The 2021 career reset (or, when to cast aside the journalism career)

Three funny things are haunting me as 2020 comes to a merciful conclusion …

First, with the most relevant part in bold:

By far the month’s most disturbing event occurs on July 15 when Twitter, responding to a cyberattack, temporarily suspends many verified blue-check accounts. Within minutes emergency rooms in Washington and New York are overwhelmed by media thought leaders whose brains are literally exploding from the pressure of unreleased insights.

Dave Barry, from his year in review

Second, a scene from When Harry Met Sally that I referenced in my remembrance of my dear stepmom, Meg Gunn Dure.

SALLY: The story of my life isn’t even going to get us out of Chicago. I mean, nothing’s happened to me yet. That’s why I’m going to New York.

HARRY: So something can happen to you?


HARRY: Like what?

SALLY: Like I’m going to go to journalism school and become a reporter.

HARRY: So you can write about things that happen to other people.

Third, Cowboy Mouth, wrapping up a typical show with a typical rendition of Jenny Says that turns into an exorcism:

Turn that smart phone off, dude. Stop recording life. Start living life.

See the 6:10 mark, but watch the whole thing. You’re on vacation, and it’s a great way to kick 2020’s ass out the door.

Make it four: I just read the autobiography of Monty Python’s Eric Idle, and I marveled at all the accounts of time spent with friends.

This post was going to be an elegy for my journalism career, highlighted by the lack of pay. I started in 1991, making $10 an hour, nearly $20 in 2020 money, which wasn’t bad for someone paying about $400/month in rent with no student debt and no car payments. By the time I left USA TODAY in 2010, I was making nearly $60,000. Had I stayed and not been laid off, I’d be making maybe $75,000 now.

Instead, I’ve written six books. I’ve lost money on four of them. On the others, the amount of money I’ve made works out to maybe $2/hour. I’ve had a book signing to which one person showed up, and I wrote a short book that one person has read. (And not purchased, though I did make about 17 cents through Kindle Unlimited.)

Plenty of people say they’ve read my books. Plenty of people told Wilt Chamberlain they were in Madison Square Garden the night he scored 100 points, which would be impressive if that game hadn’t taken place in Hershey, Pa. 

I did take a steady freelance gig a year or two ago that was technically part-time employment, and I was making …

Ten bucks an hour.

Then I was basically laid off.

But this career was never about the money. I’ve known that all along. When I went to a job interview the summer after graduation, the managing editor and editor of the papers in Wilmington, N.C., asked why I wanted to go into journalism, and I started by saying, “Well, it’s not the money.” They laughed and hired me.

Of the two short books I’ve cranked out this year, one was mere self-indulgence, scraping together remnants of my long-abandoned MMA book into a memoir intertwined with MMA history that the fans already know. The other was a neat little history project that I started while quarantining after contracting COVID-19.

The money these days isn’t in writing, anyway. It’s at YouTube. Seriously.

Sure, not everyone pulls in the eight-figure annual windfall of the top 10, but six figures are pretty common. I ran the numbers on some of the people I watch and found this:

  • Music critic: $641 per video on YouTube, $6,922 per video on Patreon. Figure about 20 videos per year, and that’s $150k. He also has a podcast.
  • Music producer/analyst: $840 per video on YouTube. He does about 80 videos a year, so that’s $67,200, though he says some of them are “demonitized” because YouTube enforces the music industry’s ass-backwards approach to “fair use” and takes away his money for using, say, a seven-second snippet of music. He makes more of his money on books, anyway.
  • Australian comedian: $5,500 per video, about 90 this year, so … holy crap, $495,000??!!!
  • Canadian comedian: $32,490 on one video. Close to $14,000 on another. More typically around $1,500, with about 80 videos a year. She had a very good year. She’s also getting sponsorships. Safe to say she’s over $150,000 for the year, though she recognizes this year was a bit of a blip because she had a fantastic idea and ran with it.

Part 1 (17 million views) is highly recommended, and the rest of the series is pretty good.

