Monthly Archives: June 2012

Franzen and my ‘social object’ miss

/>Jonathan Franzen’s disdain for social media is well-known. He’s also careful not to let the Internet distract him from writing. I read somewhere that he superglued a computer so he could not plug in a modem.

In  Nathan Bransford’s  excellent blog on the topic of books and writing) he  described hearing Jonathan Franzen speak and how this gave him  a new understanding of where Franzen was coming from. Franzen thinks very deeply and social media is a distraction from that.

I heard Jonathan Franzen speak at Brisbane Writers’ Festival on the chilly afternoon on September 10, 2011. He spoke a lot about birdwatching. At the end of his talk during audience questions a young man asked if  he could comment on the changes in the ‘American psyche’ in the 10 years since 9/11.

Franzen said no.

But then he said he’d explain why he was saying no. Part of the answer was that he did not like memorialisation of events being commoditised into an experience. After the talk I bought a Franzen book and  joined the end of a long queue to have it signed. A young man lined up behind me. He worked at the excellent Avid Reader bookstore and was shivering, having set out that brilliant spring morning without a jacket. When we reached the signing table, I suggested he go first.

When I reached Jonathan Franzen I thanked him for his talk and said I felt much the same way about memorial celebrations. Then I said, “You and I have work appearing in the same anthology.”  
It’s something I’m unlikely to be able to say again.
He asked me the title. It is City-pick New York I said.

Where I meet Franzen

“What's your story about?” said Franzen.

I described "Blue, blue sky". "Its a simple recollection of  visiting the South Tower of the World Trade Center. It's a tourist's memory. Returning  10 years later I questioned myself about my resistance to interpreted memorials. I am also resistant to seeing tragedies as cultural events that I can choose like experiential tourism.

After he had signed his book,  Jonathan Franzen handed it to me, then took my cold hand into his, shook it warmly and thanked me for being "one of us."

Later I realised I'd forgotten to get a photograph. The moment had passed.  There would be no currency, no

'social object' – a la Hugh McLeod –  on Twitter or Facebook or any other social media of me meeting Jonathan Franzen. It seems fitting.

Marian Edmunds

Journalism at the precipice – or is it?

The news this week that Fairfax would axe 1900 staff and streamline beyond recognition, is like hearing about the passing of a friend after a long illness. News you’ve been expecting still comes as a shock. Newspapers were for many years at the centre of my life as a journalist, sub-editor, and an editor. Since the late 70s I’ve worked for  a dozen or so newspapers in Australia, Hong Kong and the UK. Although a part of who I am, newspapers play almost no part in my professional life now.

A glittering, non-award winning career… I was on the staff of the Financial Times for 15 years, and wrote regularly for the Australian Financial Review, and The Australian and for business magazines from 2004 until 2010. Aspiring journalists would contact me for tips on how to get jobs or assignments. I’ve taught at three universities, helping a few students to get their work published, and paid for, in top papers. Few of you will get jobs at mainstream newspapers, I said to my students as a statement of fact. Journalism is moving towards niche markets. Learn how to produce your own content and products, and how to run yourself as a business, I said. I suggested to journalism educators that business education be a part of vocational training. They looked at me blankly.

I knew it would be tough… let’s multiply that! I didn’t have all the answers then, and still don’t, even though I could see how it was going, and started adjusting to a future of self-employment and generating work 15 years ago. On December 5, 2011, the Media section of The Australian ran a story I sent on spec about the end of the print runs for the two regional daily newspapers I started with – the Coffs Harbour Advocate and the Tweed Daily News. The closures were not good news. How will elderly people who’ve never been online find out when a friend has died? Our children will never know what it is to see their picture in paper. When the story ran I received many emails from journalists who felt like me, and from readers who loved print newspapers, and from readers who read on iPads but still like a local paper. I received praise from the editor for my ‘very, very good’ work, completed to my normal standard. I have not written for a newspaper since. Recently the Media and Arts Alliance sent a renewal notification asking me to state what level of membership best matched my income from journalism. I replied that it was the lowest rate as I had no earnings this year from journalism and now think it unlikely I’ll make any in 2012. Of course, I can still get items in newspapers. It’s perfectly possible so long as I detach myself from the idea of being paid a professional rate, or in some cases, anything. Unsurprisingly, I’ve stopped thinking of journalism as my job.

