Thursday, May 24, 2012
"I got you contact information for a guy at the Metro," Chris wrote to me in a text while he was at work. The car dealership where he works is a new advertiser in the free daily paper read by commuters and Chris had spoken to the ad sales rep about his journalism student girlfriend who happens to want a paying job in journalism.
When I got home to our apartment that evening, Chris handed me the guy's card. "He said to give him a call. He said he's got jobs and internships open," Chris said.
Yippee! Maybe I'll get a part-time paid journalism gig, I thought. Stupid me to get so excited.
When I called the guy the next day, he offered to pass my resume and some clips along to an editor.
"Thank you so much!" I said.
Within minutes, I'd sent him an email with my resume, three targeted clips and the link to my online portfolio should the editor wish to see even more.
Hours later, I had a new message in my inbox. The ad sales guy apologized saying there were no jobs open, only unpaid internships.
I thanked him once again and shot the editor, whose email address he'd included, an email. In the email, I thanked him for his consideration and apologized that I couldn't take an unpaid internship at this time. Would it be okay if I emailed him in a few months to let him know what I've been up to and to see if there are any new opportunities?
The editor never responded.
Those of you who are more experienced journalists may be shaking your heads at me. Why wouldn't I devote 15-20 hours of my week to working without compensation? Because I've written news before. I get paid $50 a piece by my local newspaper. One of the pieces I wrote for Broad Street Media appeared on the front covers of both of their weekly newspapers.
So I'm sorry, but I'm not going to work hard at something I'd adept at for no money. Just ain't happenin'.
Now maybe, if I wanted an internship in marketing, something that's a little outside my area of expertise, I'd take an unpaid internship. But at this point, I'd really just like to get paid for the things I can do and do well so that on my night off, I can go to the movies with my boyfriend -- or even just afford to buy candy at my local Wawa.
At the moment, I work my ass off at a day job at Temple, run a quarterly online magazine (for which I am paid nothing) and am trying to further my freelance career. Seriously, I'm not looking for sympathy or pity -- even though between me and my hardworking live-in boyfriend we hardly make enough money to have any fun. Nope, it's fine.
Just don't tell me that I should bow down and thank anyone willing to throw me an unpaid gig. I can make my own unpaid work. I could write a novel I'll never sell. I could start a second magazine.
So perhaps, having read this, you'll understand why a recent discussion board on a magazine group on LinkedIn pissed me off so badly.
A young guy posted a fairly innocuous question asking if all journalism internships are unpaid and if so, why. The first response got my blood boiling.
"Unfortunately, many -- even university graduates -- are not yet at a standard where they are contributing anything of value. They often take more resources than they offer. So from the company's view it is reasonable to have them work for a limited time, initially, for nothing. For many or most interns it is more 'work experience', than 'unpaid work' per se, if you take my meaning! We are doing *them* a favour by having them there as part of their skill development and progress towards a career."
This woman's response is outrageous. First of all, lots of interns will do as well as you let them. Yes, at first, there might be some instruction required but honestly? If you offer paying internships, those interns she's claiming have to be "broken in" will stick around a lot longer than one semester, meaning there's a significant return on your investment.
And "for a limited time"? Most internships -- and I've had a bunch of unpaid internships -- that start off unpaid don't ever start paying you, unless you're hired as a full-time staffer (which is by definition and entirely different gig).
As for work experience, I get that argument. And I've made it to juniors and seniors I knew who had never had a single internship. I've often said that I learned more during my internships than during any class at my journalism school. But I ask you to take a few steps back and reread the intro to this post.
If the intern or potential intern has done this kind of work before -- and employers are honest enough to admit or grant that -- then they should be paid. Maybe not as much as a staffer, but give us more $12 a day (this is the stipend I've seen on most listings at companies like Conde Nast and Hearst making a commute to New York City for an internship feel like a waste of my time and money, no matter how much I might learn by bringing Anna Wintour her coffee).
In one of my classes this past semester, which was taught by an employed journalist, the teacher and one of her guest speakers lamented that the beginning salary for a lot of journalism jobs is about $20,000. I wanted to smack their indignant, disbelieving faces. I'd be overjoyed to make that much money in a year -- especially starting off. I didn't go to journalism school expecting to come out making $60,000 a year, but I don't think an internship that pays minimum wage is too much to ask.