For sake of comparison, let’s look at blogging, where I thought in 2010 that I might make a bit of money on the side: 

  • WordPress WordAds: I get about 40 cents per 1,000 ad impressions. That means my top post at Ranting Soccer Dad got about $5. When I had my medal projections at my old blog, I could make $100 for a couple hundred hours of work. 
  • Medium: If you can figure out a pattern let me know. I got $1.09 on a post with 19 views and an average reading time of 2:39. I got $2.38 on a post with 1,400 views and an average reading time of 4:23. I know people can make money on Medium, and I’m hoping to turn X-temporaneous into a publication of some import, but I need writers to do that. (Hint hint.)

You get the picture. There’s no money in blogging on my own. The only way to make money as a freelancer is to keep hustling after any assignment you can find.

Don’t send money. Well, not a lot. You can always donate if you’re a fan of the tons of work I’ve done on the Club and League directories. But we’re not the type of people who blow our salaries and inheritances on $3 million houses, so we’re fine.

Let’s be clear — these have been my choices. I turned down a decent job with USA TODAY’s magazines. When I told the magazine department boss how much I made with USA TODAY proper, he assured me he was offering significantly more. After he finished laughing.

I’ve only applied for one full-time job that was a perfect fit for my experience — in fact, I knew I was better qualified than anyone they were going to get, and yet I knew I wasn’t going to get an interview because I wasn’t in the right clique and because the people doing the hiring are “woke” to the point of absurdity and also ageist. Jobs for “writer/editor” exist, but I haven’t been applying for them.

For the last decade, I’ve basically been a stay-at-home dad who writes.

That ends in 2021. 

I’ve planned for a while to start a consulting business. That’ll be launched in earnest in January at the virtual United Soccer Coaches convention. 

The other job is something I didn’t plan. In an effort to re-open schools after 10 months away, Fairfax County is hiring classroom monitors — people who can spend more time in proximity to students than teachers who have vulnerability that COVID-19 could exploit. I’ve already had COVID, and I’m confident in the schools’ safety efforts, so I applied. And was hired. 

So whenever schools finally open, I’ll be working in a physical non-home location for the first time since 2010.

That job will likely only last until June, when this school year ends and we wash our hands (literally) of the COVID academic year. By fall, we’d better have this thing under control. 

It’s also a good time to reset. 

But when I wrote the original draft of this post, I realized I wasn’t really planning to give anything up.

  • Writing for Soccer America? Nope, I’ll keep doing that.
  • Writing for The Guardian? I hope to do more of that.
  • Writing and recruiting for X-temporaneous? I might do less, but I’m not pressing “delete” on it.

With the latter, I’ve been taking cautious steps toward “news” journalism, in which I haven’t fared badly in previous forays. NPR picked up some my work on Millennials and small towns at OZY. A piece on Flat Earthers a few years ago did very well for The Guardian.

And yet there’s still “respectable” journalism to be done in sports. At the risk of seeming arrogant, I’m doing work other people can’t or won’t do because they’re afraid of biting hands that feed them or aren’t well-equipped to write about duplicity and scandal. Each year at the coaches’ convention, people always tell me how much they appreciate my work. It’s a shame that’ll be all-virtual this year, but I hear from people all the time, anyway.

So I’m not giving up any of these things. I’m also adding a consulting business. And a job. And I’m doing a big project for The Chronicle.

Then my goal is to have more “me” time.

That’s not really how time works, is it?

Perhaps, but a couple of things will be off the table.

First, no more books. Not this year. I’ve done a rough draft of a 24-page book to go with my consulting business, but that’s about it.

Second, significantly less time cataloging the decline of American democracy.

Go back to the first quote here from Dave Barry: “the pressure of unreleased insights.”

I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking it’s somehow my duty to share everything of importance that I read— maybe on Twitter, maybe on Facebook, maybe after cataloging everything in Diigo and writing blog posts that most undergrads would call “research papers.”

For what?

If I helped rally voters for the election, great. But I can’t pretend I have some sort of great influence on every topic.

I still won’t stop. I’ll still do the occasional Gen X-related post at X-temporaneous. I’ll occasionally round up a few things here at Mostly Modern Media. You’ll still see links on creativity at Before The Apocalypse, and I might turn all that into a book sometime in the future. I’ve just redesigned this blog to include widgets for my latest tweets and the latest links I’ve saved. At some point before I die, I want to take everything I’ve learned writing books, going to grad school and researching creativity to put together something of substance.

It’s just going to be a question of priority.

The laptop will be shut off at times. I’ll read more. I’ll figure out what I can do in the yard without triggering allergies or tearing my hair out. I’ll spend most time in the music room. When curling resumes, I’ll be making that trip around the Beltway more often. I might even get on the exercise bike every now and then. If that means fewer posts reminding people what fascist douchebags Donald Trump and his sycophants are, so be it.

So my new priorities will cut into my time recording life. They’ll add to my time living it.

Happy New Year.

The worst of 2020

A quick check of my Trump-related bookmarks as we prepared to kick 2020 to the curb.

Trump pardoned former congressmen convicted of federal crimes – The Washington Post

Drain the swamp!

All the people Trump has pardoned since the election – The Washington Post

They’re not all terrible. Some are actually pretty good. Some are ridiculous.

Is Trump Trying to Stage a Coup? – The Atlantic

Our system is broken, and someone might be better at taking advantage of it.

Trump Is Losing His Mind – The Atlantic

“This is where Trump’s crippling psychological condition—his complete inability to face unpleasant facts, his toxic narcissism, and his utter lack of empathy—became lethal.”

Opinion | The moral hypocrisy of conservative leaders is stunning – The Washington Post

“Explanation No. 2: Maybe these conservative leaders were always committed to the triumph of their views, but not to the values of democracy. Perhaps their main concern was the achievement of certain outcomes — the appointment of conservative judges, restrictions on abortion — and not the application of democratic procedures. If a democratic leader achieves their moral goals, that is fine with them. If it takes a soft authoritarian, that is fine as well.”

Opinion | When it comes to prosecuting Trump, let’s be selective – The Washington Post

Several good points — in some cases, just review and change the law so future presidents can’t get away with this.

Advisers urge Trump to prepare for defeat ? but maybe without a concession speech – The Washington Post

Part George III, part toddler

How ‘America First’ Became America Alone – The Atlantic

A nuanced take, showing Trump with a few laudable interests like nuclear disarmament but the lack of attention to the details that would be needed to make it happen. And he blundered by withdrawing from important agreements that gave us soft power vs. China. (No mention of Kurds here.)

Coronavirus has slammed the door shut on highly skilled work visas – Axios

Which may force companies to go overseas.

Presidents are expected to set the national tone. What we got with Trump has been catastrophic. – The Washington Post

“There was a time, during the election year of 2016, when it was still possible — barely — to suppose that actual possession of the presidency, and its awesome responsibility, might temper Mr. Trump. That is obviously false now. “

Another Prominent Christian Musician Walks Away from the Faith | by Dan Foster | Backyard Church | Medium

“My observation is that Steingard was never given permission to entertain the idea that his faith need not be dependent on holding to a literal view of Scripture. “

Former top Trump officials are betting he’ll lose – POLITICO

“Anybody who has an IQ of over 100 and has worked for Donald Trump, with the exception of Steve Bannon, is not voting for him.””

Republican convention delivers whirlwind of lies great and small | Republican national convention 2020 | The Guardian

“Even having to point that out somehow plays into the liars’ hands, like agreeing to a debate with a creationist or a flat-earther. Such is the current landscape of partisan cable news and wild west social media.”

‘He’s Destroyed Conservatism’: The Republican Case Against Trump’s GOP – POLITICO

“You know, it really struck me when I read the memoir by [the late German Chancellor] Franz von Papen, it’s exactly the same message you hear today. In 1953, he was still trying to justify Hitler: “You have to understand, the Bolsheviks were a threat, we had to counter them.” Of all the books I read to write my book, the Franz von Papen thing haunts me the most. It’s not to say that what happened in Germany is going to happen here. But the idea that you can’t talk about that—well, I think you have to talk about that. The parallel is so striking.”