It’s a long way to the shop if you want a sausage roll…. Payment can take up to 60 days after publication, and this often follows long lead times between being commissioned to the deadline and then to publication.

Editorial protocols .. And there are silly things… you are commissioned to write, then two editors leave, and then the new editor waits till the time is right for the story, or until they can pair your story, to another story, by another journalist. The most extreme example ended up with me secretly writing a story under a pseudonym just so the newspaper could pair it with my story to publish it, and pay me for the feature they’d asked me to write a year previously. Around about then it all started to feel too hard. Who has time to apply subterfuge just to get paid for good work delivered in a timely fashion?

Trashing from within… Papers do silly things too, though usually these could be attributed to one silly editor or an executive with a surplus of power and a deficit in having a clue. One that comes to mind is a former editor of a leading business newspaper who cut costs by curtailing library access to freelance journalists writing for the paper. This edict perplexed, mortified and frustrated the very committed and professional editors who kindly accessed library files for freelance writers from behind the paywall. I guess it made us even better at using Google! But the words shoot and foot came to mind.

Paying for what you’ve consumed… Then there are the papers that commission stories to a certain length then say they’ll pay only for what they use. It’s like being served dinner and expecting to pay only for what you eat from the plate. The ingredients still needed to be sourced and the preparation time is the same. So journalists end up carrying the business risk. I worked out a formula that a journalist would have to increase their output by 40 or so per cent just to ensure on the law of averages they’d be paid. This is no way to live. Occasionally, I’d forget all of the challenges, and think it must just be me, that I was being negative, that I just needed to keep at it. So I’d approach a newspaper or magazine. An international magazine I approached a couple of weeks ago loved my idea, gave me a long list of hoops the story had to jump though, and said that they’d pay GBP40. And journalists are the ones who are expected to remain ethical!

What does this it all mean? The stories that I, and other journalists see that need covering, go completely uncovered. Anyone with dodgy dealings they want to carry on with unchecked upon need only conduct their activities in a town or city without its own local newspaper. There’s plenty to choose from. The news that remains easy to find is the grab, the politician harping on and (carb)on. Cheap journalism. Meanwhile, real stories, real analysis is treated as a luxury.

Journalist in the wild.. I suppose it’s an advantage that I have been in the wilderness for a while, and actively engage in other work to do with writing. I had to, but luckily I love it too. I would say to any of the newly redundant journalists, don’t look at now, look at where you think you can go, and most of all start to plan for what you really want to do, apart from working in a big newsroom that is. Feature writing has always been one of life’s great challenges and pleasures for me. It’s hugely satisfying to research, to interview, and to weave disparate information into a meaningful story. Very often you’re the only person ever to join the dots of the story… Unfortunately, however, it’s not good business. Well, not in newspapers. But elsewhere it can make sense. Companies, philanthropists, co-operatives, anyone else can publish now too. And just watch out, for increasingly they will.

Marian Edmunds, The Writing Business.

Welcome to The Paradigm Shuffle

Welcome to The Paradigm Shuffle. I had a newspaper column of my own when I was 19 years old, some time before blogging and the Internet ever existed (which is a mercy). I didn’t know how lucky I was. I write and edit business and corporate material and work with writers at The Writing Business.  I write for  major newspapers and had a long career with newspapers in Australia, Hong Kong and the UK. I am very glad of it and all that I learned, the places travelled to and within, and most of all the people.  I occasionally write personal pieces in the newspapers that usually attract (positive) mail. I’ve co-authored a self-help book that can help you see that you are all as you are, if only you knew it! It is intended to help you see and enjoy this with very little reading and without a list of impossible rules.

In 2011 I wrote a memoir piece, ‘Blue, Blue Sky’ in the literary travel anthology, city-pick New York. It felt like an honour as my story appeared alongside excerpts from that Great Gatsby man and Jonathan Franzen and so many more. In April 2013, my tale of the Turkish bath ‘Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush’ appeared in City-pick Istanbul. It features Orhan Pamuk of course but it’s a great way to discover many of Turkey’s great writers all in one little book.

 What else is there?   I write novels and short stories this blog will explore that path of oh so hard work and my ongoing grappling with that. So this is my column circa the noughties.  Welcome.

Marian Edmunds

The P.S. Thanks to Monica Marcil for helping me to arrive at the title The Paradigm Shuffle.