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Writing Non-Fiction
because I say so
Friday, 19 September 2014
What's That You Say?


Last week, I talked about one of my first forays into attempting to get work as a freelance feature writer. The first attempt yielded me an assignment that was never actually published. As  I recall, I got a small "kill fee" so I guess I can't entirely complain: I was paid for my first feature without it ever seeing print.

In the paper's defence, one of the earlier complaints is that it was on the advertorial side and looking back at it now, it's hard to argue with that. The piece does come across as being pretty favourable to the real estate company whose new approach to home sales it was reporting on. And I wasn't entirely objective: the reason I had even pitched the story was that my wife and I had heard about the company on the news and found it to be an incredibly effective service to use, a point I failed to disclose in the piece or to the editor to whom I had been pitching.

The fact that I had first already seen the story on the television news probably added to the paper's assertion that the piece was growing stale-dated. Now that I'm much more seasoned as a person, if not as a feature writer, it's much easier for me to see that.

In fact, in the interest of full disclosure not offered at the time, a number of the subjects in the story were not exactly untested witnesses I had managed to seek out: one of the realtors was an old high school friend, another was a former student, one of the customers was a close personal friend. In my defence, it takes time to cultivate reliable sources. And work. Who wants that?

Undeterred, I pressed on with the next story that I wanted to write. Okay, I pressed on about three or four months later. Sometimes I take longer than others to lick my wounds and heal my damaged pride. My next piece was about the death of live radio in Vancouver. I called it: The Death of Live Radio in Vancouver.

More full disclosure. In the course of my adult existence I have made a number of ventures into radio, from attending BCIT's Broadcast program - twice - to picking up the odd radio guest hosting gig. Add to that the local cable television talk show I had hosted for six and a half years and, well, I had connections. Another number of my sources weren't entirely strangers. Still, I felt I was on to something, and not just because I was more or less a failed broadcaster wanting to take out my existential angst by writing about the industry.

Okay, it was a little bit about that.

The gist of the piece was that despite the increasing number of stations in the Vancouver market, there was a decreasing number of hours of actual "live" broadcasting, in favour of pre-recorded or canned shows by fewer and fewer broadcasters, meaning much less work for broadcasters and those who aspired to be (there's the aforementioned angst). And there was absolutely no shortage of broadcasters willing to talk to me about it: from recent broadcast school grads desperate for work, to gravel voiced, acerbic witted David Berner to the legendary Red Robinson, everyone regaled me with great stories fromtheir days in the biz, which I thoroughly enjoyed but found not terribly useful. There was no essential conflict: in fact, uniformly everyone who would talk to me gave me more examples of the same thing. Anyone who might have given me a different perspective wasn't willing to talk to me on the record.

This, I realized, was what real journalists must go through: hunting for sources, pressing reluctant subjects to give a comment on the record. And it can be hard work. And I tried for at least a couple of days.

Eventually, I wrote the story anyway because, frankly, I loved stories about radio, I'd gotten some great tape and I'd gone to all that effort to transcribe it. Who cares if it wasn't balanced? So what if it was too inside, to use one of the editorial comments I received. Heck, who even cares if I was pitching a story I'd already done all the work on without being assigned by any paper or magazine willing to pay for it or even print it?

It was making novel writing seem easy.

Next week: Ugh. Novel writing.

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
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