I realize these letters, essays, articles, or particles, as I prefer to call them, may seem a bit long. But compared with what? I should tell you that my role model in waking the public up to sins is Martin Luther. He needed 95 theses on the “Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” in 1517, posted on church doors, the Internet of its day. My favorite of his scholarly objections to mismanagement by the Big Site Provider was number 86, the one in which Luther asked: “Why does the Pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Croeus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?” Why, I ask, do poor writers have to build the castles of our new media barons without compensation?
I can assure you my hope of being a catalyst in a writers’ reform movement won’t be 95 installments long. But you never know, do you?
Before I go on with this pathetic account of one writer in a quandary about whether to take the cyanide pill and against all his principles join the millions who blog for the thrill of writing for nothing, I want to clarify a few points made in the previous installment. You know, I just throw these particles together at the last minute, because since from then until now I’m not getting paid. The last particle took only three days. Nevertheless, I still managed to say a few things poorly, and gave a number of wrong impressions. In the interest of fairness, please read Part VI.
First of all, I’m not going to the trouble of writing all of these incendiary broadsides to trigger the equivalent of the revolt of the slaves in the French colony of Saint Dominique (Mon dieu, who can ever forget the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804?) among the millions of bloggers who are having fun writing for nothing. I’m not urging ye wretches to unite, throw off the shackles of the exploitative class. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t want to spoil their good times, especially because they already have nothing to lose.
What this is all about is just one man’s struggle to resolve the dialectical contradictions of throwing his lot in with the millions of enslaved by calling attention to the true condition of their servitude.
I also want to make clear in these particles that by denouncing the scab bloggers I am not referring to the sad scriveners out there who want only to delude themselves into thinking they are “writers” without the joy of daily facing an empty computer screen or blank sheet of paper, without the freedom of asking themselves every morning: “Why do I have to keep doing this; I’ve already proved I can.”
Hobbyist blogging is comparatively harmless. It helps convince bloggers they are doing something when they are not doing much or anything at all.
No, I’m talking about the idiot bloggers –am I being redundant here? – the professional writer-types with their niche blogs, or the lucky stiffs who have been awarded the chance to tote that barge, lift that bale for Queen Arianna, the Great Stupidifier and other stupidifers who contribute to the stupidification of the writing class. More than Marx, the stupidifers know about the redistribution of wealth.
Now all of this is important. Attention needs to be paid to what it means, why it matters. There is an ecocultural revolution going on, while the rest of us are playing with our hand-held devices, accumulating new toys as they roll off the production lines in China. It’s awesome to see the young people, traditionally the rebels protesting against injustice, walking around on the streets, texting, tweeting, talking with wires hanging fromtheir ears. Keeping in touch! In the old days, people on the street who seemed to be talking to themselves, or Napoleon or Jesus, were thought to be clinically crazy.
The most articulate, verbal members of society, writers should be the toughest nuts to crack in the con game the Stupidifiers have pulled off. The pen, it is said, is mightier than the sword. Mightier still is the eraser, which the Stupidifiers have used to rub out the primal urge of expecting to get paid.
Having convinced these capitalist tool writers it is a pipe dream to be remunerated for a contribution to, say, WaPo (the Washington Post website) or the atlanticmonthly.com, and that they also should be ecstatic their work has been picked up by an AgSite (aggregators, see" Throw Another Blog on the Fire," Part V) without fee, the Stupidifiers are now working their magic on photographers, artists and everybody else down the creative food chain. It is so 20th century to expect payment for theft of services! It’s already happening, according to reports coming in from the trenches.
I was too kind in my off-the-top-of-the-head remarks about the rise of tweeting and texting.
What we have here is Gresham’s law of communication: the bad (texting and tweeting) drives out the good (all other forms of communicating, even phone). The art of writing and reading letters atrophied long ago, replaced by email. Who has time today to write an email, the equivalent of writing a doctoral dissertation? Anyway, trendy people prefer Instagrams, recalling the days of yore when cave painting was the cutting-edge form of communication.
Twittering especially narrows the brain, I‘m told. The unconscious is condensing thoughts to 140 characters. Soon that will be considered too much information. How important can it be if it can’t be twitterized? Spelling is a lost art form. So is writing a complete sentence. The Blogosphere is the city dump of language, with words and phrases being recycled, replaced by handier initials (BTW, LOL). Emotions are summed up in WTF and OMG. Brains, they say, are in the thumbs.
Miniaturization is on the move in the arts. Soon, the “with-it” people will prefer to watch “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Ben Hur” on hand-held devices.
It’s all very scary. A new Dark Ages could be approaching, a return to barbarism. At this rate, we will be throwing rocks and stones at one another to communicate. The noted social media scientist Yogi Berra will have been proven right, when he first said, pardon my French, “It’s déjà vue all over again.”
