June 5, 2008

Nope, not discussing Google’s tool for spying on people at street-level. I’m actually making a point that face-to-face communication isn’t dead yet.

Today I was walking out of the post office and ran into a former client of mine. This woman ran a boating magazine for years and was adept at covering the marine industry efficiently and completely. In the region, she was respected and revered for her fair reporting and thoroughness.

She told me that she sold the publication and was still doing work for them until they cut their rates and turned the focus of the paper into advetorials and mere PR pieces.

As we went back and forth filling each other in on our career moves, I thought about the journey every writer has traveled in his or her writing journey.

I started penning columns for the Hingham High School paper about 27 years ago. I wrote a regular column and was recognized for my contributions.

Then, in college, I had a regular column for a number years in the Northeastern News. I received an award and some random accolades for those columns.

After that I wrote sports recaps for New England Sports Network, news features and articles for the Mariner chain of weeklies, a bunch of columns for assorted biking publications, and some opinion pieces for a mountain biking member magazine.

But sometimes a path of success has a bump or two in it. 20 months ago I thought that I had finally reached a success launching pad with my own column in the Boston Herald-owned Hingham Journal. I was crafting Writer’s Block pieces for them regularly and getting paid for them.

I saw this as recognition I was worthy of and the door to great things like a desk near Dave Barry’s office, someone on NPR critiquing my work, and dare I say Nobel or Pulitzer. Then the field shifted.

Gatehouse Media took over the chain of weeklies and slashed the budget. My editor was stripped of the ability to pay for quality columnists and the paper started to put in PR-esque blurbs from local business owners. Some columns had the appearance of real journalism, but if you read carefully you could find the agenda.

And I thought all was lost.

But I took pains to maintain my integrity and not give away my writing unless I could see it as a step toward eventual columnist and opinion writer success. That may have started to appear again at Gatehouse.

Just last week – almost a year after I told them I wouldn’t write columns unless they could pay me – I submitted a column to the paper and they snatched it up.

Our agreement doesn’t include paper money or mineral coins, but the exposure assists me in keeping my credentials current and my clips fresh.

So, going back to my marine writer colleague, I empathize with her plight and that of all writers who are faced with giving it away or not working at all.

My advice to her – and to you – is to see what gains you get from having a piece in print and then make a decision. My latest piece at Gatehouse can be viewed at Can you afford not to buy a scooter.

If you do go read it, do me a favor and leave a comment. It will help all writers by making management aware that the columns produced by professionals do create a buzz, get people to think and are worth more than just a byline.

Keep reading!