Thursday, October 13, 2016

Threaten to sue a newspaper and you threaten democracy. Here's why.

Donald Trump’s lawyers just threatened the New York Times.

As someone who has written for that paper and others as a freelancer, Writer Abroad has a problem with that.

As she’s previously written, it’s harder and harder to find real journalism these days.  And there’s a reason for that.

It’s because thanks to cuts, most newspapers have a very limited staff. They don’t have time to do investigative pieces—or the money to do them. Instead, they rely on freelancers to do, often times, a majority of their writing work. And guess what? Freelancers are more often than not, given horrible contracts.

Writer Abroad knows. She’s gotten lots of them. Fought them all. And won a few clauses here and there.

Now. Forget the terrible pay that most freelance journalists receive and think about the terrible contract instead. The contract that says, in a nutshell, “The freelancer is responsible for any legal fees arising from their reporting.”

Now think about Donald Trump.

If you were a journalist with a crappy newspaper contract, would you investigate him? Really, really investigate him?

Now think about democracy.

Can it really be upheld under these circumstances?

Our papers used to be the way we could read about issues without spin. The way we could investigate those who want to run for the highest—and even the lowest offices. We should know who is going to represent us and that’s why journalism is a big part of democracy. But if journalists are too legally and financially threatened to do their jobs, then we don’t have journalism. And then we don’t have democracy.

It didn’t seem like it could get worse. Trashing religions, trashing immigrants, trashing women, the list goes on and on in this year’s election. But when you threaten a newspaper, you are threatening a democracy that’s already fragile. That’s already mostly silenced thanks to a small elitist (and biased) group of media owners.

That’s why the threatening of a newspaper is the scariest thing that’s happened so far this election.

So if you do anything, writers, vote. While you still can.

That is all.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

When Articles Get "Internet Headlines"

Writer Abroad has had enough of the Internet lately. After going offline almost totally for a week and feeling much more at peace than she had for a long time, she realized that the Internet has been creating a lot of unnecessary angst in her life.

Sure, all the horrible events going on in the news lately are not helping. These things are not the Internet’s fault. But the Internet makes things horribly worse. Writer Abroad knows this inherently. It’s why she never reads the comments people make to her own articles. Because some of the articles she’s written have been given “Internet headlines” that purposely invoke strong emotions—whether the piece warrants them or not.

And that’s really the issue she has with the Internet. Today, any topic is dramatized. Drama creates sales. Creates likes. Creates sharing. Bias is in. Balanced, fair reporting, in most cases, is out. Today, with limited attention spans and unlimited information flying at us, it’s all about attention-grabbing, snack-able headlines. And not about much else.

How many times have you actually read an article and then read the comments? Most of the comments don’t even have anything to do with the article—they are just reactions to the emotional headline. And when headlines don’t match the article—or at least, the article’s tone, that’s a problem. As a culture, we’ve never had so much information, yet we’ve also never taken in so little of what we have.

Do you agree?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

When a journalist becomes a content marketer

Writer Abroad just finished reading Dan Lyons’ book, Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-up Bubble. The book was about Lyon’s journey going from Newsweek journalist to HubSpot content marketer.

Writer Abroad couldn’t help but sympathize. With Dan. With all journalists (and content marketers). And with the entire country, which is losing its journalists right and left.

But a journalist losing his job matters far beyond that individual. Because when journalists lose, all of us lose. If there’s anyone we don’t want being laid off or being treated badly, it’s our journalists. Because their treatment and success is tied strongly to the success of democracy.

So if presidential nominees can say they are banning entire publications like the Washington Post from covering their campaign, our country is in big trouble. Huge trouble.

No watchdogs. No democracy.

It’s bad enough already. Corporate-owned media dominates. Independent voices that get heard are few. Luckily there are some good ones, like Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, which she founded in 1996 with the motto of “going where the silence is.”

Speaking at Lit Fest in Chicago on June 11, Amy Goodman discussed how the corporate media doesn’t cover the views of the majority. Instead, they are a tool to silence the majority. She cited Super Tuesday 3. On this day, instead of showing Bernie Sanders' speech in Phoenix, Arizona, which was more highly attended than any other candidates’ speech in the country that night, Fox News showed Donald Trump’s empty podium for 20 minutes instead.

“Media can be the greatest force for peace on earth. Or its greatest enemy,” said Goodman to her Chicago audience.

Writer Abroad thinks it’s pretty clear which version of the media the United States has right now.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Remote Work: Perfect for Writer Types

Writer Abroad has been working 100% remotely for 1.5 years now. And it’s mostly wonderful. In fact, it can be downright amazing to spend a day working on global projects with people from several countries without ever leaving your home office.

