, can I get somebody else who is not being paid, and I’ll just dictate and they’ll type it up and can she get me somebody who will research my next book without getting paid?”
I don’t blame Arianna for what is happening. She has the natural depravity of industrial revolutionaries who find a chink in the market place and drive their sixteen wheelers through it. She had the wisdom to see the vanity of writers, the need to impress their friends and associates, the need to be influential, save the world or whatever makes them feel good about themselves. She’s just doing what exploiters always do. It’s the exploitees, i.e., the writers, who so selflessly keep the fois gras on her table.
No, I don’t blame her anymore than Hearst or Pulitzer for discovering yellow journalism sells. The four basic food groups of news are blood, sex, scandal and corruption,
Still I must say it was disappointing to read of the $315 million payoff she got from the AOL merger. I kept waiting for a small token of appreciation for the writers, as we say, without whom none of this would have been possible.
And it’s not surprising that Huffingtoniasis is spreading. As financially pressed print publications go on line, there is a natural tendency to follow the model proven so successful by Lady Arianna. For an especially egregious case study, see the conflict in March 2013 between Nate Thayer vs. The Atlantic. Atlantic.com inquired about a piece freelancer Thayer wrote on former NBA star Dennis Rodman (“25 Years of Slam Dunk Diplomacy”), published at NK News. The request: Cut down your 4,000+-word article to 1,200 words for Atlantic.com. The fee: zero. Nada. Zilch.
Could McLuhan have been prophetic in that media owners some day would no longer consider content providers worth anything? Being part of a medium is considered adequate compensation for providing a message.
In the future will CFO’s be looking askance at editorial budgets? Why are we paying for content? How stupid can we be?
“You’re lucky they don’t charge for writing for nothing,” explained Joan Konner, the former dean of Columbia Journalism School. “Don’t mention it. They could start saying its free advertising.”
What is going on here anyway, you might well ask?
Writers write. If there is a market for it, they get paid.
Call me an old fart. That’s the way it’s always been.
But I digress. All of this is nothing compared to the real reason why I hate blogs.
NEXT: THE SECOND REASON.
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