Thursday, December 31, 2009
I thought about writing some year-in-review thing, but I already sort of did that here, so I thought, instead, I would take a look back at pretty much the only thing I've done in the last few years that has any value worth considering, which is a series of online projects.
I think for a variety of reasons I began to sort of "give up" on the way that I had done things previously, the "traditional" way of doing things. I wrote my first freelance story in 1997, so I've been in the game a long time, and it just wasn't really working for me anymore. As you know, the magazine industry is dying, the economy is in the crapper, and the internet is going to save the universe.
From an editorial perspective, I was increasingly frustrated with my ability to get traditional publications -- online or in print -- to "support" what I wanted to do. This is nothing new, but seemed to be increasingly so in recent years. Also, looking back, the things I've done that have been of the most interest to me -- those projects where I had the most control, that, therefore, felt the most "me" -- were those that I did independent of any organization.
Of course, blogging is a big part of that. But blogging is transient, like a train that pulls into the station and then leaves. It lacks stickiness, sometimes depth, and since small children have them, they are not always taken very seriously. Such is the nature of when things go mainstream.
So, I wanted something "more." In 2008, I launched Letters from Johns because I had a random thought one day that if I put a query on my blog asking readers why they had paid for sex, I would probably get some interesting responses. Not long after, I launched Letters from Working Girls, featuring working girl stories. Both projects ran for a year, and while the former was definitely more successful than the latter -- there were about 50 john stories and around 18 working girl stories -- I felt like they were both successful. They were also cheap. I set up the sites on Blogger for free, and it "cost" me nothing to solicit and repost the letters. It was an important step because it enabled me to do something autonomous, something more than "just blogging," and it taught me that I could create and sustain a year-long project on a subject that was of interest to me. That the project happened to coincide with a year that saw the Spitzer scandal didn't hurt matters either, and I wrote about it for Newsweek, Time mentioned it, and my hero Susie Bright liked it. So, mission accomplished.
This year, I did one online project, and sort of by accident, but I think it had a greater impact on how I view this type of work, that, perhaps, this is the kind of work that I want to do: autonomous, self-propelled, outside of the box. That was: "They Shoot Porn Stars, Don't They?"
Early in the year, I pitched doing this story, which was on the adult movie industry and the recession, to a publication for which I was writing. It was to be a long-form traditional piece of investigative journalism. Or something like that. In April, I flew to Los Angeles, where I spent a week interviewing people who work in the adult industry. I stayed at the Hollywood Roosevelt, slammed around town in a rented Grand Marquis, and had a super-fabulous time. I took photographs on a set on my birthday, saw things I didn't expect to see, and spent time in what amounted to a suburban whorehouse. I came back, and, after some flailing around, wrote a 10,000-word story on what I had seen, heard, and experienced out there.
But, when I went to file the piece, as they say, things got complicated. Various factors were involved, it was no cut-and-dry situation, and, honestly, what happened wasn't really anyone's "fault." Ultimately, for several reasons, including the fact that revisions were being requested that I did not want to make, I pulled the piece. Then, I got depressed. For months, I "sat" on the piece. I tried to get it published elsewhere, to no avail. Finally, I believe it was some six months later, I decided that it was either let the piece die, ie stick it in a drawer, or self-publish it. So, I chose the latter.
Luckily, I already work with a super-awesome designer named Chris Bishop, who I hired to design and build the site for the piece. That's here. This was a bit more of a one-off than, say, the Letters Project, so I paid more attention to the numbers this time around. So far, the story has gotten close to one million page views. The feedback was really positive. Boing Boing said it was "bold and ambitious," Warren Ellis said it was "brilliant," and Metafilter said "Ms. Breslin has changed the way I think about the business of making pornography." And I learned I didn't really need an editor. I paid a friend, the lovely Joanne Hinkel, to copyedit the story before it went up, and the essay was accompanied by photographs that I took on location. I suppose one could say I "lost" money on this project, but not having to kowtow to somebody else's idea of what my work was supposed to be? Priceless.
At this point in my, er, career, I've published over 100 articles, been on TV over 100 times, and I don't want to know how many blog posts I've written. But it's the online projects that have felt like they mean something -- and that's what I want more of. I want steak, not loose meat. I want substance, not transience. I want control, not subjugation. So, I want to do more of this.
In the last few days, I decided on an online project I'll be doing in 2010. Once again, I'll be working with Chris, which is always great, because he always thinks of better design stuff than I ever could. The estimated launch date is January 15, 2010. Once again, it's a year-long project, it will be online, and it will be autonomous. This project will push me in some new directions. There were be a greater emphasis on photography, I will be exploring new territory subject-wise, and it's probably the most "serious" project I've ever done.
It's always a little nerve-wracking to embark on these projects, because you never know what will happen. You only have yourself to answer to, yourself to motivate, yourself to step up to the plate. You either man up -- or you're a pussy. Failure is omnipresent, but the alternative is death. So, here we go again, off to the races.