Now that Writer Abroad has her very officially incorporated company, Cross Border Content Inc., she stays local but works global. (And for those who are wondering: Writer Abroad had to legally put the “Inc.” in her company name but still doesn’t really like its corporate-ness.)

In any case, for those writer-types interested in remote work, Writer Abroad just finished a wonderful book called Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. It makes two great points: 1) Great remote workers are simply great workers. And 2) great remote workers must be good writers.

According to the authors, remote work “gives back the edge to quiet-but-productive workers who often lose out in a traditional office environment. In a remote setup, you don’t need to constantly boast about the quality of your stuff…if you’re all talk and no walk, it’s painfully clear for all to see.”

This is especially important for writers working in countries where extroversion is the preferred personality type. Where go-getting and teamwork is the mantra—even for those writing copy. (I'm talking about you, America.)

Which brings Writer Abroad to her latest essay, which ran on last month: The unapologetic introvert—why I had to leave the U.S. to stop pretending to be an extrovert. 

Yes, it was quiet, introverted Switzerland that taught Writer Abroad there was nothing wrong with her personality. So now she celebrates her introverted-ness daily—even in America—by working remotely with the world. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

My editor was fired. And other American writing curiosities.

Now she knows: During her freelance writing career, Writer Abroad has been fortunate. She has never before had a piece accepted, edited, a contract signed, and then, after turning in the final edit after many hours of work, had a piece fall into a black hole only to find out via Facebook of all places that the editor of her piece was laid off.

It seems like a common problem in the United States, based on other writers’ experiences, but the entire situation—trying to email the publication’s other editors only to get no reply on the piece’s status, along with silence from the contract department—feels rude and unprofessional.

So many American publications rely heavily on their freelance writers, and yet, treat them horribly at the same time. It makes Writer Abroad wonder—why do we, as American writers, accept such treatment?

Why do American writers accept things like work for hire contracts, poor pay, no pay, or lack of respect? Because when one of us accepts that, it forces others to enter into these kinds of situations as well. And while Writer Abroad won’t write for free, always asks for a better contract, and doesn’t mind saying “no” anymore, the lack of respect situation, like the one she has just experienced, she has no answer for how to handle, other than to shrug it off and move on.

But here’s what bothers her: there is a lack of respect for many employees and contractors across the United States these days. The fact is, editor layoff situation Writer Abroad just experienced wouldn't have happened in other parts of the world. That’s why Writer Abroad thinks Americans need to fight back and realize that some of this horrible treatment is an American phenomenon. We deserve better.

In Switzerland, for example, if you are laid off, you have a three-month notice period. This means you can finish up projects and collect what you need for three months before you are simply cut off from your employment world.

When Writer Abroad’s editor at a Swiss publication was laid off, for example, Writer Abroad knew in advance and then could work together with her to finish up pieces that were in process. There was no silence. No piece half-done and left hanging. No rude lack of reply for a piece that she had put hours of work into. And while no system is perfect (since knowing you are laid off and still having to work for three months brings on its own issues), it sure beats the rudeness that comes from the immediacy of an American firing.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A traveling life. The life more Americans need.

"I can go on the road–because I can come home. I come home–because I am free to leave. Each way of being is more valued in the presence of the other. This balance between making camp and following the seasons is both very ancient and very new We all need both."

–Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road

Writer Abroad just finished a wonderful memoir by Gloria Steinem. The best part (sorry to spoil) was the above quote at the end. I think most travelers, expatriates, and repatriates can probably relate to it.

It wasn't until the end of Steinem's life that she actually had a permanent structure to call home. She traveled nomadically from place to place with her family and later, as an organizer. At the very end of her book she says:

"My father did not have to trade dying alone for the joys of the road. My mother did not have to give up a journey of her own to have a home. Neither do I. Neither do you."

In her repatriate way, Writer Abroad is discovering that you don't always need to live far from family to embrace the joys of traveling. Or to feel foreign (you can go to the local Asian grocery store for that). But what Writer Abroad is finding difficult in her home country is convincing her countrymen of the benefits of basic social programs that she enjoyed in Switzerland.

She tries to convince any American that will listen that really, it's ok to demand public transport that doesn't leave you stranded. It's ok to demand paid family leave. It's ok to demand a healthcare system that won't leave you in debt if you have a medical issue.

The hard thing (please someone explain why) is to find Americans who aren't afraid of a foreign version of better. Too many scream socialism in your face when they don't even understand its definition. This only shows Writer Abroad how badly some Americans need to travel. Because if you see the world, if you experience other ways of life, you come to understand that sometimes other nations have good ideas. America is not Denmark. Or Sweden. Or Switzerland. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't borrow some of their good ideas, does it?

After all, T.S. Eliot once said, "Good writers borrow. Great writers steal."