These companies wouldn't hire interns if there really was such a great imbalance between what the student gets out of it and what the student gives to it. Once upon a time, I knew a girl who had to paid a $50 parking ticket incurred while spending her afternoon off taking photos for a local alternative weekly's style blog. I asked her, "Can't they pay that for you?" She scoffed at me and said she'd gotten another the week before that she was told she'd have to handle.
Interns give a lot and they should be compensated fairly, especially if they've amassed a lot of relevant "work experience" at previous internships.
Want another reason why interns should be given a dollar value? Because interns working for free devalues what paid freelancers offer to media companies. They offer valuable, viable skills that they expect to be fairly compensated for and they deserve it. I think interns do, too.
So despite the fact that the editor at the Metro never responded to my email, I'm going to follow up with him in a couple of months, attaching PDFs of more recent news stories I've written, and if he again offers nothing more than an unpaid internship, I'll wait another few months before contacting him again.
I'm not saying I know everything there is to know about journalism, but what writer or editor does? This world is constantly evolving and if media companies want to keep ahead of the curve and start building readership among young people, they ought to value their interns a little more. We're the future after all, you cynics.
Image from WeHeartIt.
Friday, May 11, 2012
She sat in front of me on my last bus toward home. Four foot tall at the most and toothpick thin with all her hair in a single high braid. With cheerleader cadence, she chanted, "Oh my GAWD, Becky, look at her butt." With that she clapped her tiny hands, flashed a peace sign and said, "Deuces." Over and over.
Probably five years old, she was entertaining herself because Mommy, seated ahead of her, was painting her nails over the 3-month-old in a stroller and ignoring the older child.
Soon, the little girl was singing Ms. Mary Mack into not just black but red and purple. When her mother finally turned around to shush her, it dawned on me: It's so important to learn to entertain yourself.
That little girl's mother is not the first woman I've watched ignore her children on SEPTA. Many of them engage in long phone conversations and turn a cold eye on their children.
I'm not a mother so I don't know exactly what it's like to have a little person demanding your attention constantly, but I remember being that kid, the kid who just wanted Mommy to focus solely on her (and completely forget that other little person they called my sister). These women hurt my heart every time they scream "What the fuck is wrong witchu?" at a crying babe.
But maybe what I consider to be poor parenting will pay off in the long run for those kids. That tiny 5-year-old on the bus today was clearly determined to enjoy her own company, even if her mother wouldn't, and I thought, Maybe she'll learn to be comfortable with herself and learn how to do things on her own.
A friend of mine wrote a column for our school newspaper a few weeks ago asking others not to pity her because she actually enjoys eating her lunch alone some days, and I applauded her. I, too, enjoy eating alone some days. There are times at work when a coworker will talk my ear off while I munch on my American hoagie and all I want to do is politely ask her to leave me alone.
For a really long time, I've been practicing being alone. Even surrounded by others, I can be alone in my head. And sometimes I really crave it. I think it's totally healthy as long as you also enjoy social activities (which I do).
So while she sang of Ms. Mary Mack-Mack-Mack all dressed in purple, that 5-year-old got a knowing, appreciative smile from me. Maybe some day she'll be riding the bus on her own, happy to be alone with her thoughts like me.
(Above image of Marilyn Monroe from popculturenerd.com)
Monday, January 16, 2012
A couple of months ago, a tweet about this YA memoir, Straightling, caught my attention. Following the link to the author's website, I signed up for her email list and got access to an excerpt. Her fresh, lively voice captivated me immediately. I emailed the author, Cyndy Drew Etler, and asked if I could review her book for M.L.T.S. Magazine.
A little while later, I got an email asking for opinions of two stock photos. And so began a beautiful friendship.
We email almost constantly. We talk about self-publishing, our favorite books and movies, and writing. Cyndy's been reading THEY KEPT THEIR SECRETS, the book I'm working on, and critiquing it. For a criticism junkie like me, her imparting her intelligence and talent is a blessed gift.
