My advice to journalists: Smoke crack, Twitter occasionally

A friend on Twitter–aptly screen named Newsjunkie365–asked me for my thoughts on the weeklong blog frenzy sparked by two writers from The New Yorker who aren’t enthralled by Twitter. One is Steve Coll, the other George Packer(who I discussed, in a brief yet negative fashion, a couple of months back.)

Already, I’m coming unconscionably late to the smack down–very un-Twitter like of me. It started a whole seven days ago. However, The Atlantic blogged about it yesterday, which gives me an excuse.

The discussion follows the typical parameters we’ve come to expect from this kind of “debate:” New Media technology X enters marketplace, Old Media types whine about the kids these days.

It’s a bit tired, true. But it also provides some fun, time-wasting, Internet entertainment for all involved. Myself included. Techno-evangelists get to rail on traditional media figures, while traditional media figures get to play the Luddite victim.

Okay, so.

The graying New Yorker scribes  are worried that we’ll soon see a generation that doesn’t read books–you can get Kierkegaard for .99 cents on the Kindle, btw–and that the Twitterverse has brought journalists one step closer to extinction.

Personally, I think this misses the larger point–the financial problems of media companies have more to do with the failure to understand technology than the technology itself. The Internet isn’t putting journalists out of business–it’s the fact that media companies, arrogant and clueless, decided to give away reporting for free. That’s the original sin.

Putting that aside, like Packer and Coll, I make my living writing long form narrative non-fiction. I’m confident, that at least while I’m alive, there will be a market and expense accounts for in-depth reporting. Perhaps it will be a smaller market than in the past, and maybe more competitive. But I hope–there goes my confidence!–that eventually the radical shift in the way we “consume”  news will work itself out, and journalists will again be able to make a stable and comfortable living.

It might be that the journalist’s life will be more of a hustle, more entrepreneurial than in the past few decades. (Hello, True/Slant!) This can certainly be annoying for journos, and it can be uncomfortable to blatantly embrace the self-promotion that it entails. (I mean, really,how many times will I have to email Glenn Greenwald before he links to this blog…) It’s easier, and more gentlemanly, to have that self-promotion done by others who work for your company (as Packer noted after he was informed that his blog was being sent out on Twitter by the magazine’s PR apparatus.)

But, if you’re afflicted with the writing/reportage gene, then these hurdles aren’t going to stop you. Where there’s a will(and a readership) there will be a way.

Caveats: I’m not a techno-booster. I don’t own a Blackberry anymore. I think of a lot of blogs are waste of time. I don’t have a Facebook account. Twitter can occasionally be pretty cool, while at other times, lame. (See: Tequila, Tila.) I share my colleagues concerns that our attention spans have diminished, and that journalism’s future seems to be heading towards the direction of Politico.  But, contrary to The New Yorker angst, I can say that I’ve read probably a good 50 plus books since joining Twitter nine months or so ago. I’ve written hundreds of blog posts. I’ve entered into interesting exchanges with folks on Twitter(like Newsjunkie 365) as well as here on the blog. I’ve gotten a lot of normal writing and reporting done in that time as well–mainly, because I’ve managed to unplug.

So, while we are getting flooded with this constant flow of information and the agitation of being permanently connected, it just means we have to adopt new values, too. One of those values–which is actually a pretty old value with a new name–is unplugging. Moderation, an appreciation of quiet time, space for intellectual discovery etc. Maybe this value will need to be taught to our up and coming hyperactive generations, but I don’t really see the problem with doing that.


In conclusion, a word on drug/technology comparisons.

The best line in The New Yorker post is when Packer admits to living a crack-free lifestyle. (“I haven’t used crack, either,” he writes.) Well, I have smoked crack. I recommend it for all writers to try at least once, especially to New Yorker staffers. It’s pretty good–it’s crack, after all–and down the crack pipe went my first semester at college. But torching a crack rock is very different from typing a Tweet.

