Saturday, January 29, 2011

Off the wire

There’s a mental and physical sensation that accompanies writing. For years when I worked as a freelance journalist, writing made me feel like a mechanic under the hood of a car, my greasy hands gripping a monkey wrench, classic rock belting out of an old beat-up radio. There were stories that I was starting from scratch, drafts I had to scrap and redo, concepts that I struggled to get onto the page. I hammered out ledes, thickened up context, trimmed quotes, edited the finished product, usually with jazz in the background. Doing stories for radio felt even more manual. Collecting acts and ambient tracks from a mini-disc and cutting them into chunks with Audacity gave me the sensation of being a carpenter measuring, cutting, and nailing.

Over the course of my career as a journalist I’ve felt this sensation less and less in my workplace context. I wasn’t shocked that joining a wire service upended the physical sense of writing, nor was a terribly surprised that it changed the contemplative nature of the work, and of course got rid of the jazz in the background. If anything, looking back on it, I’m surprised how long that sort of thing lasted even once I had joined the machine.

Reporters are lucky enough that we get to write for a living, but of course nobody every said we were going to get to write novels. The formats are limited and the space is restricted, more so every day. A reporter with self-imagined creative streak who works for a financial wire at the end of the day often has a story left to tell, one that won’t fit on a trading screen or make it past a desk editor. These are mine.

Somehow I imagine someone coming up with a digital platform a-la modern-day social network where entries have to be 400 words, well-edited, on message and worthwhile. A Twitter feed where the tweets have to be at least 10 times the allowable 140 characters. Maybe this is it.

It has no kiss-and-tell journal entry drama. It intentionally censors the rabble-rousing opinions of a true blogger because opining about the subjects I write about for a living (I happen to care about them) would compromise my objectivity as a journalist.

It’s a place for the things I want to write that don't make it -- and can't make it -- to the wire. A place that makes me feel like I'm writing again.


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