Friday, July 29, 2011

"Journalism Is Easy"

For two years, I had a column in a Toronto newspaper. I could write anything I wanted. Make that virtually anything I wanted. I could not write this. And I really wanted to.

Okay, this gets a little anatomical. But it’s either “go there”, or don’t tell the story. And I want to tell the story. I would tell you to skip down a certain number of paragraphs if you want to avoid the gross part, but I haven’t written this yet, so I don’t know exactly how many paragraphs that is. Maybe when I’m finished, I will return later, and guide you past the unpleasantness.

(Okay, I’m back. If you want to skip the gross element, jump down eighteen paragraphs, starting now.)

Without delineating the precipitating details – because I can’t remember them anymore – I will only say that there was a momentary interlude in my mid-twenties, when I had a serious battle with, okay, here it comes...


Right away, you can see how that would not be an enthusiastically received subject for a family newspaper. It barely makes the cut on this blog, and, here, I really can write anything I want. And don’t think I haven’t had qualms about this one.

I am feeling one at this very moment. In fact, I may have to pause for a second to allow the qualm to pass.

Okay, it’s moved on. (I wonder where qualms go after you’ve had them. The “Qualm Graveyard”, I suppose, where they transmogrify into regrets.)

Okay, so I was experiencing this unusual event in the digestive area of my life, and, like all my unusual events, I felt compelled to write about it. But the issue in question was constipation, and that placed a substantial limitation on my publishing options. Where would I submit it, the Gastric Monthly? That’s probably a website today, but this was 1969. It was newspapers and magazines, and that’s it.

I could not come up with a submissional destination. Except for one. An alternative weekly newspaper out of New York City, called the East Village Other.

Judging by its content – there was some pretty “out there” stuff in there, though time has robbed me of specific examples – I was certain that, more than anywhere I could think of, that paper would be the venue most likely to be in the market for eight hundred words, penned in the chuckle-inducing style of my weekly newspaper columns, on the boldly outrageous subject of constipation.

The idea of submitting it to the East Village Other intrigued me for a number of reasons. One, I’d have a “by-line” in a, if not respectable, at least widely read “Big Apple” newspaper. Two, if accepted, I would pick up some greatly appreciated extra money. And three, and most importantly, a story that I felt compelled to write, would not go unread. It would be liberally circulated in the East Village Other.

I submit my story with a cover letter, chronicling my background and credits, and my hopes that I’d be hearing from them soon. Then, I wait.

I do not have to wait long. Two weeks later, the East Village Other publishes my commentary on constipation, which began with the attention grabbing three-word sentence:

“I can’t sh.. (perform the biological function the word “constipation” has been designated to describe)…t!”

Well, now. It was exciting. I mean, I expected a letter of acceptance first – saying that they liked my story and they were going to print it – but in a way, this was better. It was more of a surprise. The second surprise concerning my published story was considerably less enjoyable.

The East Village Other did not send me any money.

I was used to getting paid for my writing. The Toronto newspaper paid me every week. Not much, but, when I wrote something, they mailed me some money. These guys accepted my story, and they paid me nothing.

I wrote the East Village Other an irate letter, proclaiming the generally held belief that if a submission is accepted for publication, the writer would inevitably be compensated for it. I pulled no punches. Printing my story without paying, I asserted, was unprofessional, deceitful and wrong.

Two weeks later, the East Village Other responded to my letter. Not by belatedly sending me money, but by publishing my complaining correspondence in their “Letters to the Editor” column.

The paper had gotten me again. Once more, I had supplied them with free copy.

Bringing me to the point of today’s enterprise, which is this:

Journalism always wins.

Why? Because, no matter what, there is always a story. I send them a story, and they print it. I send them a letter complaining of lack of compensation, and they print that too.

You just can’t beat ‘em. Everything is a story.

Consider this thing that happened with that French politician accused of assaulting a chambermaid in a Manhattan hotel.

The guy gets arrested.

That’s a story.

The French find his treatment excessively humiliating.

That’s a story.

American and French women express contrasting opinions on the situation.

That’s a story.

Because of has political aspirations, an “entrapment” conspiracy theory rears its head.

That’s a story.

He’s white, and she’s black.

That’s a story.

He’s rich, and she’s poor.

That’s a story.

He’s prominent, and she’s a nobody.

That’s a story.

He’s one religion, and she’s a different religion.

That’s a story.

The suspect is placed on “Suicide Watch.”

That’s a story.

The maid has a questionable personal history.

That’s a story.

“Have the authorities may have been overzealous in their prosecution?”

That’s a story.

That’s already eleven stories. And if I were following this investigation – which I’m not – I am sure I would discover many other stories as well.

And in the end, when the situation is finally resolved – whichever way that is – someone will undoubtedly write a commentary, wondering if the media had overplayed its coverage.

And, of course, that will also be a story.

You see how that works? Journalism can’t lose. No matter what happens, they always have a story. And when they finally run out, they write a story about their stories.

Journalism is easy.

And I am not certain it should be.


GRayR said...

Don't leave us hanging. How did you 'work out' the problem?

Insert a bad joke here.

PS The word verification for this comment was 'shated', these just write themselves.

Rich said...

The word verification for this comment was dewses.

Rich said...

Okay, I confess, I kept hitting refresh until I got Dewses. But, in all fairness, all of the word verification words I flipped through sounded like either slang words for constipation of prescription medicines for it. The word verification word for this comment was Restomin.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

A situation we have here: a news program that seems to want to have somwthing to get irate about every day, threw a fit over the police not doing a proper search when a young girl disappeared and later appeared (dead and raped) in the garden of her neighbour, when he gave himself up. Never mind that she would not have been alive if they found her earlier, they just should have found her. Big story. Half a year later another girl goes missing. The police call an amber alert the same day. She presents herself to the police the next day after they have arrested three suspicious people. They are still in custody because 'we still have to determine if they knew the girl'. Huh? Tomorrow they'll have a story to tell how muc it cost and why the parents of the girl should pay for it. You never can win.

Ernest T. Bass Hemingway said...

When I first started learning about the writing biz, hundreds of years ago, an early lesson was send a SASE for the publication's writers' guidelines. Not that it would have prevented what happened to you, but maybe...ya never know! They may have sent ya the rules, then screwed ya anyway.

Mac said...

There's a guy in the UK who was practically convicted (in the eyes of the press) of the murder of a female student last December. As the man looked "a bit weird" the subtext was basically "look at him! He looks the type!"
Not that he was even that weird-looking but anyway...then the actual murderer was caught and confessed, and the accused man won compensation from the newspapers.
So now these same papers are running a story about how this poor man was the object of hate and suspicion, when he was innocent all along.
Man, it's tough to not get cynical sometimes.

Frank Paradise said...

When I can't go I just watch Fox News eh.