June 06, 2003

Great Mark Steyn Interview ...

Great Mark Steyn Interview About Writing & Career Management:

American daily papers are the dullest in the English-speaking world - duller than Britain, Australia, India, Singapore, and Jamaica... They're mostly big city monopolies hiring on the basis of diversity of race, diversity of gender and diversity of orientation. Everything except the only diversity that matters: diversity of opinion. So they're almost all leftish but in a rather prissy self-regarding way. If I want to read left-wing drivel, I'll take The Guardian or The Independent over The Boston Globe or LA Times any day. [...]

The danger isn't that you run out of stuff to say, but that all the stuff you say only repeats the same point. It's like, (to use a musical comedy analogy), one of those Broadway laundry list songs where whatever happens: "A cigarette that bears a lipstick's traces/ An airline ticket to romantic places..." all serves to reinforce the same central thesis: "These Foolish Things/ Remind me of you."

That's what was happening to me between 9/11 and late March this year: there were lots of different examples but they all led to the same point - we need to topple Saddam. That's not healthy for a columnist. [...]

My only advice on journalism is there's no point unless it's easy. I don't mean the facts shouldn't take time to assemble or the argument shouldn't be carefully constructed, but at a low point in my life, a few years back, when I was on my uppers, I did a book review for The Daily Mail and the guy called me back and said, look, this opening's too oblique, why don't you move the point you make in paragraph twelve up to the front, cut the section that comes next, etc, etc.

He might have been right, but you can't make a living like that. So you have to write where you're comfortable, otherwise it's not a viable economic model. I've lived in Britain, Canada and America and I think I know those societies from the inside. So I'm quite comfortable writing for those audiences, with slight modifications. One of my favourite moments of the week is taking out the obscure Canadian reference and replacing it with an obscure American or British reference. [...]

Can you give me a brief personal journalism history? Did you go to journalism college? Why the move to the States? What if anything, do you miss about England? What are you glad to leave here?

No J-school. Don't believe journalism is a profession and trying to teach it as such only worsens the quality of the writing and narrows the socio-economic pool from which journalists are drawn.

I quit education at high school and became a DJ - country, rock, classical, easy listening - and then got fired and, like a lot of other people, turned to journalism in the hope that something better would turn up. It never did. [...]

I last visited the National Post offices in Toronto in 1999, when I happened to be in town for a family funeral. I last visited the Telegraph in December 1997, and the security guard wouldn't let me in. I last visited The Chicago Sun-Times when I was a teenager and dropped a note at reception saying I'd like to write for them and eventually heard back several decades later. So I'm not doing a lot of 'networking'.

Posted by at June 6, 2003 12:18 AM

Same with Lileks.

Posted by: Cridland at June 6, 2003 08:38 AM

Speaking of Lileks, Friday's (6/5/03 - 1:09PM Entry) Bleat, has a similar take on Journalists.

Posted by: Ray Eckhart at June 6, 2003 01:55 PM

Hey, that's pretty funny, how Lileks gets to make a fat living off journalism by staying at home with his kid, work side-by-side with journalists when he does bother to show up at work, trash all newspapers (except his own) as fat and worthless and still hang with the cool kids like Steyn and Welch.

Posted by: Kristene at June 6, 2003 03:49 PM

As my teacher, the great political philosopher Harry Jaffa always maintains: In just about all cases, a person's practical wisdom [and by that he would ultimately mean, one's ability to accept the self-evident truths of the Declaration, of the "laws of nature and nature's God" that all human beings are created equal, endowed with natural rights, i.e. natural rights being in contrast to historical, group, or political rights] nowadays exists in direct inverse proportion to how much higher education you've *sustained* (sustained, meaning as in a wound).

Posted by: Robert Light at June 6, 2003 06:56 PM

In my mid-30s I finally decided to finish College. I am stunned by the hubris of most professors. And the profound lack of knowledge many of them display.

I'm alternately amused and irritated by people who tell me "college teaches you how to think" or "in college you learn how to learn." Uh, right man, two years in and a 3.92 GPA and I've still learnt neither, and not a whole lot else either. What I did learn I mostly got on my own, not in your classrooms. But ah well, this is what the world wants from me, so I do it.

