A few weeks ago, I got into a discussion on Twitter with writer Touré.
For those of you who don’t know him, a bit of backstory:
Touré is one of the patron saints of entertainment writing. He’s written stunning profiles of Lauryn Hill and DMX for Rolling Stone. I’ve dutifully followed his byline since long before I ever copped my own.
He’s a dope writer.
I strongly suggest you cop Never Drank The Kool-Aid, a collection of some of his best pieces. You won’t love them all. But whether you’re new or just starting out in writing, you’ll learn something.
He’s also delved into fiction. I got an advance copy of his novel Soul City when it was released a few years ago. It went way over my head. Didn’t like it. (If you read it and understood it, feel free to tell me about it).
No matter. I love his work. I’m in awe of his career trajectory. And I’m a big old unabashed fan.
So, a few weeks back, I’m checking out the Twitter feed. And I see that Touré is talking back and forth with up and coming writers about the future of journalism. A sample of his Tweets:
I read his Tweets and felt my blood start to boil. In the first message, he said it was wrong to follow your heart. What?
I respectfully disagreed with Toure. I think that things are changing, no doubt. But hustlers will survive–and even flourish. If writing is your passion AND your willing to work HARD, you will be fine. I truly believe that.
For nearly 30 minutes, I went back and forth with Touré as he continued to dash the dreams of hundreds of folks on Twitter who follow him and hang on his every word for advice and guidance. One person asked a great question. Why not give advice on how to make it? Toure’s response:
At this point, I was just pissed off.
Listen to me people:
THERE WILL BE A TOMORROW IN JOURNALISM.
It will be different. But it will still be.
Print media is in crisis. We know this. But there are so many more avenues opening up.
I’m going to use a young woman we had as a guest blogger as an example. Tara Pringle Jefferson wrote a guest blog on wanting to get her tubes tied. We’re both following each other on Twitter so I see her updates. She has a distinct voice on Twitter. She’s a young mom and she talks about those issues. I noticed recently that she started a TweetChat with other young moms. I didn’t join in. But I watched the feed. It was good. And I noticed that she’s building a nice little community for herself. She has a clean, well-designed website that she updates regularly.
My point is that Tara gets it. She’s doing all the right things. She’s not in the white hot center of the media culture. But even in the Midwest, she’s got my eye. I’m watching out for her, though she doesn’t even know it.
I know she has a future in the business. Why? Tara’s a hustler. She reached out to me to write a guest blog, endured the re-writes, poured her soul out to strangers for free. Will she get a staff writer job at Essence? Maybe not. Will her blog take off? Maybe. Maybe in five years, Tara will be charging a fee to enter her TweetChat room. Because the content she offers is just that valuable.
I just know that she–and others I encounter–are not just sitting around waiting for journalism to collapse.
And besides, since when has journalism ever been a money making venture? I went into teaching after college because I was always told: writers don’t make money.
At the risk of getting the IRS all over my behind: let me state plainly that in 2008, I quadrupled the yearly salary I would have made as a teacher.
Am I an anomaly? Maybe.
But I also worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week for my first four years in the game.
I don’t appreciate Touré telling young people that they need to go to med school or business school instead of pursuing journalism. I think he was saying those things just to be provocative. But it broke my heart to read the responses from people who were crushed by his words.
A few weeks after the Twitter conversation, I went to Philly to speak at a writer’s conference sponsored by the Art Sanctuary. (More on that soon).
I flipped through the program on the ride down to Philly to see who else would be there. There was a workshop on Twitter–led by Toure.
At the end of my workshop on crafting a memoir, I was talking with my co-panelist Lori Tharps and a few participants who lingered to ask questions.
And in walks Touré.
Now, here’s the weird thing. I’ve never met Toure. I think I may have seen him before in passing. But we’ve never officially crossed paths. Never exchanged so much as an email. We only know each other through mutual byline recognition. And the first time we ever communicated at length was via Twitter.
So why is it that when I saw his face appear in the doorway, my face broke into a smile and we actually…hugged.
That’s the weird thing about Twitter. It gives you a cyber-connection that instantly translates into real life.
We were exchanging pleasantries like we used to pal around in Brooklyn together. I introduced him to TG as “my friend Touré.”
And then, I snapped out of it.
“Touré, I don’t like what you’ve been saying online. It’s totally wrong.”
Touré got serious quickly too.
“It’s not wrong,” he said. “It’s the truth. Journalism is dead.”
“Stop saying that! It’s changing not dying!”
And so it went, going back and forth in real life, the same way we had in cyberspace.
I got Touré to concede one thing: enterprising writers will find other ways to survive, even if it’s not in the traditional formats.
“Okay, you may be right,” he said. “Maybe writers will still be able to make money. If they do other things. But that’s the hard part….”
Yes, it will be hard. But again, it can be done.
Soon after I returned from Philly, a friend of mine who also reads this blog and follows me on Twitter, sent me this link from Craigslist:
A social media manager? I wasn’t even sure what that was or if I was interested.
I do know I’m interested in a steady check.
As we know, I sold my novel. Yay! But the book world is slow and unpredictable. I won’t see another check for my book until I hand in the edits. They are due on August 1. But I haven’t yet received the edits from my editor. (Sulay! Where are you? Sniff).
And we know the magazine game is super shaky. Last year, 20% of my salary came from KING, a magazine that no longer exists. Another 30% came from an entertainment magazine that had me on contract–a contract that was recently cancelled due to budget cuts.
It’s getting real in the field.
But the idea that I could make a decent living by updating a company’s Facebook and Twitter accounts? I was skeptical. That’s what I do all day for myself! Could I really apply what I’ve learned in the past year about social media and actually make a living?
I met with the marketing firm. Their client is a family-friendly restaurant we’ll call Yummy’s.
The chain has been around for years and years. (If you grew up on the east coast, you’ve been there a million times). And they were looking for someone who could be a presence for the company on the web.
I told the firm what I would do to increase their presence, based solely on what I’ve learned here on my own blog and Facebook and Twitter.
I got the job.
From now until December, I’m managing the social media platforms of Yummy’s. I respond when people mention the restaurant on Twitter. I set up contests and award prizes on their Facebook page. And I monitor their YouTube channels and Flickr accounts.
Is this journalism?
No, it’s not. It’s marketing.
But I wouldn’t have gotten the gig were it not for my background in writing and my recent foray into social media.
I work from home. And the money? Well. I’ll just say that I’m not mad. My bills will be paid as I pursue things that don’t make money–like this blog.
I have the flexibility to continue to take freelance writing assignments and work on the edits for my novel.
I’m working on my own terms. And getting paid to do what I’ve been doing for myself for months.
Oh. And I get to eat at Yummy’s twice a month for free. Not bad.
This is what I wanted to get across to Touré. Writers will have to be inventive. We will have to work harder to support our passions. We will have to stay on top of everything happening online so that we can keep pace.
My passion has always been simple. Work from home as a writer.
Work from home as a writer.
The ways in which I do this are changing at a breakneck speed.
But the fact remains.
I work from home–as a writer.
P.S. And I actually enjoy the challenge of reaching out to Yummy’s customers on Twitter and Facebook. It’s not easy to convince people to “follow” a corporate entity. It’s helping me to learn what works in branding and marketing, something I will need to know when it’s time to market my novel next year.
Oh, and in the past two weeks, I’ve tripled Yummy’s followers on Twitter.
dear readers: if you’re new and just starting out, are you worried about the future? Am I making you feel more hopeful? If you’ve been writing for a while, are you finding other ways to support your passion? Can social media save journalism? Will we still be able to write for a living without getting a day job at Wendy’s?
I’d love to hear from you…