Why I’ll probably never be a staff writer

"Salmon" on 8th Avenue, Manhattan.

“Salmon” on 8th Avenue, Manhattan.

Since starting this project in March 2012, I’ve been approached by a few fledgling blog networks to join their staff. I’m always flattered by the attention, but I always decline.

One concern is quality. For The Weekly Nabe, I write only about topics that interest me; if that turns out to be nothing on a given day, then nothing goes on the site. A staff position would require me to pump out X articles in a day or week, sometimes about stuff that I consider trivial. Probably good for my writing skills – wax on, wax off – but not for my overall excitement about the task.

But my primary concern is editorial control. Writing for an online conglomerate means focusing on profitable topics – topics that generate “clicks”, and thus revenue. The members of the WSJ editorial board are probably very smart, so why do you think they keep manufacturing these anti-bikeshare videos that make themselves look like idiots?

(As Andy Warhol once said, perhaps: “Don’t pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.”)

One way to guarantee clicks is to take a questionable position in a heated debate, and let the passionate members of either side share away. Such was the case on Friday, when Gothamist posted a defense of salmoning (riding a bike the wrong way).

I had addressed that shortsighted perspective two weeks prior, and felt compelled to share it with the world. Or whoever reads Gothamist. Which is, as I understand, a lot of people. So, yep, I left a comment. I fell for the trap.

Gothamist is a champion of unbiased reporting on livable-streets issues, so a few advocates I respect saw it as a backhanded plea for more contraflow bike lanes (lanes going against traffic, like you can ride on Prospect Park West).

But a fact-heavy, responsible approach would not create nearly enough interest, and not enough revenue. Had my piece on salmoning been printed in Gothamist, it might have gotten a few comments, but nothing like the 200+ resulting from the flame war this post generated.

Here’s the bigger issue: casual observers and bike-haters are not going to look for the nuances. So instead the writer, Jake Dobkin, felt compelled to make himself (and by extension, all cyclists) look like an entitled prick.

I love getting huge numbers on a post, but I refuse to sacrifice quality or reputation to do so. And I’m fine with that.

This entry was posted in Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply