February 18, 2011

WRITERS, WELCOME TO SLAVERY, OR: WHY PEOPLE LIKE HUFFINGTON ARE THE PARASITES OF THE 21ST CENTURY


When I look around for paid gigs these days, I begin to seriously contemplate suicide. It's not that I am anything special, there is an entire section, no, make that all sections in the work force that are being treated worse than slaves, and yes, Hollywood, I am also looking at you. But not just you. I am looking at the outsourced bullshit "text bureaus" and "content farms" that have essentially turned back the clock to somewhere in the 1930s and demand, not ask, but demand that journalists either
(a) work for free, because "it's such a good exposure", or
(b) are told that "we don't make money off this, either, so we are going to pay you 3 (in words: three) cents (yes, I mean that) per word, regardless of research, qualification or professionalism.
Fuck you. Yes, I mean that. Fuck you.

I know that there are a lot of "hobbyist writers" out there, and I am perfectly aware that none of you think that writing is worth paying for, because, hell, we all have written an email or a blog post every now and then, right? It is not the same as doing an actual analysis, doing actual research and actually writing a meaningful article.

When I dissected the Guardian's op-ed, it wasn't merely noticing all the inconsistencies that existed in it, it was all checking up and following up on the guy who wrote it, what his credentials were, what was in his blog, what he ahd published, where certain things came from.

Yes, I did it for free.

Yes, I did for myself, because nobody the hell in the "professional media" did it. And I contemplated a lot about putting all in all two days or more than 17 work hours into it, making sure I didn't get anything wrong.

That is what is called journalism.

That is what we used to do, when journalism was actually a profession and not a SEO-bullshit-optimised content crapper that floods your neual networks with the worst of the worst, text block by text block, giving you nothing more than quantity on a massive scale, so much so that your eyes start to bleed when you begin to google for anything, for something on any given subject.

Arianna Huffington would not merely probably, but very likely disagree, noting that it is the social interaction that adds the value, not the content. Well, here's the kicker, honey. If you don't have content, good content at that... social interaction would very likely only exist on the following scale
LIKE/DISLIKE
Hit that button, babies, and give a little bit away again of your privacy, in exchange of telling your friends, in a public forum, no less, that you really are smitten with Halle Berry's tits, with Lindsay Lohan's troubles, with Charlie Sheen's cock, yes, I said it, cock, because that is all that is really worthwhile stating about Mr. Sheen, no, wait, what I meant to say is coke, not cock, but whatever, in his case, it appears that one fuels the other.
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That is what is has come down to, this new form of journalism, and that is why nobody is willing to pay for the research, for the countless hours that verification takes, for the knowledge that is not stolen from Wikipedia and put on like a mask, and yes, I know what I am talking about, because I am old enough to actually have needed to gather knowledge the old-fashioned way, through books and in the real world, through experience.
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But people like Huffington, they say, quite openly too, that knowledge is a thing of the past, that we have moved past a "knowledge-based" society towards the great golden age of "social interaction", where the added value is not the thing that is talked about, but the mere talking about anything.

Of course she would have to say that, because otherwise she couldn't hop around in the real world, pretending that her Yahoo 2.0 that steals, yes, literally steals a lot of its content and pretends to the readers of her post that somebody actually did more than rewrite the first couple of paragraphs and a link... was worth over 300 million dollars.

It isn't worth that. It never was, never will be.
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Because it isn't journalism.

It is a biased, search-engine driven aggregator of mostly drivel, where barel anything possesses the depth on any given subject that it deserves. Sure, you may say, but what about the bloggers?

Yes? The bloggers. What about the bloggers. Look at most of them.

They are not journalists. They are neither trained, nor experienced for the most part, but they sure have an opinion on something, because that is all that counts. Having an opinion on something. And yes, while I may agree with some of their opinions, it must also be noted that people like Robert Reich for example have another job.

This is not their job. This is how I would do work-out. Or you would go fishing. They write out of passion, sometimes out of obsession on any given subject, and if they don't they sure have something to sell to you, be it their own website, their own product, and why the hell is everybody talking about Apple all the time in all the media? Could it be that if you do, you get a good corporate discount?

Or is it because...
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... yes, because this is what "social interaction" in the corporate sphere does, it creates a cluster, a flock of people readily identifying themselves to advertisers, the wealth, the value comes out of the direct, strategic targeting of these people, and by people, I mean you, my fellow digital wasteland travellers, because that is the delusion that we are being fed, that we feed into each other, that is the mirage at the horizon that keeps us going, that thought that...
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... that we are not alone out here, that there is somebody, in fact many somebodies who like what we like, and the more people like what we do, the bigger the brain's incentive to share, to be part of this group, for this gives us our kick.

That, of course, is nothing new. It used to be called fandom, and - depending on what you were a fan of - it identified you as a geek or a Packers guy (Bad in the first instances, hey dude, what's up with ya tonight, awesome! instance)

It is only now, however, that this "social interaction" has been weaponized.

Yes, that is right. It is weaponized, because - as Mark Zuckerberg once rightfully claimed - we are the "dumb fucks" who give our information away for free, our likes and dislikes, our work, our creativity.

And not to our friends, not even to our "Facebook friends", no, we give it away to the corporations that are behind it, who collect, engineer, distribute, fleece and feed off it.

And we scorn writers. Why? Because writers don't do anything than competently, sometimes even not so competentely string words together, or as my former managing director once told me "I can do that. I write emails all the time."

