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Monday, May 14, 2018

Real, Real, Real

Last year, I was a part of a speaking panel focused on what it’s like to be a freelance journalist. Hosted by a local college's journalism society, it was fun to talk openly and face to face with undergrads wanting some advice and insight in the field.

A question was asked that struck me as odd at the time. With her young son in tow, squirming in his seat because he couldn’t sit still for too long, the student asked the panel on how to deal with a criticism of freelancing she had encountered.

Someone told her she wasn’t a real journalist because she was not on the full-time payroll of the publication she wrote for. Freelancing was the best way for her, between being a full-time student, wife, and mother. I said she should not believe what this person said, as many professional journalists these days are freelancers. Writers make what they want to make out of the profession, whether or not they receive a regular paycheck with a portion taken out for a 401(k) and health insurance.

I, along with the other panelists, stressed that the professional journalism field does not have a lot of full-time openings, and freelancing is the way most publications handle their content these days. The cost is less for the publication, which helps them stay in business. Freelancing gives the writer way more options and control over what he or she wants to put out there. It’s actually a great time these days, but if your idea of success is having a 401(k) and health insurance, you need to see a bigger picture.

Full-time job openings, especially writing about music and its culture, are not plentiful and haven’t been for years. Even the ones that exist don’t offer big annual incomes, as the passion for writing about music seems to overshadow the paycheck. 

Would I like to have a retirement plan and health insurance, in addition to a livable wage, from writing about music? Sure, but I have yet to be fortunate to do that in my career. I’m not sitting around waiting for that to happen. I spend 40 hours a week writing copy in the traffic reporting world, but I also spend at least a handful of hours each week devoted to writing articles and working on a book. If I can’t spend 40 hours devoted to writing about music, I sure make the most of the hours I do have. I’m grateful to spend time interviewing people I admire, write about them, and get paid something in return. Freelance checks do come in handy, especially on top of a salary.

I do what I do, and recently, what I do was called into question. I present the following as a way to show the value of freelancing and how not to sway someone with something you think is newsworthy.

Last week, I encountered someone criticizing me as a journalist because I don’t do it all the time. Easy to pass off as an anonymous troll looking to get a rise out of me, but in this case, it had been from someone I had worked extensively with on a story that ran last year. We had a friendly relationship, even though working on this story meant regular phone calls and messages from him asking about how the article was going and him telling me some of things I should put in the article. I thought it was a little annoying, but I stayed on course and wrote the article I wanted to write. He really appreciated what ran online, but I found his relentlessness to be rather out of character from the kind of publicists, bands, and promoters I work with (or hear from) on a regular basis.

After hearing nothing from him for months -- hey, we’re all busy people -- he recently hit me up about a new creative endeavor he has in development. I took what he had into consideration, but I thought there was not a strong pull for me to write about it. I’ve been told it’s obvious when I’m not totally into the person, band, or show that I’m writing about, so I opt to write about the stuff that moves me and that people might enjoy reading.

He had emailed me, messaged me, and called me multiple times, trying to get a response. When I had the time to give him a clear answer, I told him I was politely passing on writing about his project. He did not take my no -- however polite it was -- as an answer. He wanted to know why, opting to push back with reasons why I should reconsider. I told him to back off and that I do not work well with pushy people. He apologized, but I had enough of his antics. I saw him as a force that wants to use the media to make him look good in the spotlight.

In hopes he would leave me alone, I blocked him on all of my social media, blocked his email address, and tried to block his number on my phone.

When he called me a few days later from a different number, I was furious that he went down this route. I had previously given him an answer about why I didn’t want to write this proposed article. I did not accept his apology, as I could not forgive his actions. I was cold and aloof to him. That made him even angrier. Now he wanted an apology from me.

Since I had a relatively good working relationship with this guy, I thought writing him a lengthy email explaining my stances and views would be helpful to him. I also thought it would help him realize things about himself that people had not told him, or were afraid to tell him. He responded kindly and appreciated my email, but then went back to plugging this project.

