My brush with topicality

nuj2I’ve had a love affair with newspapers ever since I could read Peanuts and Mike Royko. The affection hasn’t been mutual. Although the fourth estate has deigned to print me occasionally over the years, and I even managed to score an internship at one of America’s premier titles back when I was still technically a teenager by walking in off the street with a book of college paper clips under my arm, mostly it’s been a hard sell; and mostly I haven’t bothered.

But every once in a while I get the itch. The last time this happened was last year, when I tried, and failed, to get any traction with this. The Guardian “didn’t like it” and nobody replied to my emails without follow-up bordering on stalking. It ended up in The Ride Journal, a freebie.

Last month, prompted by a rare boost in personal productivity, I sent a piece about iPod cycling (they say write what you know) out into the cold factories of pulp & pixels and waited while nothing happened. I had about given up when inspiration struck thanks to a random story link which invited further investigation into a market I simply hadn’t considered before. Why not try the Daily Telegraph, aka the Torygraph? It’s Boris Johnson territory: perfect. It would also be nice to place it in a venue not packed with a jury of one’s peers, like the Bike Blog.

I got an almost immediate response, which struck me dumb. That it underwent heavy editing (“It’s not our style”; the story of my life) didn’t bother me too much as it was so nice to get paid – also with a very pleasant fleetness, once they’d decided to finally run it – for what has always been a labour of love.

Although the Telegraph is due to print another small piece of me any day now, it’s doubtful I’ll be making regular appearances, thanks to a major handicap: a lack of topicality in my character. In the newspaper business, or at least the bit I’ve broken through, this seems to be a prerequisite for getting anywhere as a freelancer. Go figure.

Despite my early infatuation with newsprint it turns out I’m not a newsy kind of guy. As I said here what seems like a very long time ago, my preference is to write fiction, “another kind of fact which fortunately doesn’t have to be verified.”

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I’ll take the cards instead

History being on a continuum, one day’s news doesn’t much distinguish itself from another, in my mind. Besides, blogs have thoroughly eclipsed old media as a source of informed, entertaining, and entertainingly ill-informed commentary.

It’s been years since I’ve bought an actual paper as anything other than a curious artefact, or souvenir. The medium is now too limited to be of much interest. Online incarnations promise and can deliver more, but Disqus fever has come along for the ride. If a comment isn’t liked, does it exist? While it’s great to be able to bypass sometimes very dull editors, such freedom comes with the modern-day price of the ever greater necessity for filtering.

The newspapers I used to spill cereal over at the breakfast table are so many long-dead trees; the ones I spy at in the supermarket or petrol station forecourt, yet another exercise in filtering. At some point Lucy snatched the ball away from Slats Grobnik, and that was all she wrote.

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