Assignment: Sell Out

During a tranquil evening of domestic bliss I first broached the subject of getting into writing. It wasn’t easy for me to discuss, in part because I’m squeamish when it comes to talking about creative projects and in part because this particular project was going to require more help than I’ve ever asked of anyone. Around bites of veggie chili dogs and salad, which Jeni and I both insisted he take, Keith openly shared everything he knew about the wonderful world of online publishing. Then he gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

The Raw File blog was taking its fledgling steps into the family of Wired columns and it would be the perfect venue to wear my water wings. I could gain experience while learning the ropes and get credit for my accomplishments in a nationally known and respected publication. People spend years in school just to have the credentials to apply for an internship of this caliber and I had someone holding the backdoor open. The plan was to build up my clippings to prepare me for the future as a freelance hack; this trial by fire would have me ready to seek assignments within a couple of months.

My concerns had been learning how to pitch stories and then write them according to commonly observed standards. The idea of requesting assignments was a foreign, but possibly more beneficial concept. After several pitches of my own devising, which have alternately found their way onto the site, been abandoned or are languishing in purgatory, I’ve now performed my first piece of assigned writing.

Actually, Keith tried to get me to write about the scheduled demise of Kodachrome but I hemmed and hawed about how little sleep I was getting and how much I’d fucked off at work trying to get the Lomo article ready. While I was actually nearing exhaustion the biggest issue I perceived was being able to quickly turn around a piece about a film I had only recently learned existed. Fatigue plus ignorance is hardly the recipe for success and I knew I couldn’t pull this off.

A day or two later a site posted some recordings of the old street-shooter Weegee recorded from an old album of photographers. Once again Keith approached me with the idea, saying that the head editor really wanted Raw File to do something to commemorate the occasion. It seemed a little late in the day to pick up the Weegee story as half the photo-blogs I try to follow had already given their nod, but I had gotten a couple hours sleep and was not keen to turn down another quick and easy piece. At least I knew who the guy was and had once seen a documentary on him.

But what to write about? I listened to the recording, looked at the pictures he mentioned in his historical purview and general instructional, wracked my brain. Keith asked me Wednesday evening and I promised to churn something out by Friday morning. Listened again, looked again, thought about what people knew. I began to see some discrepancies both in his work and his speech. The germination of an idea slowly swam into focus. Contrast Weegee the cut-throat news photographer with Weegee the artistic humanist. After work on Thursday I slowly settled into writing, listening again to the recording, seeking out the photos mentioned. My brain locked on one shot in particular that was nowhere to be found except poorly reproduced from books. I abandoned it, decided on another image not actually discussed but indicative enough of what I intended to showcase. The other photo was widely available and directly referred to in the recording.

So by eleven or midnight I had the draft and copies of the pictures sent off to Keith. He seemed rather pleased with what I had produced, saying this was the best draft I had submitted. This was a little confusing as I had been intentionally been gearing my writing to the assumed tastes of Wired and this shot in the dark was my most unfettered stream-of-consciousness style yet. Granted it’s a fluff piece but really. However, good to go as my draft was, it still didn’t hit until this afternoon. Go figure. But I’ve handled my first assignment and it happens to be the posting where my original text is mostly unchanged; Jim, Grand Poobah of Raw File, wanted a harsher criticism of Weegee’s manipulations so Keith heaped a spoonful of bile into the mix.