How to Be a Better Journalist in 2014
At the end of every year, I look back on what I accomplished as a journalist so I can figure out how to be a better journalist next year. Here's what I learned this year.
Fail to follow your passion, and you fail yourself
In October, I went to DC to work on a story. By the time I got there, the story had fallen apart. Instead of finding a new story, I half-assed it.
Before I made the trip, I wasn't sure if I should go or not. I sent an email to a friend, photographer Clayton Cubitt, asking him what I should do.
"Stop thinking and let your gut tell you which of these things is most interesting to you. Do the one that you're most personally curious/passionate about, not the one you think other people are into. Other people can pay you to do shit you're not into, when you have the luxury of doing your own shit you should only do that which inflames your soul."
Great advice, right? I didn't take it, and in doing so, I failed.
Show the world what you're trying to tell
Despite the fact that I took a photo class in March to better my skills, I didn't take as many photos this year as I would've liked.
In January, I covered the porn awards in Vegas. The post I did there that had the most photos, "The Business of Porn," was the most read.
I need to shoot more and think less.
Go ahead, be a brand
In August, I launched my new site.
Over the years, I'd gotten into the habit of fitting myself into other people's brands. This brand is me. I'm still figuring out what that is.
The only brand worth investing in is my own.
Do shit or die trying
One of the most interesting things I did this year as a journalist was to take a shooting class. I chronicled that experience in "A Girl and a .22." Firing a gun prompted a series of emotions in me, I loved taking photos in the enormous gun store I visited, and I felt challenged by the new, interesting subject matter.
During the first quarter of this year, I was still finishing up treatment for early-stage breast cancer. (I'm cancer-free now.) At the range, I imagined the target was a tumor. My aim was pretty good.
Stories that scare me make me feel alive.
Break away from the pack
Earlier this month, I was planning on taking a trip to Los Angeles. I would spend a week in LA to write a long-form follow up to "They Shoot Porn Stars, Don't They?", which Longform and Slate picked in November as one of the best stories on sex work.
I'd been wanting to do this story for years.
The Friday before I was to leave, the adult industry announced a male performer had tested HIV+, shutting down the business for at least a week. The day before I was to leave, I got sick and vomited 10 times. The day I was to leave, a massive snowstorm blanketed the country from the Midwest to the East Coast, cancelling and delaying hundreds of flights.
That morning, I lay in bed, wondering what to do. I decided to cancel the trip. Then I wept.
A few days later, I wondered absentmindedly what porn stars do when the porn industry shuts down. I mean, they couldn't shoot porn, so what were they doing? I sent out emails and heard back from starlets, directors, producers, editors, cam girls, call girls, and woodsmen who wanted to share the real stories of their lives.
The following week, I posted "What Porn Stars Do When the Porn Industry Shuts Down." Within 36 hours, the post had over 100,000 views. A week and a half later, it has over 400,000 views. It was picked up on Digg, Fark, and reddit.
My favorite comment:
"I have read several of your articles on the porn industry. In general, you have delved into an area that is fascinating from a social and business perspective. What I appreciate is that you do not write for the tittering shock value. You could as easily be writing about shipbuilding. This article I found particularly interesting."
For many years, I debated whether or not to stop writing about the porn industry. Certainly, I have been advised to do so many times. It's bad for your career. No one cares about porn. You should write about something more ... credible.
This summer, as I was putting together my personal site and reviewing what I'd written over the last decade, I could see my best writing was about the porn industry.
After I got cancer and got better, I wondered what my purpose was in life. What was I supposed to do? Probably become some sort of Mother Theresa. I would be kind, and I would help other people, and I would save squirrels lacking full fur coats in winter who had fallen from trees while attempting to obtain tiny, frozen, half-rotten nuts from the ends of long branches.
Instead, I survived a disease that can kill you and decided I want to keep writing about people who fuck for a living as cameras record the action and the whole world watches and pretends it doesn't see what's really happening.
My best work is an act of rebellion.