Michelle Obama makes a moral case against Donald Trump – CNNPolitics

“America’s children, she said, “see our leaders labeling fellow citizens enemies of the state while emboldening torch-bearing white supremacists. They watch in horror as children are torn from their families and thrown into cages, and pepper spray and rubber bullets are used on peaceful protestors for a photo-op. Sadly, this is the America that is on display for the next generation — a nation that’s underperforming not simply on matters of policy but on matters of character.””

Coronavirus: How Trump killed tens of thousands of Americans.

“It’s hard to believe a president could be this callous and corrupt. It’s hard to believe one person could get so many things wrong or do so much damage. But that’s what happened. Trump knew we weren’t ready for a pandemic, but he didn’t prepare. He knew China was hiding the extent of the crisis, but he joined in the cover-up. He knew the virus was spreading in the United States, but he said it was vanishing. He knew we wouldn’t find it without more tests, but he said we didn’t need them. He delayed mitigation. He derided masks. He tried to silence anyone who told the truth. And in the face of multiple warnings, he pushed the country back open, reigniting the spread of the disease.”

This is one of the most unpatriotic moments in Trump’s presidency

CNN on disastrous Axios interview: He simply refuses to listen to intelligence — on Russian bounties, on COVID-19, on anything.

Poverty Grew in One-Third of Counties Despite Strong National Economy | The Pew Charitable Trusts

“Most of the biggest increases were in areas both rural and Southern. Those areas generally had residents who lacked job training and skills and industries that suffered downturns.”

Judge finalizes $25 million settlement in Trump’s fraud case | MSNBC

“The circumstances are nothing short of bizarre: a sitting president of the United States has written a check for $25 million to a group of Americans who credibly claimed that he ripped them off by perpetrating a fraud.”

Opinion | The Cult of Selfishness Is Killing America – The New York Times

“You see, the modern U.S. right is committed to the proposition that greed is good, that we’re all better off when individuals engage in the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest. In their vision, unrestricted profit maximization by businesses and unregulated consumer choice is the recipe for a good society.

Support for this proposition is, if anything, more emotional than intellectual. I’ve long been struck by the intensity of right-wing anger against relatively trivial regulations, like bans on phosphates in detergent and efficiency standards for light bulbs. It’s the principle of the thing: Many on the right are enraged at any suggestion that their actions should take other people’s welfare into account.”

Mark Milley’s apology is a major escalation in civil-military tensions under Trump.

“Rather than delivering it remotely, as various leaders have done for other military academies, Trump—against the wishes of West Point’s leaders—demanded that the Army cadets return to campus, isolate themselves for two weeks, and then, during the ceremony itself, sit in tight formation, ignoring CDC guidelines on social distancing.”

Opinion | Donald Trump Is Our National Catastrophe – The New York Times

“Until we have a president who can say, as Lincoln did in his first inaugural, “We are not enemies, but friends” — and be believed in the bargain — our national agony will only grow worse.”

The Coronavirus Revealed America’s Failures – The Atlantic

Strongest part here is the look at our three major 21st century crises. The first two had at least some semblance of bipartisan response. This one does not.

“Under our current leadership, nothing will change. If 9/11 and 2008 wore out trust in the old political establishment, 2020 should kill off the idea that anti-politics is our salvation.”

He Could Have Seen What Was Coming: Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus – The New York Times

“Mr. Trump’s response was colored by his suspicion of and disdain for what he viewed as the “Deep State” — the very people in his government whose expertise and long experience might have guided him more quickly toward steps that would slow the virus, and likely save lives”

Trump’s narcissism has taken a new twist. And now he has American blood on his hands | Jonathan Freedland | Opinion | The Guardian

“An imbecile at the head of the US government would always be a problem. But an imbecile so narcissistic that he elevates his own stunted knowledge above the judgment of medicine and science is a calamity.”

Opinion | Trump to New York: Drop Dead – The New York Times

“The rest of the country may regard New York as a black hole of need. But in fact the opposite has always been true; we’re forever sweeping more into the federal till than we receive in services. In 2018, according to the state comptroller’s office, we gave $26.6 billion more to Washington than we got back, ranking us dead last for federal benefits.”

