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Journalist Travel Blogging

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“I would like to see you make a go of being a journalist,” my friend Motorcycle Bob once wrote to me.

I would, too.

If I were to put as much energy into writing newspaper and magazine pieces as I do into this travelogue, I know that I would have a fighting chance at making a living off of the written word.

But I know that writing standard articles for the standard press is to play checkers on someone else’s board — I may win all of the pieces at the end of the game, but I will not be able to take any of them home with me:

If I write a magazine article, the magazine owns it — sometimes they pay me, and sometimes they forget — but they have full sanction to strangle, strip, and bugger whatever I sign away to them.

And they do . . .

All journalist know that editors oddly possess the more virtuous qualities of a Hoover.

Perhaps I am a little too proud.
—————-
Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Bangor, ME USA- June 16, 2009
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—————-

That is journalism,” I can remember my thesis adviser saying to me as I raged about how a magazine printed a gross perversion of one of my articles without my final stamp of approval.

I feel tied up in knots when I try to publish in print media. I feel like the geek who buys a set of jock clothes and tries to act cool for a day in high school . . . just to go home at the end of the day with a much clearer idea of how much of a geek he really is.

I feel good when I put a full day into publishing on the travelogue. I feel fulfilled, as though I completed something that I can build upon a little more the next day. I like it when I breeze through the latest entries and find a typo, a grammatical or spelling error. It means that the work is still breathing, and has not yet been turned to stone.

But I cannot make a living off of the travelogue. I know this all too well. 12,000 weekly visitors nets $20.
———–

To publish in a magazine I must write bullshit. I publish bullshit here on this travelogue as well, but at least it is honest bullshit (because it is my bullshit).

I admire honesty in writing, and by honesty I mean writing yourself as an imperfect person. I mean writing brash opinions, thoughts, and memories into stories that journalistic standards say should stand alone — stand alone in some wallowing corner of self-trumpeted objectivity, perhaps.

I want to know where a writer is coming from. For me to enjoy a story, I must also enjoy the person writing it. Part of a story is its retrieval. I want to know how the writer got their leads, what they did with them; I want to know about the pothole that they tripped in along the way. I want to know what sort of brandy they were drinking.

Did a crow fly by and poop on the interviewer’s head?

Did the subject have a smear of mayonnaise on the corner of his mouth?

I want to know this.

I want feeling, not words. I like stories, not explanations. X is X and Y is Y means little to me.

HST proved that the process of journalism can often be more interesting than the story itself.

I want to see a writer working their way through an issue. I want to see the gunk that is stuck in their craw. I want to see the journey of compiling a piece from start to finish.

I want to read honesty.

By honesty, I do not mean the truth. I care nothing for truth. There are 4 billion different versions of “truth” on this planet, and I am not interested in a single one of them. I care about pure, essential, raw honesty.

I do not want to read the chicken scratch of robots, but the honestly felt words of an imperfect human being. I want a story worth reading to a man-child while tucking him into bed.
—————–

When I was studying in university I remember walking into my first meeting with a new adviser.

“What are you focusing your studies on?” she asked me.

“Journalism,” I answered with confidence.

“What publications do you read?” she questioned me matter of factly.

[pause][squiggle][pause][pause]

“I don’t read any publications.”

My adviser raised her eyebrows as if I was nuts. “A journalism student who doesn’t read journalism . . .” I could feel her thinking.

“Sounds like a lucrative career path to me.”

Perhaps I am nuts, and perhaps I am on a road to making very little money off of this thing known as the written word, but I also know that I am not going to waste my time reading or writing the robot garbage that somehow finds its way into print magazines and newspapers. I do not read periodicals because I find them lacking any semblance of humanness.

Technicians, not writers, are journalists. Facing the modern standard of journalism is akin to sucking a dried up turd out the ass of a smushed flat roadkill cat: it is not enjoyable.
—————-

In this travelogue, I can freely be imperfect and show my mistakes. It is hard work trying to be right and perfect within the written word. Written words are taken as being permanent, when in actuality they are just as pliable as the breeziest of conversations. It is a good thing I know that the story is found in imperfection.

In print, the magazine writer must faux perfection, clean off his shirt sleeves, and leave no tracks.

My writing is far too dirty for this.
—————-
A friend recently threw a dart at me:

“You write for a poor audience, how can you expect to make any money?”

I laughed at his bull’s eye accuracy.
—————

A letter arrived in my email inbox from a study abroad magazine that I published an article in a long time ago. It was a simple notification that they chose my article to feature on their new website. Ok, no problem. The letter continued to say that they would have to reedit it and cut it down to about half of its size. Ok, no problem — a journalist cannot hope to maintain any artistic pride in his work. The letter continued:

“Please remember that as per the contract you signed with us, we do own the story and therefore have editorial control . . .”

It did not take very long before I remembered that this magazine failed to pay me for my submission. I wrote back a quick and snappy letter to this end.

They, in turn, politely informed me that I misread my contract: they do not pay their writers.

Good thing I gave up studying archaeology . . .
———————
I occasionally glance at the name and number for the human resources director for the Bangor Daily News. I am digging up the gumption to go in and ask for a job: I have a degree in journalism, experience, flowery letters of recommendation, I even worked as a copy editor before.

“Maybe they would let me dot some i’s or write some headlines or sweep some floors or
clean some toilets . . .”

“Hey son, I see from your resume that you have a shiny new degree in journalism, have won writing competitions, published a dozen articles, worked as a copy editor, and come very highly recommended. Here, take this mop and get at it.”

I don’t budge. I weed gardens and go to Labor Ready instead.
—————–

I just receive an email from Canada’s Verge Magazine who did an interview with me a few months ago for an article on international education. The reporter wanted to ask me some follow up questions. I answered them. The reported asked if I had some photos they could run. I sent her some.

I then asked if they were able to pay for the photos, not really expecting an answer in the affirmative — but I figured that it was worth a try anyway. A photo credit paid to www.VagabondJourney.com was the most I was expecting.

I received this reply:

Hi Wade
I asked the editor about the photos — she said they only pay for photos if the photographer is an established professional with a portfolio. Hope that answers your question and that you’d still be willing to have your photos featured in Verge if possible.

If only I was one of them established professionals . . .
————–

I am hesitant to walk into a newspaper office for fear of being thrown out. I know that this entire travelogue entry is only a shield for my own cowardice to hide behind.

I know that the real reason why I have put off looking for work at magazines and newspapers is because I do not want to give them the opportunity to tell me to go shit in my hat . . . or hand me a mop.

“Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out!”

For some odd reason I do not think that I fit in here.

Vagabond Journey on Journalism
Backpack Journalism – articles written by Wade Shepard
Not to Journalism grad school
Another concept of journalism- Article
Another Concept of Journalism
Editor Eats Article

Journalist Absconding In Travel Blog

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Filed under: Blogging, Journalism

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3054 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Cincinnati, Ohio, USAMap