It means that you won’t get first preference for anything. It means that publicists won’t reach out to you when the clients they represent have an offering. It means that you’ll always be questioned — by video directors on set; by PR people who can’t tell the difference between good and bad reportage; by everyone, really.
It means that, though you know infinitely more about the subject than the person who’s been assigned a story, that person will always get preferential treatment because they’re either white, or work for a ‘major news organisation.’
It means that interviewees will cancel on you at the last minute. It means that your peers will try to explain away these missteps, and then add a “it happens to everyone” as though you give two shits about what everyone else goes through.
You know you don’t!
How could you, when all you’ve survived on is having to hustle every fucking step of the way.
The one time — one of many — you asked what you thought to be an ally for the contact to the one editor, they ignored your request, even though they’d responded to the other e-mail you’d just sent moments before. The other time, some fuckoff editor decided to can your story at the last minute because “it’s not reading as a cover feature, or telling the reader something they may not have known.”
You wanted to ask why they had to wait a whole week to tell you that. You know that you delivered the story on time; that “it needs a lot of work for which we don’t have time at this stage, we go to print at 4pm” is the type of lie you tell to 3 year-olds. You want to tell them to fuck off, but you respond with a muted “I understand. Thank you for letting me know.”
It means that you’re constantly cutting corners and learning techniques to make for the shortfall in not having a mentor in the newsroom the mainstream holds in such high regard. It means bending tradition. Hacking the system. Fucking the rules.
I’ve existed in this state since I started writing professionally. Because I’ve never worked in a newsroom nor associated exclusively with a publication, I’ve had to do the hacking.
It can be a lonely, draining experience where the likelihood to be left bitter is greater than normal, whatever ‘normal’ means. Defending your right to write can leave you drenched. It’s not cool!
But as I’ve come to discover, being an unknown writer, who writes about topics of little significance to everyone else, is empowering. For one, you take time to think through your pieces. You don’t rush. No one expects anything from you, so you set the highest bar for yourself. And you keep smashing that bar, and setting a new one to smash.
You never settle. You realise the bullshit around you, and it glimmers.
You never pay attention to it; you’ve learnt to not feed off of negative ideas with the potential to leave you jaded. You seek clarity of vision at every turn. You’ve amassed allies who go through similar, disparaging experiences, and that’s all you care about. You ask about what they’re working on. You exchange ideas, break bread and push one another to seek higher heights.
Because when you’re an unknown writer, no one is watching. No one knows you. No one reads by-lines, so even the people you write about never acknowledge you in public nor share the stories you write on their social platforms.
But you’ve also been around long enough to know that the unknown writer is the most resilient. You’ve seen tables turn. You can smile; laugh; say ‘NO motherfucker!’, and remind them of that one time they were shitty to you. People forget, you remember, so despite entertaining the thought, you smile silently and proceed to engage their request.
When you’re an unknown writer of little significance, you’re not beholden to anyone; a ‘NO’ is just as dispensable as a disposable ‘YES’.
At some point, people do discover that you’re fuckin’ dope. You gain infinite ‘social capital’ which you can use to the benefit of the allies who are still on the come-up.
And because you can trace every scintilla of every step you’ve taken thus far, you’ve no qualms when taking great risks — they’ll either pay off or leave you high and dry, living under precarious conditions.
You don’t mind.
You’ve been through those cracks, have experienced how painful it is to squeeze through them, and have the goddamned scars to prove it!
Be an unknown writer. Of little significance. Writing about topics. That no one cares about.
And be dope as fuck while you’re at it…