Elections have consequences. The coronavirus reaction shows we’re now living with them. – The Washington Post

“What is happening now is the inevitable result of a party that embraced fear, weaponized xenophobia and regarded facts as dangerous, left-wing landmines that must be avoided.”

Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person – Equality Includes You – Medium

“The concept of Intersectionality recognizes that people can be privileged in some ways and definitely not privileged in others.”

‘Christian left’ is reviving in America, appalled by treatment of migrants

Yes, Bush and Obama deported people. They didn’t veer into abject cruelty and scapegoating.

For the first time in history, U.S. billionaires paid a lower tax rate than the working class – The Washington Post

Sure, we have a great economy. We’ve had it for a while, actually. So what are we getting from it? When you have a big windfall, what do you do? If you have credit-card debt, do you pay it off, or do you incur more? Do you buy a new car while ignoring the hole in your roof?

Full text: Mitt Romney’s remarks on impeachment vote – POLITICO

“The President asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival.

The President withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so.

The President delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders.

The President’s purpose was personal and political.

Accordingly, the President is guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust.”

Trump Tied Ukraine Aid to Inquiries He Sought, Bolton Book Says – The New York Times

“In recent days, some White House officials have described Mr. Bolton as a disgruntled former employee, and have said he took notes that he should have left behind when he departed the administration.”

Impeachment trial: John Barrasso downplays new evidence of Trump’s misconduct – Vox

“You can’t present new evidence.”

Followed by “See, there’s no new evidence!” or “New evidence doesn’t matter.”

Trump Impeachment: Senate Acquittal Will Mean No Appetite for Truth | National Review

“Desperate Republicans have offered strained arguments. They say, with straight faces, that this shakedown was part of Trump’s overall anti-corruption campaign. Really? Like his efforts with Turkey, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and Russia? And if Trump were truly concerned about corruption in Ukraine, why did he show no interest in the matter before 2019? Why did his own ambassador to the European Union say, “Trump doesn’t give a s*** about Ukraine. He cares only about the big stuff like the Biden investigation.”?”

Trump administration could roll climate change assessment guidelines back for infrastructure projects

“The proposal to eliminate parts of the NEPA should not simply be viewed as anti-environment or anti-climate change — it should be viewed as anti-conservative. By rolling back essential parts of the law that provide voice to otherwise underserved and underheard communities, the Trump administration would reveal who it truly works for: not the forgotten man and woman, who would once again be silenced without the NEPA available to provide voice against potentially invasive and harmful projects, but rather the fossil fuel industry that is more concerned with making a profit than protecting communities and ecosystems.”

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like 2003 – The Atlantic

Phony terrorism claim, check.

“Greeted as liberators,” check. (Note Iraqi parliament vote)

Republicans know that Americans don’t support their anti-abortion extremism | Danielle Campoamor | Opinion | The Guardian

“In 2019, public support for abortion rights is the highest it has been in 20 years of polling, according to the Pew Research Center. A reported 61% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and only 12% of the public want to see abortion made illegal. A third of Republicans support abortion rights, according to a 2017 Pew Research poll, and in states where lawmakers have attempted to ban abortion entirely, most voters do not support it.”

Rules for Scooby-Doo

Written in 2008 and never published for some reason …

Scooby-Doo producers stay busy.

But they’re often forgetting two important rules:

1. No romance. The Scooby-Doo Mystery Inc. series is horrendous. It lacks the whimsy of the terrific What’s New, Scooby-Doo? series from the mid-2000s and the films of the same era. The animation is full of shadows, aiming for a “darker” feel but really making the show a chore to watch. 

But the worst aspect of Mystery Inc.: It’s a soap opera. Velma loves Shaggy, who isn’t all that interested. Scooby gets jealous and doesn’t like Velma any more. Velma backs off. Shaggy starts to miss the attention. Something is up with Fred and Daphne. Sue Ellen isn’t welcome at Southfork Ranch because J.R. is trying to protect Ewing Oil from Cliff Barnes. 

Did anyone need to see all that?

