Filtering by Tag: JOURNALISM

How to Make a Living as a Writer

Over the last year, as the Lawrence Grauman Jr. Post-graduate Fellow at the Investigative Reporting Program at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, I had the opportunity to mentor graduate students in journalism. What question did they ask me most often?

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How do you make a living?

For me, the answer was simple. I wasn’t precious about writing. I do one thing well, and nothing else well: I am a very, very good writer. One could say writing is my superpower. Writing is the tool I use to make money. How I use that tool is up to me. There is no one correct way to use the tool. There is you, and the tool, and how you use the tool is your business.

At this point, I’ve been a writer for over two decades. Which is a pretty long time to make a living at something. Along the way, I’ve been many things, but all of them involve writing. I’ve been an investigative journalist, a copywriter, a TV producer, a branding consultant, a publicist, and a speaker, to name a few.

While I know that I can write and well, I have a sort of shrugging attitude as to how I’ve applied that talent.

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  • In 2010, a communications company hired me to be the voice of Pepto-Bismol on Facebook. If you’re not aware, Pepto on social media is a personality. P&G was unhappy with what this company had done to give Pepto a persona. It was up to me to provide that. So, I did. One of the most popular posts I wrote featured the caption: “I partied so hard my cup fell off.” The photo featured Pepto with its cup next to it.

  • In 2009, I wrote and published a 10,000-word investigation of the Great Recession’s impact on the adult movie industry: “They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?” Slate included it in their "Seven Great Stories About Paying for Sex and Being Paid to Have It,” and Longform called it “unflinching and devastating.” Subsequently, an essay I wrote about the project, "The Numbers On Self-Publishing Long-Form Journalism," was taught in “Media, Politics & Power in the Digital Age” at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and the Studio 20 program at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University.

  • In 2008, I was an editor for a Time Warner-owned digital vertical for 18-to-34-year-old women. During that tenure, I wrote nearly 1,400 posts, oversaw a team of freelance contributors, and directed the site’s digital outreach program, helping grow the site’s traffic from startup to 4 million unique visitors and 22 million page views a month.

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So, who am I? A copywriter? An investigative journalist? An editor? Pretending to be Pepto made $100 an hour and earned me thousands of dollars every month. The porn investigation I published “made” no money but was read by thousands and thousands of people and, according to one reader, “changed the way I think about the business of making pornography.” As an editor, I made over $80,000 a year and learned slideshows are the easiest way to maximize page views. I’ve also developed TV shows, consulted on films, and worked as a branding consultant and a publicist. Was one job better than the other? Was one a waste of my time? Was one meaningful and the rest not? Does it matter? To me, it’s all the same. I’m a writer.

Awhile back, I published a digital short story: “The Tumor.” I had it professionally designed and edited. Every month, people buy copies of it on Gumroad, where consumers can pay they want ($1+) for it. It might be a bizarre fiction inspired by reality and populated by a monster, but it’s also unequivocally mine.

To young journalists, I want to say: Do whatever you want—as long as its yours.

Buy my digital short story, “The Tumor” … “a masterpiece of short fiction.”

How Journalists Can Think Like Scientists

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Russell Sage Foundation’s Social Science Summer Institute for Journalists. Helmed by Nicholas Lemann and Tali Woodward, it’s an intimate seminar that teaches journalists how to write about the social sciences and think like social scientists. Guests speakers included Andrea Elliott and Shamus Khan. It’s held in a Philip Johnson building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I’m already using the tools I acquired there. I highly recommend it for everyone: from graduate students to veteran reporters.

[Image via my Instagram]

Buy a copy of my digital short story: “The Tumor” — "a masterpiece of short fiction.”

To Be Read

Image via  Rakuten

Image via Rakuten

ForbesLife did a roundup of their most popular posts for 2018, which included my coverage of France’s first sex doll brothel. As of this writing, that post has 97,096 views. Here are a few thoughts on making content clickable.

  1. People tend to write for themselves. In the click economy, that’s not so smart. You must consider your content as seen through the eyes of the readers. Readers suffer from the paradox of choice. Why should they click on your content instead of others’ content? If you think about topic and titles from their perspective, rather than your own, they’ll choose you.

  2. Content doesn’t sit in a series of discreet buckets. It’s not binary. It’s fluid. Feature writing, copy writing, and long-form journalism pull from the same well to fill various vessels. Borrow and merge. Remix and redeliver. Stop being a snob about your words and care to be read.

  3. The external real audience is just a projection of the audience inside your head. The critic, the fan, the artist, the voyeur, the flaneur. They’re in the world, but they’re in you, too. The path to finding your true self winds through them like trees, their boughs brushing as you pass.

Enjoy my work? Buy "The Tumor." It’s been called "a masterpiece of short fiction."

Wait for It

The nice folks over at Seriocomic have asked me to write a short piece about the comic of my choice. Seriocomic is “a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite comic books, comic strips, and graphic novels.” My contribution will be appearing in the spring. For my “comic,” I chose the graphic novel version of Paul Auster’s City of Glass.

Enjoy my work? Buy "The Tumor." It’s been called "a masterpiece of short fiction."

I Wrote A Story While I Was High

Over at Forbes, I wrote about how I addressed a week-long tension headache with a $40 cannabis candy bar. Because why not? In California, it's perfectly legal. All I had to do is walk in the store and fork over the cash, no medical marijuana card required. My bespoke bar contained very little THC and an equivalent amount of CBD. Needless to say, it worked.

From "I Spent $40 to Get High From a Cannabis Candy Bar":

By the second hour, I did start feeling the effects of the THC. I'd taken such a small dose that it was almost imperceptible, but it did become more significant. I wasn't stoned. I was just ... more relaxed. Well, I was a little high. Everything seemed a bit more amusing, and the things I'd been obsessing over earlier in the day were passing by me like a deadheading train.

Buy a copy of my digital short story "The Tumor" that's been called "a masterpiece."

Tough Girls

Not long ago, I went to a strip club in the San Fernando Valley where porn stars and strippers were engaged in cage fighting. I expected it to be something like the WWE, but in reality it was a bit more like the UFC. I spoke to several of the fighters -- all women -- and it occurred to me that maybe fighting wasn't so different from stripping or performing in the adult business. It's about pushing yourself to extremes, taking your body to its limits, and enjoying the spectacle.

Buy a copy of my digital short story "The Tumor"! It's been called "a masterpiece."