We recently contacted the publicity team representing Jason Isbell, a popular musician who just played First Avenue on Friday. Our request: access to review and photograph the show for coverage in the Daily Planet. The response: only if we’d first publish a preview of the show, to help drive ticket sales. We said no thanks.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the practice of explicitly trading review access for preview coverage became more common, but I think that smart music acts will hire publicists who are seeking to build healthy and mutually beneficial relationships with local media. Like it or not, we’re all in bed together—and like in bed, it’s okay to say what you want. What’s not okay is to be manipulative.
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Today on her Tumblr, Twin Cities Runoff editor Deb Carver issued a clear instruction to writers: “Stop promoting the idea that it’s somehow noble to not make money for writing, or publishing others’ writing. Stop writing for free, unless it’s for yourself (or maybe for a startup project you really believe in, but only one pet project per person, please). If you’re publishing or writing, make sure you get paid. Don’t hire interns unless you can pay them, too. Stop taking unpaid internships. Stop hiring people who took unpaid internships.”
I respect Deb’s work and her opinion, but I fully intend to keep breaking every single one of these rules, every day.
At the Daily Planet, I’m paid for my work as an editor, and I consider myself very fortunate to have a job I love. I’m able to be paid for this job largely because generous foundations and individual donors support the Daily Planet’s nonprofit mission. That support also allows us to pay most of our writers at least something for most of their writing—though this column is among the things we publish without pay. If our donors all suddenly pulled their support and decided to put their dollars elsewhere, I’d be sorry for that, and I’d take another paying job doing something someone would pay me to do while I continued writing and publishing for free in my spare time. Why?
I believe that the process and the product of writing have value—so much value that I’m not willing to wait around for the free market to pay me to write. My cobloggers and I publish and write The Tangential without pay. Breaking another of Deb’s rules, I have a separate project, Unreality House, that I also write and publish at my own expense of time and hosting fees. It’s all free. Read those blogs or don’t, but we’re going to keep writing whether or not you pay us to. It makes us happy to do it.
What would happen if everyone in the world who writes for free suddenly stopped? What if all the blogs went away, all the Tumblrs shut down, all the zines were burned, all the tweets vanished? We’d find a few dollars in our pockets to get some of them back, but we couldn’t possibly support all of them, and the world of writing would be a much smaller, less diverse place. Worse, we’d all be deprived of the sheer enjoyment of writing and being read, of everything that means to us as human beings. Got something to say? How much money do I need to pay for you to say it?
Creative endeavors, from writing to sculpting to dancing, are things we show that we value not just by paying money but by paying attention—and, most of all, by doing. I don’t feel exploited or undervalued because I’m giving this away for free—it’s not free. You’re giving me your attention, which is the most precious thing you have. Money comes and money goes, but the five minutes of your life that you’re spending to read this post can’t be refunded. (Sorry!) It means a lot to me that you care what I have to say, and I hope you have something to say in response.
I could write more about why I think the pay-for-play business model for creative content is something we shouldn’t cling to, but my coblogger Becky Lang has already explained that well in a recent post that I can refer you to. I do pay for some writing (The New Yorker, my monthly Emily Books download), when I can afford to. I’m also glad that some of the publications I write for (including the Daily Planet) can afford to pay me something, some of the time. But I have a lot more curiosity than I have money, and I have more to write than you have money to pay me for the right to read it. Whether or not I can be paid for it, writing isn’t my job. It’s what I do.
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In the near future, when climate change has reduced Minnesota to a drought-ridden wasteland of starvation, survivors will look back at the present period of culinary excess with woeful nostalgia. (I was just reading the latest dire predictions in InsideClimate News. Yes, we’re doomed.) In the meantime, we sure do love food, and reading about food, and listening to people who write about food talk about food.
Last week, two different Twin Cities groups had meetings featuring professional food writers: one was the MN Society of Professional Journalists, and the other was a Twin Cities Media Alliance “Brown Bag Lunch with a Journalist.” The food writers were James Norton of Heavy Table, Kim Ode of the Star Tribune, Stephanie March of Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine, and Rachel Hutton, late of City Pages, now freelancing.
Based on these two events, I can make the following overgeneralizations about professional food writers.
1. They are somewhat better-looking than average.
2. They are smart and well-educated, to the degree that you wonder if maybe they should be doing something more constructive with their lives, such as halting the global warming-induced decline of Western civilization.
3. Their infatuation with eating seems tinged with weltschmerz.
I drew the weltschmerz conclusion after about the fifth time the food writers responded to a question with, “Oh, no, I never know how to answer that question!” You get the impression that they’re so bombarded with requests for restaurant recommendations that they want to hide. They’re writers, after all, not vaudevillians.
Thus, I will do everyone a favor and summarize the panelists’ comments, so that when you run into them you can talk about something other than food, such as the fact that the increasing number of severe weather events is bringing on the apocalypse in short order. The questions were ably posed by MN SPJ’s Alyssa Ford and TCMA’s Jeremy Iggers, a long-time food writer himself.
When Craig Claiborne popularized food journalism in the 1950s, he established some rules for critics: dine anonymously so you’re not treated better than other customers; don’t accept free meals. What are the rules you follow these days?
All the panelists seem to have assimilated the list of critics’ guidelines by the Association of Food Journalists, even if they don’t follow them to the letter.
What’s unique about the Twin Cities food scene?
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