2. No actual supernatural stuff. The traditional Scooby-Doo reveal: The “monster” is unmasked as Prof. Sniffington or some other ancillary character. Velma finally shares all the information she’s been hoarding for the whole episode to explain how the whole thing was done with elaborate costumes, electronics and so forth. Sometimes, it’s ridiculous — Scooby-Doo in Where’s My Mummy? includes Velma’s implausible explanation that she created a swarm of locusts to do her bidding because she learned to breed them in science class. But that’s part of the charm. Actual zombies? Not so much.

3. Jokes and music? Good. Where’s My Mummy? and some of the other direct-to-video films in heavy rotation on Cartoon Network have preposterous plots. But they’re funny, and they usually have good pop/rock tunes. Some of the newer films keep the jokes but borrow their music from scarier films.

Scooby-Doo is supposed to be escapist fun. Not &*^*&#$ing Twilight.

Sportswriting is dead. Long live … ?

The Internet is changing sports journalism.

No kidding.

Television changed sports journalism. A good bit more than the Internet, actually.

In 1955, the newspaper was the way most people found out what happened with their favorite teams. TV sports were not yet ubiquitous. If you weren’t listening on the radio, the newspaper’s game story (and the box score, in much simpler form than you see today) was the only way to know what happened.

“Gamers” are still being written, and enterprising writer Arik Parnass did a semi-sociological piece on the reporters who are still doing them at a Washington Capitals game. (We’ll miss you, Braden Holtby.) Though deadlines can be a constraint, there’s a certain beauty to the art form of writing a game story as the game happens, tearing up your lead as the situation warrants, then racing to plug in quotes.

But anyone who needs a straight “gamer” can get it from the league’s sites, which have turned into some of the more reliable employers of sportswriters who don’t mind straddling the fence between covering and working for, even indirectly, the same league. The Washington Post still runs game stories, but they’re not as important as everything else a beat writer produces.

Today, if you’re good at play-by-play game stories, your two best options are:

  1. Something off the beaten track, maybe in Olympic sports. Even then, it’s tough to grab attention to something that isn’t already on TV.
  2. High school sports.

Aspiring sportswriters really should get out and cover high schools at some point. When you don’t have a squadron of PR personnel handing over stats and notes, you’re forced to pay attention on a deeper level. You also get the added sense of responsibility of writing within a community. Not people who might drag you on Twitter. People who might bump into you at the gym.

Good luck asking the aspiring sportswriters of today to go out and cover high schools. But it’s not all their fault. Local newspapers are operating with skeleton crews. The pipeline from local papers to mid-sized papers to big news organizations is all but dead, with national organizations scouring … the ranks of the kids who can afford to work in free internships over the summers.

So remind me to start an Olympic sports site and hire people from local papers who can write game stories, even if they’re making a hard turn from high school football to Olympic biathlon. (World Cup season has started!)

But in reality, the ship has sailed, and to the dismay of Flat Earthers, it’s gone over the horizon.

This piece at Axios traces the changes pretty well — sportswriters have needed to adapt by giving less play-by-play and more analysis. That transition has happened gradually as each new disruption in media takes its toll. And it’s accelerating with COVID keeping us all at home.

Parnass’ piece opens with Michael Wilbon complaining about people in their parents’ basements who aren’t there in the locker room. That’s a bit rich — it’s not as if Wilbon and the other daytime pundits are out getting personal observations on every event on which they pontificate.

And access to the inner sanctum of a locker room is a hot issue. As far as I know, that’s unique to the United States. If you cover the Olympics, you chat with athletes as they stroll through the mixed zone — after they’ve already answered questions from all the broadcasters.

In MMA, the people who can’t / don’t get credentials tend to view themselves as purer than those of us who were “in.” Part of it is that the UFC’s Dana White has a longstanding tendency of booting reporters he doesn’t like. Part of it is a misunderstanding of what “access” is like, as if we’re all buddies or something.

It’s not either/or, anyway. Readers benefit from both perspectives. If you’re covering the UFC, you have a better view at home anyway — camera crews block the view from press row.

But it’s a moot point now. Thanks to COVID, we’re all in our basements. And the view isn’t bad.