. . . I hear a lot about how television destroyed our attention spans 25 years ago with MTV and paved the way for the micro-information age of the internet. But that same lights and wires in a box has now given us the Wire, the Sopranos, the Shield, Deadwood, and Mad Men. If Charles Dickens were alive today, wouldn’t he be collaborating with Richard Price or Barry Levinson? Half the plots on TV today owe a full frame screen credit to Jane Austen. This is not the fin de siècle of the long form; this is its siglo del oro.
As to the internet, a word that now means far less than what it is, doesn’t it all depend on where you look?
I’m currently following a debate about science and religion between Chris Mooney and Jerry Coyne and many others. By word count alone, it’s probably closing in on the Lincoln-Douglas debates. . .
Patrons might be back:
. . . And the newest idea from Clay Shirky involves something vaguely resembling NPR’s ten percent audience share that does voluntarily contribute to a “free” radio which will emerge organically from, say, among the most-read blogs, the Huffington Post aggregate sites, the columnists like Glenn Greenwald with devoted readerships, and reporting sites like TalkingPointsMemo.com? But it may also be that we go all the way back to the future. I’m talking about: Patrons. Not micro-financed patrons of a penny a piece. I’m talking about well-financed lovers of newspapers, magazines, and blogs and the rest. . .
. . . The truth is that there are all kinds of good reasons (and bad ones) for wealthy Americans to buy an ailing magazine or newspaper. . .
. . . The creative destruction of the internet will carry on with open source solutions and distributed communications and adding great new voices to ongoing cacophony that has always been American journalism. But generating new business models, ab ovo, might not be quite as easy as a patron with an interest in being a publisher. . .
Part 2: How to be a great storyteller (it has some resonance with how to become a good dissertation writer.)
I have spent a long time looking for short cuts to the answer to this very question. But I haven’t found any. So, begin by over-reporting and over-researching everything. If the story involves talking to people, talk to them as long as they will stand to have you around and then talk to them some more. Keep reading. Outline a structure to the piece. Set that aside for now. Realize you don’t know enough. Go over all your interviews and research notes again, only this time, make a laundry list of all the great details, large and small, along with the best quotes. Look at that list a lot. Begin the process of re-reading all of your research. Bail out of re-reading all of your research by convincing yourself that what you really need is a long walk to think about “structure.” Walk toward your shoes and look at them. Blow off the walk altogether. Descend into a shame spiral. Now, catch up on your HBO tivo’d backlog. After several hours, take another ride on the shame spiral. Lumber over to the desk and go over the interviews again. Make notes of your notes in tiny scrawl so that they can fit on a single sheet of paper. Look at the details. Write down the big ideas that form the superstructure of the piece. Realize you are a pompous git for thinking that ideas have anything to do with it and go back to that list of details. Set it aside. Read some blogs.
The next day, re-read the single sheet of paper with the notes of your notes and wonder, what does this sh[ee]t even mean? Then outline a structure. Indulge in a nice long afternoon of intense self-loathing. Start to write according to that outline. Throw that draft away. Write a new outline. Go over your notes. Re-. . .
One of my favorites: Realize that you’ve misunderstood the point of the entire story all this time.