By Johnny von Einem
For the last three years I’ve been working away at a journalism and creative writing degree, essentially straddling a line between two seemingly similar, but in practice starkly different worlds. Tight sentences and a strict adherence to hard facts are the main tenets of (good) journalism, whereas beautiful, descriptive and immersive language is what makes reading a (good) novel so addictive.
Where journalists and authors meet though, is a almost unnatural love for words, a strong desire to make a living from them, and (if discussions at the SA Writers Centre’s forums are anything to go by) then a collective uncertainty about how to exist in the digital age.
It’s not a topic that comes up often in creative writing tutorials, most classes are spent flexing your writing muscles, but the rise of social media and the prevalence of online content is having an effect on how writers are being discovered and how they perceive themselves.
There are masses of self-published works by unknown authors available through well-known companies like Amazon and iTunes, as well as hundreds of other obscure sites, and in a lot of cases for free. Where once these works were dismissed as already-considered-and-rejected writing, publishers’ attitudes are slowly changing and they’re now seeing a slush pile worthy of sifting through for elusive diamonds.
…exposure is something you can die from…
While this seems like a positive step, the abundance of free online content has done journalism no favours. The value of news content has dropped in the eyes of readers, who expect a lot for nothing, and in turn, media outlets are sourcing content from young writers willing to work solely for experience. It is a great way for students like myself (who haven’t quite learned the value of our skill set) to gain exposure and have our work tested at a professional level, but as D. W. Wilson pointed out, ‘exposure is something you can die from’, and at some point it’s going to stop looking like opportunity and look a lot more like exploitation.
So tread carefully aspiring authors, and learn from your journalistic cousins: it’s a great feeling to be read, but don’t sell yourself short.
Johnny von Einem is a final year journalism and creative writing student, music writer for Sleigh Ride and XXIV Magazine, and a shameless self-promoter via Twitter (@johnnyanonymity)