The following day, he thought it was best to text me about the importance of working with him based on what a friend of his had posted on Facebook. Telling me I “don’t know shit about passion,” I told him to stop texting me, as it had come to a harassment level. Replying “God loves you Eric” and "if you were a real 'journalist,' you would be doing it full time," I told him again to stop harassing me.

The communication came to an end. Any sort of future professional relationship ended, too.

In the times we live in, the media is seen as untrustworthy when they report about things that don’t seem right, are extremely unfair, or are outright false. It’s the media’s job to hold accountable people in check. In my case, if I don’t think it’s worth the time to write a story about it, then why should I pretend that readers want to see this online or in print?

I found it funny this guy was all about talking favorably to me on a story I wanted to write about, but turned heel when I didn’t want to write about something else he was involved with. I was fooled once by him, but not again.

Being a freelancer gave me the chance to say no. I’m fortunate to be in a position where I can say what I want to write about, even if it might mean less money in my bank account for a week. People who want to doubt a freelancer’s legitimacy can do that all they want, but I think the quality of the actual writing and reporting means everything.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Forever Got Shorter

This year marks ten years since my first book, Post, came out. It was a self-released affair put out by a print-on-demand publisher. It’s never sold many copies, but according to quarterly royalty statements, several copies are sold every year in various parts of the world.

I never put the book out to make money. I wanted people outside of my inner circle to read it and find something of worth in it. If emo was a joke to many, then I wanted to show how it wasn’t.  

Last year, I had an idea to release a ten-year anniversary edition of the book. I’d update all the chapters, write a new afterword, and see if a publisher wanted to put it out. After rejection letters from publishers arrived in my inbox, I set the idea aside. Seemed like the gatekeepers thought Andy Greenwald’s superficial and error-filled look at emo was enough. But that was not a reason to quit pursuing something I wanted out there.

Only a few days after our wedding, Hope asked me if was interested in doing a new long-term creative project. She suggested a documentary based on Post. While I’m interested in doing something like that someday, I thought a book sequel to Post should happen before that.

Over the years, I had been asked about doing a sequel from a couple of people, including my friend and fellow podcaster, Jim Hanke, on his excellent Vinyl Emergency podcast. My original response was no, as someone else should write a sequel. I had kind of checked out from modern emo when Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance were considered equals to Braid, Sunny Day Real Estate, and Rites of Spring.

But after being told no to a new edition of Post, I realized I had a lot more to say and research to do, all in what has happened since 2008. There is too much to put into a new edition of a previously-released book. It’s asking a lot of people to read a 500-page tome, so why not try to put out a new book?

I made my plans for a new book known on my social media back in the middle of January this year. I’ve spent every week since interviewing people, doing research, and jotting ideas down. At the very least, I give myself the goal to interview someone every week, even if it’s interviewing the same person multiple times.

So far, it’s been wonderful to touch base with people I originally interviewed, along with people I’ve met since the first book’s release. There are many people to talk to, so I’m giving myself at least until the end of this year to interview people. No deadline is set at the moment.

Structurally, this new book -- which I plan on putting out myself and calling it Forever Got Shorter -- will be more about the people affected by emo/post-hardcore rather doing lengthy profiles of a dozen bands. Whether these are people who play in bands, put out records, or write about bands that put out records, I am aiming to answer a few questions.

Questions like, Why would you fly across the country to see a band like Jawbreaker play a reunion show or two? Why do you still like emo music when you’re in a much better place in your life? Why is emo still relevant? And, what kind of future do you see with it?

I freely admit that it can be complicated to spend all this time on a passion project that may or may not go over. Being newly married, working a full-time job, freelancing, and playing in two bands, my life is busy, but I try to balance everything properly. My life is much, much more fulfilling now -- especially because of Hope -- and I remember what life was like before. And I don’t ever want to go back to that look at life.

Along those lines, I strongly discourage any writer who thinks blocking out everything in his or hers life in order to write an Important Book. As Stephen King suggested in his On Writing memoir, writing is not a support system for life. It’s the other way around.

Moving forward, I’m very excited about doing this book. There is a lot of work to be done, and paragraphs to write before editing happens. But I’m up for it all.