Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hating Your Sources, Part Deux

Ya know, I'm seeing there's a pattern in my last few posts. A leitmotif, if you will. A theme. And that theme is crabbiness. I come here to crab about how annoying my stories are, and why is that?! I love what I do! I'm so grateful to be making inroads back to super-freelance status. What is my damage, Heather?

I guess part of it is -- since I have such a strict policy against (a) blogging about blogging, (b) blogging about not blogging, and (c) blogging about my blog, I only show up here when I have an axe to grind. I suppose it would be possible for me to blog about how unbelievably psyched I am about something. I am! I'm psyched about the cover story I'm writing, it's totally fun and today I got to call the PR company that inspired the name of the Beastie Boys album "Hello, Nasty." Kick ass! I'm psyched that I have a second chance at the big-money toddler tips. Yay!

But I'm bummed that I emailed a very specific request to a nutrition expert, and her reply was to lecture me about how the basic premise of my story was stupid, and try to give me a NEW angle to my story. Oh, expert! How could you? How many times, Expert, have I called you or your ilk to say, "Quick! I'm on deadline! Give me five tops for maintaining Zen in a crisis!" or "Help! I'm desperate! Name three top mood-making interior design tips!" -- only to be given the lecture that (a) the story idea I was assigned, over which I have no control, is stupid, and I SHOULD be writing about this other thing that you feel like talking about.

Expert, it just ain't right. It's not how magazines work. If you worked at one, you would know, but you don't, so on this topic, can I just be the expert? The expert says, if I need five energy-boosting food with spurious science to support each one, just give it to me. We can figure it out together, even! (I've done this before with your opposite, the Awesome Expert!) But don't try to change what story I'm doing so it fits your philosophy. In the long history of publishing -- back to the invention of the Gutenberg press, and possibly as far back as cave-painting -- there has never been a subject of a story, or an expert cited, who said "You ought to do it this way," and voila, wahoo, w00t, the article came out exactly like that. Nope.

If it worked that way, it'd be a blog. Your expert blog. God, wouldn't it be awesome if I googled my expert right now, and found a fresh blog entry bitching about stupid reporters and their dumbed-down requests? that was be so meta! our blogs could meet like matter and antimatter and destroy the internets and all its tubes!

In other bummer news, I didn't get the awesome part-time gig I was up for. Man! The awesome part-time work-from-home gig is right up there with the editor-at-large title -- mysterious, elusive, precious. Ah well. The timing wasn't so great anyway. If all goes well at their end, they'll have room for me in a few months, when my time will be either more my own or completely NOT my own. We'll see. I like them, and they gave me the nicest rejection ever ("No, YOU're great! No, YOU!"), so I'm choosing to believe they like me and will use me eventually.

Monday, September 08, 2008

"how can you stand to write that crap?"

Since I've been pregnant, I notice that I've become public property. Everyone likes to touch my belly and ask when the baby's due and whether it's a boy or a girl and whether it's twins, because I'm so HUGE. Fortunately, i have no boundaries and am a middle child, so the attention is totally welcome. 

Not so welcome is the attention I've gotten since the mid-'90s, when I went from writing little smart articles for little smart (poor) publications to more mainstream article for big fat (rich) publications. People seem entirely content to look at something I wrote and say whatever shitty and insulting thing comes to mind, and every single one of them is burned into my brain. 

Just in case you don't believe me, here's a partial list:

  • "No offense, but your magazine's worse for women than Hustler." (nb: six months later, the same person was begging me to get her novel excerpted in that same magazine)
  • "I just can't believe you think it's OK to pump that crap out." (two weeks later, an email from this person asking how she could freelance for my magazine)
  • "Why not just write for Bust or Ms.?" (I was able to tell this person that, in fact, I was writing a feature for Bust that was paying me $150, while the Maxim feature she was bitching about had paid literally 20 times that)
  • "We don't want any more of these." (An agent, indicating the three-book arc I'd written about teens who become reality TV stars. My babies! We don't want any more of my babies?) 
  • "Well, how about this... is that stupid enough for your article? (This from an expert who was getting free publicity for her stupid sex-advice book via my stupid article)
  • "You mean there's a difference between Glamour and Self? I thought they were all just 'ten ways to get a guy to hand over his wallet.'" (I reserve comment.)
  • "I can not believe you got paid money to write... that." (Full disclosure: the story I had pulled out was really silly. On the other hand, fuck you. What did you ever get paid to write? Actual answer: "A lot of money.")
  • "No seriously, I'm totally impressed that you wrote books! This just isn't the kind of thing I usually read." (I've had 2 husbands and 2 serious boyfriends since I started writing books, and 0% of them has managed to plow through my prose. Granted, they're essentially Gossip Girl with less sex and more smarts, but how hard could it be?) 
  • "Good lord, can't you just write for the New Yorker?" (Yes, mom. I can, I just won't.)
Usually I take the criticism in stride. Yes, it's odd to me that, like lawyers and Catholics, I seem to be in a group that it's just considered OK to take pot-shots at. (at which it's OK to... oh, never mind.) Sometimes it rankles. What are you gonna do? 

No seriously, is there something I can do?! 

Sunday, September 07, 2008

it's bad to hate your sources!

Holy bananas! I'm doing a very simple article right now, the kind I've written hundreds of times before... simple premise, established bullet points, 3 experts. I had a short deadline, so I gathered a LOT of experts all at once, and wasn't terribly picky about them.

Well, I have to get pickier about one of them. 

How often do you interview someone and end up feeling offended to the very core? I'm not Keith Olbermann -- I usually don't write about anything soul-stirring or morally important. I write low-expectation stories for a mass-market audience, and since freelance rates have dropped in the last few years (and stayed at the same rate for the previous, oh, twenty years), I write them quickly and with a minimum of fuss.

But when I'm confronted with an expert spouting what amounts to ignorant, sexist hate-speech, what are my options? I can:
  • Decide not to use her at all, which feels impolite, since she did give me her time and thoughtful answers (soul-curdling as they are);
  • Use her less-offensive answers, which feels gross, because I'm giving her free book publicity, pointers to her site, and implicit approval of her worldview. 
And before you go telling me I shouldn't censor this poor beleaguered therapist, I just don't see how not using someone as an expert is censorship. Do I have to provide damaging advice based on shitty research to be p.c.? 

Anyway, I feel dirty having even spoken to her. To hear ancient bromides like "women cheat because of emotional needs; men cheat because they need sex, and aren't capable of thinking or feeling more deeply about it" made me want a Karen Silkwood shower. I don't think I can use the interview; if she objects, I'll fall back on the old "blame my mean old editor" response. If she gets that enough times, maybe she'll stop being such a reductive hater.