I’m no good at the ritual of pitches, and that’s not just because it’s wholly unnatural. It’s hard, on a regular basis, to send several editors several different ideas that will be among the best they see that day. Nobody has that many stories that strong, especially if they’re well-considered or hinge on reporting. Like, nobody.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with pitches. It’s probably better for everyone involved if editors vet ideas—editors in general are a good idea, despite what a lot of the Internet may think. The point of this post is not to insist that my life be made easier and certainly, I’m in a better position that a lot of freelancers. But there’s no trend in journalism that can’t take into account the erosion of staff positions, and even the assumption of steady, stable work. There are more truly freelance folks out there than ever, and more talent. By all sorts of laws of economics and sharing fish-shaped cookies, editors should err on the side of an open door policy, as much as sanity will allow.
I understand that staff positions still do exist, and I’m lucky enough to have particularly good relationships with several editors. Trust and a writer/editor rapport are the ideal state for any kind of word-making. Still, I pitch them very much like I pitch anyone else, just maybe first, with more informal emails, and with more of a willingness to take risks. These are more “freelance with privileges” than staff-lite, and that’s wholly a function of how unstable the field has become. As I’m fond of recalling (and probably romanticizing), I got my start in 2001, at a Knight Ridder paper that was a few years away from making major cuts. Today, we’re at the the other end of the spectrum.
Full disclosure: I have standing arrangements with a few places, so again, don’t feel too bad for me. But I still send out pitches. Very few people get rich writing these days, though as my shrink pointed out, “get a real job” isn’t as easy as it once was.
However, writers like myself, who benefited immensely from blogging on our own, haven’t exactly helped ourselves. Personal blogs, however you want to define them, are at heart narcissistic. Increasingly, I wonder if this is the sole defining quality of “blogging”. It doesn’t matter whether the angle is strict first-person or there’s a genuine attempt at commentary—the blog answers only to itself, and the audience accepts this. In theory, topics can be addressed whenever. Sure, many blogs chase the news cycle, and certainly, corporate blogging has doubled down on this aspect. And yet there’s still the assumption that voice, or some ongoing, nebulous project, remains implicit in all but the most mechanical paid blog work. It also encourages self-indulgence and promotes bad habits, and in many ways resembles the tenured, out-of-touch columnist we all revile.
Blogging, as defined here, is almost certainly the enemy of pitching. Pitches require taking into account the needs of the publication, its audience, and in many cases, what’s both timely (even popular) and still underdeveloped. Blogging puts voice, or perspective, first; a pitch assumes your voice, but substance wins out over style every time. Essence precedes existence, even. Voice can give you an edge, and mutually beneficial brand synergy counts for something. But if you’re used to being accountable to no one’s perspective but your own (your audience buys into that), pitching in this environment can be a particularly harsh experience.
I have no idea what the answer is, especially when economics and craft don’t always share the same interests. I do know this: Voice both matters more and less than ever before. You can make a name for yourself while developing skills that will not serve you well as a freelancer. Having survived and sort of assimilated the web, journalism is getting closer and closer to being whole again. That’s impressive, but sometimes simmering contradiction can cause more damage than all-out war.