A very fine article I found reminded me of the type of serious longform writing and print-era that, once I discovered it, shaped and fascinated me as a young newspaper reporter. The Village Voice and its crew, of which Stanley Crouch was a part, were in this great, fascinating NYC-centric, newsstand literary universe.
I was definitely not a fan of the content, philosophy or personal style of Crouch (who had left The Voice when I began to read it), but I was a fan of the idea of him. This act of remembering–published in one of the remaining traditional 20-centuryish places left for this kind of writing–brought back memories of a time long gone: of picking up The Voice at Newark Penn Station while on the way to or back from Harlem on an early 1990s Friday, all the while wondering what was possible for me and writing.
Later in the 1990s, embedded in graduate school, I was even more obsessed with The Writers’ Life. For example, I actually bought a transcript and video of the below because I wanted to absorb this discussion. (Not surprisingly, these writers–who were actually post-World-War-II-nouns, who wrote in the mid-20th century for a living–didn’t see that nonfiction and fiction were going to move en masse to the academy.) I succeeded: this 23-year-old talk has been almost completely memorized over the years and, as a result, it serves as part of my internal writing clinic when/as I write.
1) The first thing to remember is that journalism is a TRADE. Anyone has done it, anyone can do it, and now everyone is now doing it. So there are no real “credentials” to being a journalist. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a Howard University drop-out. So, I may add, was Amiri Baraka, one of the greatest writers on Black culture that Black America produced in the 20th century. In his introduction to “The Price of The Ticket: Collected Essays,” James Baldwin talked about how he didn’t even bother going to The New York Amsterdam News because those Negro college boys would have laughed him out the office. Tchou, interestingly, ignores the two-generations-old pipeline that connected Ivy League grads to jobs like hers. (By the way, Farai Chideya is one of those people; Harvard to Newsweek by 25 by 1994.) I guess in Ivy League Land, The Harvard Crimson is “experience,” huh?
Journalism schools were created because the industry was too lazy to train anyone, but needed bodies. I have three journalism degrees, and what I’ve learned from them professionally (from the first two) I could teach in 40 hours or less. As an American journalism historian, I can tell you with some authority (ulp, there’s that word :)) that almost half of the greatest (white, male) journalists of three-quarters of the 20th century had NO degree, never less a “pedigree” (although, some, like George Plimpton and Tom Wolfe, did).
Journalism became a profession in the 20th century because of the MASSIVE need to fill space between advertising. Mass advertising had taken off because of the transfer of people from individual farms to collective cities. The mass audience/market had been born, and content was needed to draw eyeballs (later ears, then, with Tee Vee, the whole thing) to ADS. It was the same reason that
2) “Objectivity” was created. It was created after the Civil War. It was created after 100 years of American viewspapers. Why? For advertising purposes! Creating an “objective,” mainstream media allowed most people to be comfortable with buying the paper to read the advertisements. So both the newspapers owners and advertisers made a pile of money, ,and a WHOLE bunch of people got GREAT careers, travelling the nation and world for decades, with just a bachelor’s degree, decent typing skills and curisoity. They became “prestigious.” This is the real reason why “objectivity” was so cherished.
But what’s really happening here now, right?
3) The walls between mainstream journalism and opinion/literary/cultural/”alternative”/race journalism have been permanently destroyed by the Web 2.0. The segregated world of the Black press, white press, LGBTQIA press, etc. is, now that we are well into the 21st century, getting both merged and, paradoxically, re-segregated. Dude at MTV wants his version of the old Village Voice, right? Well, the VV had both investigative reporting and identity politics writing. The Nation is crapping on the idea because it is representing all of the white male writers who now can’t get jobs–not because their jobs have been eaten by 2.0., but by these “unqualified” Black people. There ain’t enough room anymore for all of dem anymore (and their core audience is dying off): ergo, the old “unqualified” sting. It was different in the mass media era because there were enough jobs for everyone; not everyone wanted to be Norman Mailer or I.F. Stone when they could be the next Edward R. Murrow or David Halberstam. Whites had real choices, based on their priorities and proclivities. But now things that used to be done just in the “alternative” media have now become fulltime, prestigious jobs. Now, these elite white boys have to go teach English and #$%&–you know, the stuff we, as Black people, had to do all our lives, and still do (Rachel Kaadazi Ghansah, one of the greatest writers on Black American culture in the United States, is a public schoolteacher; she’s not on welfare, begging The New York Times Magazine, where she contributes, to hire her.
I never forget that Albert Murray had to retire from TWO jobs (the U.S. Air Force and Tuskegee) before he was “discovered” in the late 1960s. It was the same time a 50-something historian and writer who worked, at various times, as a floor manager (read: janitor) for NBC and the operator of a sandwich stand, John Henrik Clarke, finally got a decent professor job at Hunter College.
So it was amusing to read this article, and to find out that Ana Marie Cox, for instance, is now “prestigious,” when I remember her as a 2004 blogger who supposedly upset the political journalism establishment! LOL! (Here’s the image from The New York Times Magazine cover, which showed her as The Next Big Thing. See, she’s white, so that means she can play a new game to get into the old game.) I remember her saying in that 2004 cover story that her goal was to be at MTV. How wonderful when white girls’ dreams come true! I’m sure Lena Dunham is proud! LOL!
In the end, then, this article is about how elite whites are pissed that they can’t get or keep anything for themselves without some “other” coming in and spoiling their frat party. So, no white boys: most of you will not be David Remnick, Thomas Friedman or the white male Gwen Ifill. Boo-hoo-hoo. And having an Asian female writer buffer your racism with an attempt as sophistication doesn’t take away this new truth.