If I could drop out and do what Steyn does, I would.

Posted by: Dean Esmay at June 6, 2003 07:34 PM

Two things I hate about college life: 1) "The milieu is post-adolescent." Paglia, or someone like that, said this two years ago. 2) The bedrock economic construct is TENURE. What the fuck is that? Here's a pissy but fun text about such things.

For the record, there's nothing as reliable as booklearnin' to increase your value in a marketplace.

Posted by: Cridland at June 6, 2003 09:21 PM

Ridiculous attention to detail: It was Posner, not Paglia.

Posted by: Cridland at June 6, 2003 09:30 PM

In response to Robert Light's points above (and some of Steyns points as well), J-school can be bad but it doesn't necessarily have to ruin you.

I had a journalism teacher who actively tried to force the left-wing rhetoric spoon down our throats during every class. Anything that didn't go along with her ideology was dead wrong in her view, and she forced us to watch "And the Band Played On" over two class periods as she openly wept during the movie, saying "those poor men" over and over again as she wiped her tears.

I got a C-minus in her class because I wasn't one of the students lapping up her rhetoric. Not a good grade to have, obviously, but it didn't dissuade me from what I wanted to do.

It's true, campuses are overpopulated with idealists who mistake journalism as a vehicle for ideology and can't accept that their way of thinking is just an opinion, not fact...and it's true that the same system produces battalions of "journalists" who want to change the world and have no bad feelings about injecting bias into the articles they write.

But, as Steyn points out, the newspapers are the same way. What can you do about it?

It comes down to a fundamental difference -- there are the people who think (rightly) that the job is to observe and record, and then there are others who think their job is to steer the dialogue to a point they feel is best for society. It's well-intentioned. In fact, I don't even think most of those people know what they're doing is wrong. But it's institutionalized, ya know? Kind of like what Bernard Goldberg said in his boks. But again...how can you really fix something like that?

Posted by: Nik at June 7, 2003 05:46 PM

on the other hand you have to wonder whether bogs are powered mainly by the narrowness of the press. If the press was more diverse (in opinion) would there be any demand for blogs?

Posted by: giles at June 7, 2003 08:10 PM

Giles, I think there still would be a demand for blogs. The broad thinking of blogs is a blessing, but a lot of the joy from these is the enthusiasm the writers feel for their topics. We all know what it's like to watch a print columnist (of any stripe) killing trees just because it's Tuesday again. Bloggers can shut TFU without pen>

et at June 8, 2003 06:42 AM

great interview
you know the whole reason my web site came about
was because i was tired of having my "voice" completely removed by mainstream publications
i would turn in a light funny human interest piece
and the editor would remove the light, the funny, the unique parts of it
and leave the boring, gray, facts with one or two bad jokes inserted that they, the editor wrote under my bi-line..
i felt literary-ally raped
id always dreamed of a free open voice
and finally realized that no one would ever give it to me
hence the personal web site
one day
i will most likely publish my own book too
since so far all the publications seem to think
that my book ideas are too weird and out there
the nerve of me for being so damn
its an outrage
a crime against journalism
i should be cast out
or just step out
as i have
the wild world of web
is the life raft
to "voice" writers
thank god for it

Posted by: rossi at June 8, 2003 09:22 AM

Good point, Steven Rennett. If i were Steyn's editor, I'd also demand he back up his statement of fact that U.S. papers hire "mostly on the basis of diversity of race, diversity of gender and diversity of orientation." I suspect he's pretty clueless about what papers look for in a news reporter, and as an opinion columnist probably isn't too concerned with facts that cloud his conclusion. That said, I agree with his larger point that diversity of opinion should be a goal in building the staff of more American papers.

Posted by: Kevin Roderick at June 8, 2003 04:06 PM

Kevin -- He was just speaking in an interview, not writing for publication, so I don't imagine that his editors should be too concerned with fact-checking his statements....

Posted by: Matt Welch at June 8, 2003 10:21 PM

I'm a tough editor :)

Posted by: Kevin Roderick at June 9, 2003 08:44 PM
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