Well, guess what? That is not what writers do.

In the creative crafts, writers literally come up with something out of nothing and they give it structure and pacing and a goal to entertain, to enlighten, to joke, to excite you.

In journalism, most of the writers do an extraordinary amount of research (or at least used to) before they ever sit down at a keyboard and attempt to make complex subject matters easy to understand, to give you as the reader, as the interested audience, a full breakdown, not only of what happened, but why it happened, who benefited from it, what the implications for you are.
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For that, you need knowledge. And experience. And to be on the ground.

Obviously, corporations don't value that anymore, especially in television "news", but also in the web environment, where the "expert" has replaced the reporter and the anchor or commentator has replaced the writer.

We look at Anderson Cooper and Katie Couric and Brian Williams and, hell, even Keith Olbermann and Bill O'Reilly as "journalists", and we don't understand why these writers, whoever they are, can complain about being slaved to death, financially and physically, because, hey, isn't that a sweet gig? Be in front of a camera for an hour a day? And rant? And pontificate?

Let me tell you, these people are not journalists. Not in the proper sense of the word. And Arianna Huffington is not a journalist. She is an opinionator. And I said it before, and I will say it again, opinions are like assholes.

Everybody's got one, and it is full of shit.

Yes, that is right. Opinions are full of shit. Even mine here.

Oh, I am sorry. Am I undermining myself here?

No, I'm not, because this is not a journalistic piece, this is an opinion. And a warning. To you out there. Because you guys out there, you think - a lot of you - that writing is not a craft, that at best it's a form of art, and hey, we all know how we feel about art, right?

Art shouldn't be paid for, after all, it is the artist "expressing himself"; you know, like in a Madonna video. Let me get my high heels and do the bongo for ya, then!

But writing and reporting are not art. They are not. They can become art, and only become art if the audience, and that means you guys, state that it is (either you or an old fuck in the New Yorker or the New York Times, who has had one too many acie trip flashbacks and thinks that rancid piece of shit in the corner is a recently discovered piece of art by Beuys).
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Until that moment, though, it is a craft.

You know, like fixing a car is a craft, like building a table (unless it comes from IKEA, in which case it is somewhat of a performance art) is a craft. It takes time, experience and knowledge to do all these things, and they should be paid for. By the people who employ you. And only then can you go to the reader and say, hey, we have the best coverage of this or that subject matter, and you know that when we tell you something, you know that is it correct, verified and written in a manner that is both enteraining, enfuriating and enlightening.

But here we are, with people being enslaved. Pushed out. Taken out of commission, just as in other industry, and so, why the hell should you care? Why should writers and journalists have it better than you? Your jobs have gone to China, to India, to wherever the hell we can put workers and employees in corporate cages, only fed and watered once a day. And besides, aren't all writers and journalists little faggots anyway? Poofy, arrogant and aloof?

Serves them right, those motherfuckers, eh?

But here is why this is dangerous. Not only because people like me - just like you - are slowly drowning, but because when there is no longer good journalism, when there is no longer somebody getting paid to get the facts, to dedicate a day, a week or even a month to uncover something so complex that it cannot be written in an hour, that it cannot be understood in a day...
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... you will not have the relevant information to act upon. Now, Miss Huffington and her ilk (and there are many defenders of her, oh dear, sometimes liberals worry me, and I consider myself liberal) don't give a shit. They pretend that they do. And they do have an agenda. Just like the assholes on the right that have replaced proper journalists have an agenda.

And that agenda is to bullshit you.

And since it's for free, you like to be bullshitted.

Perfectly understandable, that. Because as Harry Houdini once said (and I quote from memory and out of a biography on H.P. Lovecraft by L. Sprague DeCamp), "people will pay one way or another an extraordinary amount of money to be bullshitted, because they think that the truth is for free."

But the truth isn't for free.

And while it is not for sale, it must be paid for, one way or another.

And the truth is, that a writer - unless coddled by the corporate establishment - is worth 3 cents per word. Which was paid already once. In the 1940s. Yes, that is right. In the 1940s. I leave it up to you to imagine what could be bought for a dollar in the 1940s and what can be bought for it today.
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In my country, the major media corporations right now want to "re-negotiate" the union-mandated mantle tariffs for journalists. Or rather, for anybody coming into the business right now. And by "re-negotiating", I mean an actual drop in wages of 20 to 25 percent. And that is if you are lucky. And if you obtain a staff position at all. And are not a freelance writer, which is similar to being a streetwalker today. In the bad part of town. Blowjobs are 10 bucks a piece, full body for 30, don't mind that my tits are sagging and I might give you an STD, just let me suck you good.

Oh, and don't think that nobody is making money.

Somebody is making a shitload of money. Off you. Only you think you don't have to pay for this. I saw an ad, from a "reputable" text bureau, the other day that was looking for writers on a freelance basis, for 10 Euro an hour. And you may think, that ain't too bad, but of course, the 10 Euro are only measured for the time actually spent writing, not the time spent doing the research. Which is often two, three times the amount of time that you write on any give subject.

The text bureau had a website, where it offered its "services" (and by that I mean what you would actually write, not them) to corporate clients. A PR article that you were supposed to write in an hour, two tops was on sale there.

For 350 Euro.

Because somebody's Daddy needs his Porsche.

While all you need is enough money to make next month's rent and get more than Ramen noodles. And next time you go to one of those sites, think about this.

Who makes money off of you?

And off of me? And for what purpose?