Friday, April 29, 2005

Learning the Game- The external turmoil of Krystal Grow

Most writers who read Krystal Grow's article about her failed attempt at a Spin magazine internship (An intern's internal turmoil) had little sympathy for the fledgling writer with good reason, but to a limited extent. Many said that the North Adams Transcript article just proved that she was a immature whiner who was rightfully turned down for the position. "Look, we've all had this same experience at some time so just deal with it and grow up!" Writers and editors were also annoyed that she had to throw this little tantrum in public rather than try to work it out on her own.

Probably the sanest response came from Slate's Alex Heard (Krystal Mess), recognizing that not only had none of her critics actually spoken to Grow but also that she wasn't the only one involved in this story, as he explains here:

"...the guy who hired her (at NAT) ended up leaving, and on his way out he ran a couple of Grow's pieces- including the Spin lament—- without letting her know they were going into the paper."

And there's an important and forgotten piece of the puzzle: the editor.

Whenever I see a bad article in a publication, my first thought is that the writer is wasting everyone's time. But the article you're seeing isn't there just because of the writer. They probably pitched it to an editor (or were assigned to do it by an editor), who approved it and then it was probably sculpted to make it right for the particular publication. What you're seeing is mostly the work of the writer but also the hidden hand of the editor. As angry as I might get at a writer for a crappy piece of work, I recognize that it's really the editor who made the final decision to run that particular piece.

But you know what happens. Editors get letters sent to them but the complaints are always addressed to the writers themselves. Editors usually seem to get off the hook even though they were a willing and enabling accomplice. The next time you complain about a piece of writing, please don't forget that.

Speaking as an editor myself, I know some of these things to be true. When people complain about an article in my zine, they yell at the writer and almost never at me.

But the opposite can be true for articles also. When people write in to praise something in my zine, it's always directed to the writer of the particular piece. I pass along the fan mail to the writers and give them a pat on the back too. They deserve it. Honestly, I don't mind or even think about the fact that I myself don't always get thanked or praised even though I'm involved in choosing and editing articles. I just figure that's what I should be doing and that writers should get credit for their work. I know it's going to sound self-serving but I think that editors should get praise along with their writers when a good article comes out. The next time you praise a piece of writing, please don't forget that.

When you're an editor, even a zine editor, you meet people like Grow all the time and that's not a bad thing. As Heard points out in his article, we were all like that when we started out, whether we'd like to admit it or not. That's part of the process of how you learn the writing game and became better at it- not just the writing part but how you work with editors and potential employers.

Here's my favorite example. For many writers' first submission to my zine, I almost always get some variation of the "why music sucks now" article- it's usually pretty short and pretty vague. Although I'll tell the writer this, I'll do it in the most constructive way that I can and then suggest that they took a look at the zine again, think of some more specific ideas, contact me again and see if we can work something out. I'm a writer myself so I know what this is like for other writers. Many don't follow up- maybe they're busy or maybe a slight rejection breaks their spirit. But again, these things happen to all writers so you get used to that and move on if you want to keep doing this. If not, well... this kind of work isn't for everybody.

As for Grow herself, I wouldn't worry too much about her. She's already gotten plenty of recognition for this and even if many consider this bad publicity, you know the old saying about that. She will land journalism jobs, rest assured. And don't be too surprised if one day, it's at the place that she complains about in her article.


Blogger blackmail is my life said...

As much as everyone has bemoaned the article, it was a fantastic piece of work; it's not easy getting national attention so quickly.

What's more interesting to me though is after watching C. Eddy bait the ILM massive with a provocative posting of an Amy Phillips article to the board, the cult of personality writers are in ascendancy, and this young woman seems as good a candidate as any for that particular school of nu journalism.

but as far as editing goes: i think some folks are really hard on new media when it comes to these issues. having read plenty of poorly editing print zines, i think that when folks are reaching a larger audience on the web, some factual errors are to be expected in a largely unpaid workforce. would that it weren't the case!

4:26 PM  
Blogger Perfect Sound Forever said...

Hi Blackmail,

I appreciate the thoughtful comments you always add here. My particular beef isn't with spelling/grammar (god knows you'll find enough mistakes in my blog) but with the type of sensationalism you mention. It's obviously an attention-getting ploy and while I understand that pundits like Limbaugh or Coulter need that to survive, I hate to see this become a recurring trend in music journalism. Obviously, this isn't just something happening recently but I am concerned that as publications find that they're losing ad revenue from more competition and online alternatives, that they'll have to keep pushing this kind of writing to attract readers.

12:30 PM  
Blogger blackmail is my life said...

as i see it, youth will always express frustration with older, ensconced generations of workers - i think that most japanese pulp cinema attests to this in better ways than american b movies - and that the sort of entitlement one feels is an outcropping of the pressure to get a job in one's field of "expertise".

so it wasn't the most polite method of getting attention, but as an individual it demonstrates a certain pluck that i'm sure with proper guidance and editing would be fine.

as far as sensationalism goes: there's a fine line between the two. music writing in large part is a creature of the advertising world anyway, and it's something writers endeavor to make redeeming to themselves as much as their readers. that said, there's a clear signal to the publicists, etc that you've gone on about here cogently. i think that when it comes to new media (since i'm getting my feeble lamb legs stable in this mode) savvy editors need to blend the two to get a proper mix of enthusiasm and sober fact to keep readers interested across a broad spectrum.

as i see it, arguments about music writing are typically arguments about the perimeter of free speech. it's unfortunate that there aren't equally heated arguments about the propriety of political coverage anywhere other than the daily show, F.A.I.R. and Democracy Now.

9:12 AM  

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