Call me a false alarmist. We may actually be evolving to a level beyond literacy, a higher form of intelligence, called the New Illiteracy. It’s okay, I argued with myself. Only a hopeless troglodyte like you, Kitman, can’t see what’s going on. Because progress is always assumed to be going forward, not backward, what may be in motion now is not evolution but something newer called devolution. It’s really big.
On the other hand, I may just be a worrywart. As Emily Littela used to say on “Saturday Night Live,” “never mind.”
It is not true that there is no money in blogging. Arianna Huffington, for example, paid Nora Ephron out of her secret slush fund. Nora swore friends to secrecy. Nobody was supposed to know while she was alive. Alec Baldwin is also said to be on Arianna’s payroll. If all this were true, it would be adding financial injury to insult. These are the rich people who don’t need the money. The rich get richer. Money goes to money. And so it goes.
Here are two case studies of less famous bloggers who struck it rich.
Glenn Rabney is a Hollywood screenwriter and producer (Foxsports.com) whose TV writing credits include “The Mickey Mouse Club” and “Not Necessarily the News” at HBO. He also writes graphic novels. Earlier, he had been moonlighting as a blogger at MLB.com (Major League Baseball for the avant garde), where he hoped to achieve, as he put it, “success, fame, fortune, and acclaim from peers, and baseball fans.”
Rabney didn’t want to brag, but MLB.com was actually paying him. He received $150 every time he put in a 10-hour day covering a major league game. He wrote three to five pieces a day for his swag.
That little gold mine didn’t last. Instead of offering money, Rabney recalls, MLB.com realized it could offer college credits to journalism students and let them do most of the work. “I found it comforting to know that our future journalists are being prepared for their future as they learn just how much work they can be made to do for a little or no pay.”
Rabney has since returned to his craft in L.A. where he’s currently working on a graphic novel-cum-potential-film-feature about a gay gladiator.
Kevin Baker is a novelist and journalist. The author of the “City of Fire” trilogy, one volume of which won the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction (2003); contemporary baseball novels (“ Sometime You See it Coming”) and “The Story of Us,” the companion book for Ken Burns’s 10- part documentary “Baseball” on PBS. He is also a contributing editor to Harper’s, and a former columnist at the New York Observer.
Baker recently was offered a plum assignment, writing for a proposed blog site, called baseballprospectus.com. The tantalizing offer included writing a serial baseball novel and a regular column. It would add up to a lot of words per week, maybe 5,000 words, Baker estimated.
And what would they pay for this, Baker asked the editor? He hoped it would be in the neighborhood of $1,000 a week. Which boiled down to about 20 cents a word. In reality, he knew it would be something like $100 per week. Which would be two cents a word.
That was not unreasonable. Heck, even Edgar Alan Poe received two cents a word (in 19th century dollars) and was glad to get it
It turned out management’s offer came in at $50 a week.
The editor apologized. That was all he was allowed to offer by the people running the site. The bosses told the editor, “Frankly, with all the people willing to blog for free, it didn’t make sense for them to actually offer money. They were doing him a favor because of his prestigious background.”
It was an offer Baker could refuse.
“I bet if I went down to the Bowery with a bottle of Night Train Express, I could get a lot of people willing to perform heart surgery.” Baker said. “Then the question would be: how good would the heart surgery be?”
Baker recently heard from another web site. The New York Yankees web site asked him to do a couple of columns a week. He figured the gig would be worth at least a $1,000 a week.
It turned out they would be willing to pay him $125 per week. Baker’s value on the market was rising.
The Yankees were a team valued by Forbes at $2.3 billion ($471 million revenue in March 2013). They received enormous public subsidies the last few years. And this is what they were willing to offer a writer with a resume like Baker’s?
But that was a lot compared to the experience of John Delmar, a lawyer and art critic.
“There was a time New York Newsday would pay me a whopping $200 for my opinion on a work of art or an art show,” Delmar said. “Alas, now I work for free @ newsday.com. I hear this complaint of various hookers: “Everyone else is giving it away for free. How’s a girl to make a living?”
What does all this say about the future for the writing profession?
Making pro writers shoot themselves in their own pocketbook, as I’ve been explaining in this series, is a coup in the struggles of the proletariat in the workplace that not even Karl Marx anticipated while studying the Corn Laws of the 1830’s. His gray beard might have turned green with envy if he had been able to predict the complicity of the workers in overthrowing the capitalist system.
Writers think that by not demanding compensation that’s the way to get to something. The thing is, by the time they get there, there won’t be anything to get. Years of writing without payment guarantee they get only a coveted bitterly fought-over position of writing without payment.
Offers like these, money can’t buy. Money talks. And what does it say to young writers wanting to become rich and famous like us respected veteran scribes? Well, I will call on the advice of Mr. McGuire, given to Benjamin in “The Graduate”:
MR. McGUIRE: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. BENJAMIN: Yes, sir. MR. McGUIRE: Are you listening?. BENJAMIN: Yes, I am. MR. McGUIRE: Plastics. BENJAMIN: Exactly how do you mean?
To be continued