Looking into the mirror

There’s nothing wrong with media that isn’t explained by the character of media people. I say this having just come away from a writers’ social organized by MediaBistro. “This is not about networking, but about community-building,” said the invitation in one of those pleasant lies that wordsmiths knowingly ignore: To tell a gathering of writers, especially one predominated by freelancers, not to network is like asking a school of sharks to quit swimming toward the scent of blood.

We met at a no-host bar where the martinis cost $10. There were a lot of water glasses being carried on cocktail napkins. I’m a newspaper reporter by day but my name badge said “MiniMediaGuy.” A couple of my print colleagues were there, duly identified as being among the employed. “How are things going?” asked one freelancer. “We’re rearranging deck chairs furiously but still seem to be taking in water,” I replied. “Really,” quipped one of my colleagues, “which deck?”

We in old media are equally curious about the online world and freelance worlds. After all we may be headed there willingly or not. I met one woman who had worked at a successful dot.com news site. She’d had seven desks and a comparable number of assignments in about 30 months before she got fed up and went freelance. Now life is feast or famine, no work and worries about the rent or too much work and worries about time. “I’m living, I get to go to my farmer’s market, but I’ve got no savings,” she said. I hadn’t the heart to ask about the health plan.

A young woman on her way to Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University sidled up to us newspaper types. I wonder what we looked like through her eyes? I went to Columbia in my mid-30s, which made me among the older students. I distincly recall that when the instructors brought in guest speakers from the working press they always seemed dour and cynical. They whispered with the professors. You could see them shaking their heads and I recall thinking: “You work for the New York Times! What have you got to bitch about?”

Okay, so I don’t work for the New York times. I’m just an ill-tempered reporter for a middling metropolitan daily. But now it may be me who seems pissy and ungrateful. So we had a conversation, us “made men” and the young woman who would have to describe herself. I can remember being 25, but I can’r recall how I felt then, not now, a quarter century later.

Oh, well, one $10 martini not only busts my budget. It gets me looped. I slipped out after an hour feeling better and not just from the vodka afterglow. I was temporarily grateful. It’s a selfish sense of relief akin to lowering a hot rod of fissile material into a bed of graphite. I hope none of the graphite absorbed too many neutrons.

And of course we networked. I took a card from Marjorie Kase of TV With MeeVee a TV Guide for indie web-based video. They’re looking for writers, she said, freelance, from anywhere. Their most prolific guy is from Maine. I’ve no idea what they pay but if you seek them out please don’t say you heard it from MiniMediaGuy.