The same could be applied to nations too.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Is journalism dead?

Writer Abroad has learned quite a bit about writing and democracy over the last few years. So much so, that she’s now shopping around a novel that deals with this very topic.

Unfortunately, much of what she’s learned, especially in the last few weeks, is very disturbing.

Most recently, there was this piece in The Nation: These Journalists Dedicated Their Lives to Telling Other People’s Stories. What Happens When No One Wants to Print Their Words Anymore? It talked about the end of journalism (and therefore democracy) as we know it.

Writer Abroad has experienced some of the things discussed in The Nation article and that’s why she really believes the end of journalism to be one of the most dangerous issues facing America today.

Here’s why. Once media companies (including some well-known newspapers you might recognize) force freelance writers like those mentioned in The Nation article to sign contracts that force them to be entirely liable for anything they write for that publication, you have basically ended journalism’s role in upholding democracy. Because how can any writer afford to write about controversial subjects and be held liable for their investigations—especially if they involve large corporations with huge pockets? They can’t. So the stories don’t get written.

This system is not fair to journalists and it’s not fair to Americans who rely on journalists to be watchdogs. What we have now is a media system that is owned by corporations and run by corporations and that only tells the stories the corporations want told.

What’s the solution? Well, instead of reading what the press has to say, we should try to read between the lines at what it is not saying. For example, even when Bernie Sanders wins a state in the democratic primaries, like Michigan, headlines about him are negative—he still doesn’t have a chance. To reinterpret these headlines without the corporate spin, they would probably read: Bernie Sanders takes his revolution to new heights scaring an establishment that depends on regular Americans to make up for their billion-dollar tax breaks.

What else tells Writer Abroad that something is wrong with journalism? Well, over the last year, Writer Abroad has published essays and articles on many topics and with many big publications. The topics that she’s been successful with are expat and repatriate life, work-life balance, and parenting, etc. But she can’t seem to get a positive essay about Bernie Sanders published anywhere. No. With those pieces come rejections and/or silence from the big media companies. It’s frustrating. And revealing.

What is the solution? Well, it may be up to writers and journalists to develop their own ways to get the stories out there. They can develop their own publishing companies, their own blogs or social networks, etc. For instance, Writer Abroad may post her pieces that are unacceptable to big media companies on her blog. Because while Writer Abroad would rather have a million readers than 10,000, she still thinks it’s more important that some of these topics get out there rather than having them sit, waiting for eternity, for the slim possibility that they will ever see the light of day on a corporate-owned publication masquerading as today’s American newspaper.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The most honest way to write about your country: as an outsider

Writer Abroad loves being back in the U.S. for one main reason (besides being close to family): libraries. Writer Abroad loves libraries. Specifically libraries filled with English books (no offense to all the Swiss libraries filled with German books, of course).

Being an author, sometimes she thinks she should buy every book she reads to support her fellow writers. But the problem is, even though she has escaped her tiny Swiss apartment and moved into a big American house, there is still no place to put all the books she already has. Many are still sitting in their moving boxes in the basement over a year later. (God bless American basements.)

She could buy e-books, like she used to do when she was living abroad. But here’s a little secret: she’s old fashioned. She loves actual paper books. Holding them. Feeling their size and weight.

So sorry to any authors she may have offended, but Writer Abroad does use her local library almost every week. It’s a mere three blocks from her house. One of the main reasons she chose the location of her house.

She’s found some good books lately. Probably the best book she’s read this year is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It proves that you don’t need a long book to make a big statement. This book lets the reader see the world through the point of view of a black man in present day America. It is horrific, eye opening, and, if you’re not already a black American man, a way to see an outsider’s view of America without getting a passport.

Which is the dilemma, of course. It’s an outsider’s view of the U.S. told by an American in the U.S. No American should ever be subjected to such outsider status in their own country. But they are.

At one point, Coates says, “The writer, and that was what I was becoming, must be wary of every Dream and every nation, even his own nation. Perhaps his nation more than any other, precisely because it was his own.”


That’s why, if you’re not an outsider in America, you must go outside of America to be able to write about your country in an honest way.

Moving to Switzerland was Writer Abroad’s solution to seeing her own country, which has inspired her next book, American Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known, which she is working on now. She couldn’t be writing it without having left America. Sadly, Coates could have.

At one point, Coates makes a point about U.S. exceptionalism. He says we need to step outside of our country to see it for what it really is—often, a bully, both globally and locally. Going abroad, if you’re a white American, will probably make you come to similar conclusions. Or if you’re not going abroad, this book will give you an outsider perspective. It should be required reading for every American. For a majority of Americans, the book is a passport to another world: their own.

Have you read a good book about seeing America as an outsider lately?


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