Trading the tyranny of editors for the tyranny of readers

  • Share
  • Read Later

There’s really nothing people like reading more than blog posts about panel discussions where journalists sit around talking about blogging. (Seriously: I got some major uptake the last time I wrote one.)

Anyway, I was on a panel Saturday afternoon in some kind of outbuilding of Jay Gould’s old mansion in Tarrytown, NY. The event was a “Magazine Editors & Writers Symposium” put on by the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center and instigated by my friend Jeff Gordinier. I missed the first discussion, titled “Can creative nonfiction save the world?” The world still exists, so I think the answer must have been yes. I did catch panels on how to turn magazine articles into books (takeaway: be lucky and write a good proposal) and how to sell articles to magazines (takeaway: stop sending magazine editors so many e-mails or pretty soon one of them is going to snap and kill you). My favorite anecdote came from Douglas Rushkoff, who said that in 1992 Bantam cancelled his contract for Cyberia because the bigwigs there were convinced that by 1993, when it was slated to come out, the Internet was going to be totally over. (And yeah, it probably was over in 1993. It just made a comeback.)

My panel was on “Technology: The world of writing on blogs and for e-zines.” Because, you know, blogging is all about technology. And what did we (moderator Gordinier, Michelle Kung of the Huffington Post, Troy Patterson of Slate, Jason Boog of several places, and I) impart? Mainly that writing for the Web can allow one to escape from the tyranny of editors and agents, but usually replaces it with the tyranny of readers (in the form of traffic counts) and other Web writers.

I’m all for varying the tyrannies to which I am subjected. I also think the Web’s rules of engagement are more transparent, and often make more sense, than those of the publishing world. A woman in the audience said it sounded from our discussion as if Web writing was all about entertaining readers, while she saw her role in writing for print publications as informing them. Maybe there’s something to that, but I think one of the great failings of most American newspapers (magazines have their own, different failings) is that they do so little to engage their readers. What’s wrong with a little entertainment?