In Praise of Public Pitching

I spoke with Jason Fagone and Ted Genoways about the art of pitching in public.

Longreads Blog

I’ve always been fascinated by how narrative journalism gets commissioned, reported, and published–but the most perplexing part of the entire system is the continued power imbalance between writers and publishers.

This imbalance persists in spite of the internet “democratizing” publishing. More digital publishers are embracing feature writing, but the process behind the scenes feels stuck in the past–a time-consuming marathon of unanswered emails and rejection.

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Cum On Feel the Noize (1983)

Quiet Riot recorded this song, a cover of a 1973 song by the UK band Slade, for their “Metal Health” album, which helped them leap over Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and the Police’s “Synchronicity” on the charts for a brief moment. It’s an underrated song in that I’m not sure we give enough credit to how big a hit this was at the time.

It was the first song that introduced me to pop music and the radio. I was in first grade in 1983, and a girl at my school was singing it. I asked her where she heard it, and she said, “on the radio.” So I went home and turned on my parents’ stereo for the first time, and spent the rest of the afternoon spinning the dial and listening for a station that might play it.

An hour later, nothing.

I sat in front of that stereo for hours. Then days.

(By the way, how foreign is this feeling, now, in 2016? To hear about something and NOT have immediate access to it?)

A few weeks later, I finally heard it–the chorus blasted out during a van ride to my friend’s house. Shortly afterward, he turned on MTV (WHAT IS THIS? WE DON’T HAVE CABLE!) and we saw Quiet Riot on television, in the video for “Bang Your Head (Metal Health).” And there was Kevin DuBrow, strapped into a straitjacket, with a metal mask on his face, writhing around a padded room. My friend’s mother came in and warned us the video was satanic.

“Cool,” I wish I thought to myself.

Really, it scared the hell out of me.

Twitter Still Has What Everyone Else Wants

“Five years later, it seems like the real question is, What has Twitter made of itself?”

Twitter may have problems, but Josh Topolsky’s arguments in “The End of Twitter” miss an important point: What Twitter has already accomplished with social connections — matching relative strangers with similar interests — is vastly different, and arguably more difficult, than what Facebook has done, which is connect you with people you already know.

Twitter does one thing well, and it’s more valuable and harder to replicate than he gives credit.

I like Facebook for what it offers. It’s a connection to family, friends and acquaintances who I’ve known throughout my life. A Twitter connection occasionally evolves into a Facebook friend. And because of this, I’ve seen more newsy, Twitter-like posts in my timeline. All of it is easier to follow than what’s happening on Twitter.

But Facebook hasn’t successfully replaced what Twitter offers, which is the spark of a connection with people you don’t know yet — and it has failed many times to bridge this gap. One example: Facebook has tried to replicate Twitter’s value for journalists and authors by letting people create “public pages” for themselves, but it’s an awkward experience for everyone involved. I’ve seen many status updates where a professional journalist friend invites me to “like” their public page, so I can follow their professional updates. Is this because they’re too embarrassed to post self-promotional content in their normal timeline? (Flaw #1) And now being asked to follow two versions of the same person? (Flaw #2) Topolsky suggests that Facebook could easily replicate Twitter, but none of their attempts thus far suggest they’re able to create an entirely different social network on top of the one they’ve already built — one that’s based on intimate connections in a semi-private space. The same goes for Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp and (yeah) Peach — none of them make strangers as directly accessible as Twitter has. And while these other social apps have grown tremendously, none of them expose us to the worlds outside our existing friend networks so successfully.

Topolsky is right that Twitter needs to make some serious changes if it wants to take better advantage of the network it created. Simplifying the user experience is one way to do that, and a huge part of that user experience is figuring out how to filter out the spam, hate, and vitriol that has caused so many people to leave Twitter entirely. If Twitter is a matchmaker for strangers with mutual interests, then it has to become a more aggressive host and take a stand against (or at least burying) bullying and harassment.

And if Twitter wants to get the most value out of the interest graph it still controls, it needs to make the environment welcoming for people who want to post about their interests, whenever they are moved to do so. Currently on Twitter, if feels like we have to adjust our conversations to fit whatever the day’s big news event might be. And if that’s the case, connecting with people who share my interests is worthless, because we all have to talk about Kanye West right now anyway.

These are big asks for Twitter, because I don’t know of any other interest-based social network that has 100% solved these problems. But what Twitter has already accomplished is significant, and I see no viable alternative that poses a threat.

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Photo by laughingsquid

Yelp for Journalists

Scott Carney is a freelance magazine writer who has launched a site called WordRates, which aims to be a “Yelp for Journalists”—helping freelance writers share information about editors and publishers who accept unsolicited story pitches, who pay actual money for writing, and who respond to emails in a timely manner. It’s like an updated version of Writer’s Market—and it’s not unlike the wonderful Who Pays Writers, which came before it, and Pressland, which has come after it. (This has resulted in some unfortunate press about who’s the real Yelp for Journalists.) Continue reading Yelp for Journalists

The Shapeshifting Publisher of 2015

Video is big this year. (Or maybe that was last year?) In any case, I remember the first time video was big. It was 2006, and my then-employer Time Inc. announced that, due to advertiser demand for online video, it was launching Time Inc. Studios, a brand new unit designed to produce video content for all of the magazine brands. At the time, one of my editor bosses presciently noted that “video turns people into assholes.” Every editor and writer (myself included) started reimagining themselves as producers, thinking that they could turn out cable- or network-television quality programming. Continue reading The Shapeshifting Publisher of 2015

Heather Matarazzo’s Personal Stories from Inside and Outside Hollywood

Heather Matarazzo is writing some very honest, wonderful personal essays. I had a brief chat with her about it.

WordPress.com News

HM-3604

Actor Heather Matarazzo has only published a few posts on her new blog, but each one has stirred up an incredible response from inside and outside the WordPress.com community.

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Things I’m Working On: Being a Better Editor

Millions of people wish they could be a great writer, but I suspect fewer dream of becoming a great editor. It’s always the writer. I recently met Chris Vogel, the articles editor for Boston Magazine, and he compared being an editor to parenting, because it’s about “selfless love.” “Editors are in the people game as much as the words business.” Editors aren’t the stars, but they’re coaxing, listening, pushing, making the writer comfortable that she can do great work. Maybe they’re part coach or therapist, or maybe they’re just customer support. They can help make someone else shine—or at the very least, get out of the way and do as little damage as possible before passing it along to readers. Continue reading Things I’m Working On: Being a Better Editor

The Business of Freelancing, Blogging, and Books, According to Author Jennifer Armstrong

Here’s my latest: A chat with author Jennifer Armstrong (we’re not related!) about the business of freelancing and book publishing.

WordPress.com News

First, I should note: I am not related to Jennifer Armstrong. But! I have followed her writing closely over the years — first during her years at Entertainment Weekly, and more recently as the author of books like Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted (Simon & Schuster), which offered a definitive history of the classic TV series. Her blog also happens to be a must-follow on WordPress.com: She gives glimpses into her current work (she’s doing a Seinfeld book next) and she’s refreshingly transparent about the business (and hard truths) of being a freelance writer in 2015. I spoke with her via email about the business of writing and tips for how she makes time for her own blog.

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