At first, I was excited because of the boost in UR's music section, and even though I never met the editor in person, we got along well enough via email. But I immediately noticed a change in the editing process. He edited much more severely by rearranging sections and altering phrasing -- but with no apparent reasoning. The worst example was when he appended the phrase "switched from acoustic troubadour to electric genius, plugging in and setting things on fire" to a short sentence in a feature on Norwegian singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche. I'm very sensitive about words like "genius." In fact, in the pool of musicians writing and performing today, I could probably count the ones I'd call geniuses on my two hands -- if not on a single hand.
The magazine underwent some expected changes with the new ownership. One of those was to use a bunch of 400-word band profiles instead of fewer 600-word features. After writing two of those profiles, I started to get frustrated. There was no room to breathe when trying to fit in quotes, band info, and creative quirks. I tried to express my feelings to the editor. Unfortunately, my aggravation got the best of me, and, because of my mixture of idealistic suggestions and gentle ribbing, the editor felt that I was being condescending. As anyone who has used email or instant messenger knows, asynchronous communications are very easy to misconstrue.
To summarize his response with one quote, he claimed, "I think you'll find it difficult to find work in this business if you can't work within assigned word counts and get across enough flavor along with substance." It was clear that he was consciously trying to hurt my feelings. But in my opinion, I wasn't really being condescending. I was simply trying to tell him that, if the magazine continued on its current path, more people would use it as a cum rag than for reading material. Not only can music writing be a very limiting medium, both in terms of vocabulary and style -- but this editor was voluntarily filling the magazine with clichés and nonsense, because of the perceived direction in which the magazine business is moving: in other words, shorter is better.
|"I had to learn, as I soon did, that one must give up everything and not do anything else but write, that one must write and write and write, even if everybody in the world advises you against it, even if nobody believes in you. Perhaps one does it just because nobody believes; perhaps the real secret lies in making people believe."
This is not the future. The future will not be dictated by editors who dole out roles of "somebody" and "nobody." In the future, everyone will have the opportunity to be somebody -- even if they are surrounded by millions of other somebodies. In the future, most people will have a small voice, but every voice will count towards a glorious collage of creation.
I had been trying so hard to be a journalist because of how much I time and energy I had dedicated to my program. It was demanding on all fronts: financially, psychologically, and emotionally. Finally, I took a step back to reevaluate the situation, and turned to my inspirations for guidance. Two of the main reasons I wound up in the program are Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson, two writers who, through different approaches, succeeded through the fictionalized documentation of their own lives. Journalism needs fiction to reach beyond its "factual" confines and achieve a greater truth, but fiction needs journalism too. Fiction depends on the imagination to flourish, but if it contains no elements from real life, it is meaningless.
I started to realize the extent to which our society has become departmentalized and institutionalized. That's why it takes so much time and effort to make any real changes or improvements. Well, journalism is reflective of the society it reports on, and journalism shares those same characteristics and faults of organization. It was starting to seem impossible, within the professional world of journalism, to write anything artistic or creative. What matters in a journalistic business is making a profit, so the content has to be tailored so that people will buy it, or read it and subsequently be exposed to the advertisements.
What I think bothers me the most about the professional world of journalism is that it is made up of an endless number of embittered father figures, who always manage to point out your flaws, but never seem to pick up on your strengths. Journalists are not the real gatekeepers; editors are. They are the selective filters for what is finally presented to the public readership. And that is a position of immense power! Of course that power is going to affect their decisions, especially if the individual feels that he or she had to fight to get that role, as the new UR editor clearly did. This also explains why the journalism industry seems skeptical about the oncoming changes attached to the Internet. Increasingly, non-journalists can reach large audiences using blogs and citizen journalism sites in ways that were never before possible.
So how did I end up in a Masters of Journalism program if I dislike the profession? It all started around January 2006 when I began writing about music as a hobby. Music. That word alone releases a flood of endorphins over every wrinkle in my cerebral cortex, and sends tingles down the back of my neck. At the time, I was living in Chicago with no friends or family, no romantic prospects, and little besides my day job to occupy my time. I came across a website called Blogger.com, and decided to start a blog of my own. I had become familiar with the word "blog" through MySpace.com. People were sharing more about their lives than was probably appropriate, in a place that was viewable from any web-equipped computer in the world.
I named my blog "Head Dress Tattoo," as a testament to the tattoo on my back. After a quick introduction, I got right into the music with a post entitled "My 10 Favorite Albums of 2005." At the top, I wrote, "This is a celebration of the worst year of my life." The weirdest part is that the entry wasn't all that bad. Reading it now, over two years later, I'm still kind of happy with the article. Clearly I had found a way to spend my time doing something creative, constructive, and rewarding. I knew perfectly well that, other than myself, not a soul would be reading the blog. But that's not what mattered. What mattered was that I was happy with the words shooting out of my brain, being digitized by my fingertips. I kept moving with CD reviews, themed mix CDs with lengthy explanations, and experimental features. I had no boundaries or limits, so I wrote what I wanted.