Today, she sent me this email:
Here's a sentence that illustrates one of the points I want you to pick up. I know you have the talent to do this, just maybe it hasn't occurred to you concisely.
When you describe things, as much as you are able, and as much as is reasonable, you want to use the perfect descriptor--and quite often, that descriptor is going to be the most effective if it's unexpected. Check this sentence out.
He sat on the lumpy green couch tapping his feet in time with a guitar he scratched at with sullen incompetence.
Lumpy, green, couch: standard fare. Nothing unusual, but at the same time, no overkill, either. It's lumpy and it's green. It's not also velour, scratched-up, old, and heavy. Right? So for the part of the image that is not the pivotal part--that is not the part he most wants you to take notice of--he gives two normal words to describe it. Just enough to let you know it's shitty.
Tapping his feet in time: that's just what the character is doing. Nothing fancy, just a statement of fact. This, too, is not the focus of the sentence.
a guitar he scratched at with sullen incompetence. NOW we're talkin. THIS is the gem in the crown. The incompetence, the animal-like fumbling. Therein lies our characterization, so therein lies our fancy wording. You dig?
And instead of telling us "he couldn't really play, so he was fumbling at the guitar," he let us divine that, by showing ("scratched at") not telling. He did tell about incompetence, but the "sullen" gives us the layers about him. He's pouty. He's not only incompetent, he's pissed about it.
See what I'm saying here? I want you to go through all your stuff and highlight the lines where you are telling, not showing.
Then with a colored pen, underline the portion of those sentences which is the gem, the really important info you want us to get.
Finally, for those underlined parts, I want you to go into like a state of meditation about it. Hard to explain this part, but you have to let your mind loose of its moorings, and see or feel or hear what that thing/scene/action/look/mood is most "like." A wedding dress, dark like Louisiana Bayou. A stadium cheer of a smile. See how they're totally not related, but the layers say soooo much?
This woman is quickly becoming a dear friend. Hopefully her advice will help you sharpen your own writing!
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Bad writing. It piles up. You write and you write and you just add to the pile. It's shit, it's shit. You torture yourself. For what reason? It's terrible, it's shit. You're convinced. Utterly convinced.
Then suddenly. It sucks less. Just marginal improvements at first. And while the pile of writing builds, you come to find that eventually, you've reached its peak. Your peak. The stuff you're writing is actually decent. No wait, it's good. It's better. It's f*cking great!
Today I climbed a mountain again -- I looked through all of my electronic files. I skimmed dozens of pages of fiction, some of it passable, some of it maybe even good. A lot of it was bad. Really bad. Like, how-could-I-ever-have-thought-this-was-good bad.
But there, amidst the bad, and the okay, there were gems.
And then, later, I was paging through my last Writer's Notebook (#7) and found the following quote I'd copied from the January/February 2011 issue of Poets & Writers magazine:
"No writer worth her salt needs to be reminded that underneath nearly every successful piece of writing there is a veritable mountain of 'failure' upon which it stands. The writer--oh, how well she knows. After all, by what other means has her poem, story, essay, or chapter arrived on the page than by fits and starts, addition and subtraction, revision and rewriting?...The act of creating something meaningful is rarely easy. Rather than get discouraged, consider each derelict passage--the mishanded metaphor, the broken logic--as another step further along in that hard slog toward a good, solid piece of writing."
Those words were written by Editor Kevin Larimer, and they really struck a chord, then and now.
Saturday, January 14, 2012
|This handsome devil is my boyfriend. Jealous?|
(Photo: Rosella Eleanor LaFevre)
I have a favor to ask of you, my lovelies.
My darling, Christopher Doctor, is at work on his own novel. It's called THE BOY WHO COULD DO ANYTHING. He started it a while ago and he's finally back at it. The thing is, he's kind of an instant gratification addict and really wants to know what others think of it.
Would you please take some time out of your day to read the following excerpt, the prologue to TBWCDA, and tell us what you think?
Read the excerpt after the break.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
As a writer, I've long mined my personal experiences -- and exploited those of some of my closest friends and family -- for stories. But through a compost process, I take my own experiences and those of others I know and combine them, filling in the holes as I go with my own imagination.