For what it’s worth, I’ve always thought that blogging, not Twittering, was the media version of crack. Metaphorically speaking: I get an intense high from instantly publishing, but the minute I stop, I get a kind of an empty and anxious feeling, as if I’ve just poured part of my soul into a spiritual void. I stopped smoking crack ten years ago–it got a little out of hand– but I have come to terms with blogging. It’s healthy as long as I don’t allow it to totally consume me.

Maybe we can view Twitter in the same way, while managing to avoid an abstinence only rehab.

UPDATE: For the record, crack certainly isn’t for everyone. And yes, I’m being a bit facetious here.


About michaelhastings

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5 Responses to My advice to journalists: Smoke crack, Twitter occasionally

  1. vickielyna says:


    I am impressed that you gave up your blackberry. Twittering / blogging has not replaced reading for me if anthing it has increased my reading in different genres.

    I think one has to read more to keep up with the intelligent and challenging dialog that goes on when blogging and twittering. (unless your idea of twittering is posting what you had for lunch).

    Making a living at print reporting is going to be a little tougher as newspapers go under. (largely because newspapers have been slow to get into the new world of media). But like in every other job those that are good or even exceptional will have a home. If only because they will become creative and design their own way to reach readers. Hence blogging.

    Reading is not an endangered species. It is just evolving from a more traditional format.

  2. Facebook User says:

    Dear Graying New York Scribes:
    The kids are not getting dumber. You are getting old. All old people think the next generation won’t read any books. And in some ways, they are right. The next generation won’t read as many books as the generations that came before, basically because there’s way more other stuff to do now. I mean, between TV, Wii, Twitter, FarmVille, pregnancy pacts and, of course, readily available (and totally fun) pharmaceuticals in your parents’ medicine cabinet, who has time for BOOKS?!? I remember my teachers blaming Cliff’s Notes for the laziness of my generation.

    If good journalists evolve with and embrace new technology, they will soon understand that there will always be smart people (young and old) who will want to be well-informed and the Internet can actually be a vehicle that has the potential to make those people more well-informed (…smarter?) than ever before.

    I think there’s another dimension to the digital news that makes some old-timer journalists squirm, and that is the immediate and very public response their writing gets. I can see how this would grate on their nerves (let’s face it, some people are just downright crazy and they all seem to like commenting on news articles), but I think there is a lot of bruised ego driving the conversation, as well. I sense there is some kind of stigma attached to the digital news for some journalists, the industry is not as esteemed, way too accessible, the glory days of print are still recent enough to remember and distant enough to glorify.

    Very interesting. Now, I need to go some some crack, I mean, read whatever tweets Tila Tequila has posted in the 10 minutes it took me to write this comment.

    • Michael Hastings says:

      KC, well said! Reminds me of the rather persuasive defense of reading and books that Dave Eggers makes–that, in fact, there are more books being printed today, more people have access to books, and that reading is alive and kicking. Clearly, there’s much more fighting for the affluent’s attention than in the past, but this problem that has been with us since certainly since the TV became the primary form of entertainment.

  3. Ian P. Hines says:

    Generally, I agree with you: the problem with the old media / new media debate is that it really isn’t about the media at all–it’s about finding a successful business model.

    The old media folks are just bitter because they failed, as so many industries have done over time, to adapt with changing times. It’s not so much that people are less interested in reading quality news reporting (I don’t believe that they are), but that they want it digitally and they want it now. And because of expectations established by these very same old media types (as you note), they want it free. This (understandably) unnerves the old media folks.

    But new media isn’t the death knoll of reporting, or of in-depth discussion. Quite the contrary: I have many, if not most, of my in-depth discussions based on something I read online. It is, however, going to require some real change in the marketplace that will result in restructuring businesses and (likely) laying off some of the old media types.

    Que sera, sera. Get over it. Move on. Adapt. Or whine, but that won’t save you.

    • Michael Hastings says:

      Ian, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Yep, agreed on the business model angle. And in fact, as far as journalism goes, it’s possible today (and with twitter and the interwebs and all that) to reach even larger audiences, and to get to people who wouldn’t have read your work before. But yes, how to monetize is the question.

      I’m pretty skeptical of awesomness of these new social netowrking technologies, but I don’t think their arrival heralds the end of intellectual self-searching and reading.

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