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Tue

14

Sep

2010

The Folly of Exclusivity
Tuesday, 14 September 2010 05:57
by Kellia Ramares

I recently left KPFA-FM (PacificaRadio) after eleven and a half years when I was told that, due to the need tomake budget cuts, my hours as a news tech and general board op were to be cutfrom an already inadequate 11 hours a week (no benefits) to an unsustainablesix. But I did not go quietly. I made a parting speech to the Pacifica NationalBoard, which happened to be meeting in Berkeley two weeks later, in which Iraised some pointed questions as to why this “progressive” radio station couldno longer afford to keep me at what were barely quarter time hours.

I published the speech on my Facebook page and severalother web sites. During the succeeding weeks, I further developed my thoughtsinto a longer essay that was published in Atlantic Free Press. Then, viaFacebook, I discovered that the leftist magazine In These Times had an online blog forlabor stories and it paid. (The other sites did not pay). I sent in thearticle, expressing hope that here would be some coin available, given thecurrent situation. I heard back from an interested editor within 5 minutes. Hesaid “this delves into one of the big dirty little secrets about progressivemedia, and I'm interested in running it, with coin involved.”

Unfortunately, he was about to leavefor a week’s vacation, so he could not discuss the matter further, but he askedme to get back to him on Friday, August 20th. Later that day,  it occurred to me that I should send anotheremail telling the editor, as a matter of professional courtesy, that mycommentary had been published by Atlantic Free Press and might be published bythe Centre for Research on Globalisation,a Canadian website. CRG had published a long article by former PacificaExecutive Director Greg Guma, and he had quoted me, which had prompted me torespond. I had made a few minor changes in essay Guma had quoted from, so ITThad “the latest and best version”. (CRG never did publish my response toGuma). 

When I contacted ITT again on August25, I got the following reply.  “Giventhat the whole thing is available here: http://www.atlanticfreepress.com/news/1/13595-pacifica-cutbacks-raise-questions-about-progressivism.html

I'm not so interested in it anymore,although the lower section is very interesting, and rarely said within the"progressive" world. Please do keep Working In These Times (and ITTin general) in mind for future pitches, though.”

In other words, he was saying thatregardless of the interest level or importance of the information, if hecouldn’t get it first, he didn’t want it at all. Furious at this editor’sshortsightedness, I immediately sent my rejoinder: “Just my opinion here, but Ithink everyone's emphasis on wanting to be the first and have exclusivity meansthat important stories and issues don't get the attention they need becausethey don't get repeated enough to engage the public mind. Advertisers say thatthings need to be repeated at least six times to get it into public consciousness.

Plus the fact that not everyone who reads Atlantic Free Press reads me (theyhad 353 writers when last I looked). And not all ITT readers read AFP. How dowe raise public consciousness about an issue if we only mention it in oneplace? That is not how the Right gets its message across.”
 

I never got a reply.

Indeed, when the Right sinks its teethinto an issue, you hear it on all the talk shows. All of Fox Spews’commentators bark about it. It becomes fodder for Tea Party rallies. The Rightmedia presents a united front, saturating its air waves and its print organswith its message, which, no matter how outrageous, gets absorbed by the publicconsciousness (or is that unconsciousness?) by virtue of repetition.  The Left media outlets, on the other hand,compete against each other to be “the first and only” and so the messages arenot as powerfully and consistently presented.

Some outlets request exclusivity for 1to 3 days, which means delay in spreading the message. That can be disastrousfor the message in a world in which the news cycles a lot faster than it didtwenty years ago. OpEd News, an excellentLeft wing news portal to which I contribute, has the following notice on thebottom of its submission form.

“Wesubmit articles to 400+ other websites and mailing lists. But we only guaranteewe will submit articles that give OpEdNews at least a 48 hour exclusive fromdate of submission. How much of an exclusive (in hours) does this articlehave?”

Articlesshould be forwarded as quickly as possible, on based of their quality andimportance of material, not on whether or not the forwarding publisher gets aperiod of exclusivity.

TheInternet has changed the way we get news. Although it makes sense intuitivelyto have one place on the web for all of a journalist’s work (and it wouldcertainly be easier for the journalist), the truth is that if you are noteverywhere, you are not anywhere, especially if you are not a very famous name.A writer may have a strong web site, like Dave Lindorff’s This Can’t Be Happening, but he/orshe also needs republication in as many places as possible to not get lost inthe shuffle. As I told ITT, Atlantic Free Press has 353 writers and counting.After your piece falls off the front page, people don’t see it unless they arespecifically looking for a certain type of article, such as a book review, orthey are looking specifically for you. This is true, not only for AFP but forother “content aggregating” sites or “portals.”

We,as readers, tend to skim most sites, and jump ad-hoc from link to link. Giventhe links I have put in this article, you will probably do likewise. It’s aprocess that has some scientists looking into whether Internet use re-wires ourbrains. It makes me wonder if today’s journalism is feeding Attention DeficitDisorder.

Withso many media outlets on the web these days, plus hundreds of specialized cableTV channels, competing for our ever-shrinking attention spans, exclusivity isfolly for the journalist and for the message. And if a publisher cares aboutthe message, it is folly for the publisher, too, because on how many messageswill he or she get exclusivity? Better to be in the loop rather than out, eh?

Exclusivityis elitist; it is anti-democratic. And it is anathema to keeping the publicwell-informed, something that is desperately needed these days.

Anotherissue that’s related to exclusivity is journalist pay. This issue did not comeup directly in my experience with ITT, but I had to wonder if the editor was infact balking at paying for “old news.” All paying outlets should pay for workeven if it is not an exclusive. Many people have cars of the same make, modelyear and color. Many people buy the same brand of jeans or soda. A shoe sellercannot stay in business by only selling one pair of shoes per style. But thefreelancer is often stymied in making sustainable money by limitations on theresale of articles. I remember when I inquired with Womens eNews about writing for them and thefirst thing they tried to do was to saddle me with a two-year exclusivityagreement. And their practice then was not to show the contract to the writeruntil after the article had been accepted. I balked at that practice and asenior editor relented. After reading the contract, I declined to submit thearticle on the grounds that I did not believe in exclusivity. The editor wishedme good luck in finding publishers who would not demand it.  

Ifpublishers want to offer a full-time job in exchange for exclusivity, that isone thing. But freelancers should not be forced to trade their much-neededflexibility for a sale. In a world where a writer is often paid on the basis ofhow many eyeballs he or she can bring to a web site, such limitation ofexposure is indeed folly.

 
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