One thing I've never really given myself credit for is living a life interesting enough to write about without expansion and exaggeration. Maybe that's why I've been fascinated by memoirs lately. Some of my favorite memoirs include Anna Fields' Confessions of a Rebel Debutante and Cyndy Drew Etler's Straightling. Now I'm reading My Week with Marilyn, the memoir by Colin Clark, the young man who got his first job in the film industry, working as third assistant director on The Prince and the Showgirl.
I'm only a few pages in and already I'm delighted by Clark's literary style and, surely, intrigued by the experiences that provided Michelle Williams the opportunity to step inside Marily Monroe's skin. Here, I'll share with you the first paragraph of the memoir, which immediately struck me.
"All my life I have kept diaries, but this is not one of them. This is a fairy story, an interlude, an episode outside time and space which nevertheless was real. And why not? I believe in magic. My life and most people's lives are a series of little miracles -- strange coincidences which spring from uncontrollable impulses and give rise to incomprehensible dreams. We spend a lot of time pretending that we are normal, but underneath the surface each one of us knows that he or she is unique."While reading, I often highlight or note with a pen those passages which strike me as profound and relevant to real, everyday life. This passage is now between blue ink brackets to be referred to again and again.
Have you read any memoirs? Which are your favorites?
(Above photo property of the Weinstein Group. I'm just borrowing it.)
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Last week, I started writing again. Spurred on by all the great reading I've been doing and my coversations with Cyndy Drew Etler, a writer who is self-publishing her memoir, Straightling, I knew it was time I got back to my old self. I've always defined myself as a fiction writer but after the fall 2010 semester, I really hadn't written much. I needed to get back to that person.
So I've been working on this novel I'd gotten the idea for a while ago. And it's slow-going but I really think what I've got so far is beautiful.
I decided that I'll share an excerpt from it with you. Read the excerpt after the break.
About a year ago, when I was working for two.one.five magazine, I got the chance to interview Beth Kephart, author of several books. She is a true poet and an inspiration. I just read this on her blog and had to share:
"There are great pleasures in writing a book at a quiet pace, in writing toward the not easily known. You steep until the material owns you. You steep, you read, you keep consulting those maps, you watch those films, you listen to those people speaking their foreign tongues until they don't sound so foreign after all. And then one day you wake up, and you own it. One day it's not about what you are studying, but what you know. It takes time."
Friday, January 6, 2012
Friday, December 23, 2011
Life is all in the little things, isn't it? Life is the stuff all wrapped up and gifted to us in the tiny moments, the brief and fleeting images right before our eyes.
I'm letting life drift by. I'm scared but I wonder if this isn't my coping mechanism, a distraction from the anxiety of having to live well, of having to find happiness in small things. I don't know what my obsession with "BIG" everything is. I want everything to be big and noted, I want every moment to drip with the juice of big, serious meaning.
I must learn to stop and smell the roses. I must learn to take everything in, to accept that sometimes it rains and sometimes the sun shines. It doesn't have to hold a deeper meaning. I should just accept the way the sun feels on my skin, how the rain drops feel on my arms and legs.
Tomorrow I will try just being, just following the moments of the day as they morph and flow into memories. I have to find the life in the small things, suckle the sweet nectar of life from the bud of the day.
I wrote these words on June 30, 2009 and found them in an old journal today. The 30 or so pages written in the big beautiful red journal gifted to me on my 18th birthday contain some really poetic thoughts that blow me away. Did I really write these words?
Honestly, it's been a long time since I wrote down my reflections on my nature, my life and our whole big, silly world. Old readers of this blog will have noticed my lack of really personal reflections of late. (I'm sorry if you really enjoyed them.)
I fell in love close to two years ago now and I've been working really hard in school and on outside activities. There's been very little time to sit and ponder how I feel about things and what I think of life.
For a very long time, I searched, high and low, for the meaning of life. I thought that I could make sense of it all by writing about my boring life. I thought writing would make my life interesting.
Turns out, I finally got it right on June 30, 2009, and while it took me a while to actually do so, I have just been. I have followed the moments of the day as they morph and flow into memories. I have found the life in the small things. I have suckled the sweet nectar of life from the bud of the day.
Life isn't always what you hoped for or what you expected, but at least you're alive. Right?