It’s been another quiet week for President-elect Donald Trump.
He hasn’t dismissed CIA discoveries concerning Russia’s interference with U.S. elections, or announced his intentions to forgo daily intelligence briefings, or has said, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that “nobody really knows” if human activity is causing climate change.
He hasn’t nominated a petroleum executive for Secretary of State, a neurosurgeon to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or any other nonsensical, mismatched credentials-to-cabinet-position pairing.
He has neither declared that a female newscaster is bleeding from her you-know-what, nor boasted in a viral video about grabbing said you-know-what’s. He hasn’t browbeaten a union leader, bribed a CEO, or bitten the head off a bat.
Yes, I said a bat. Go ahead and try to prove that didn’t happen. You can’t — and I’ve “heard things” from some “very fantastic people” that Trump may very well have bitten the head off a bat, chewed it up, and fed it mother-to-bird style to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, all while chirping Hail to the Chief.
There — that just increased this piece’s chances for publication tenfold. Anticipated headline? “Bat-astrophe!”
But — much like the media when Trump does pretty much anything — I digress. You’re reading this because the Commander in Tweet has been quiet long enough for a story, requiring planning, drafting, polishing, pitching, and placing, to sneak through the editorial cracks onto your newsprint or screen.
What are the odds? Thanks to Trump, increasingly slim. Just as he is a nightmare for minorities, liberals, and those who’d rather not die in a nuclear holocaust, Trump is also a nightmare for another interest group: freelance writers.
THE CLICKBAIT PRESIDENT
Many marveled at Trump’s ability to cultivate the lingering fears and simmering anger of the American electorate, particularly the white working class. Love him or loathe him, his instincts are impressive.
Many also laud Trump’s masterful media manipulation, but too few pinpoint why. It is because Trump, unlike any public figure beside Kim Kardashian, is the embodiment of the modern media mindset: sensationalism over substance, reactionism over research, and factions over facts. He is big on bombast, limited in vocabulary, and desperate for attention — a walking, talking tabloid website.
Simply, Trump is a creature perfectly suited to his ecosystem: A clickbait candidate in a clickbait country.
Trump has incited — and his victory cemented — an era of editorial chaos amounting to a freelance writer’s hell. Our pieces get bumped from short-lead print publications solely due to the need to refute (or buttress) the latest off-the-cuff remark from the most slapdash politician in American history. Trump is ever-topical and therefore ever-prioritized— and as of November 8, he’s evergreen.
Meanwhile, websites utilize their more flexible real estate to cover, seemingly, everything Trump does. The result is a quantity-over-quality landscape where greater numbers of articles lure greater numbers of readers to greater numbers of advertisements. In the cash-strapped media industry, it’s ironic that a repeatedly bankrupted businessman is bringing in the bucks.
Unfortunately their gains — in the form of never-ending scrolls of “articles” seldom comprising more than three paragraphs and a video snippet — mean big losses for freelancers whose more careful, nuanced prose seems comparably too timid and, even at a brief-ish 800 words, too long to hold attention spans amid a ceaseless cyber shouting match.
Recently, an article of mine was bumped from the op-ed section of one of the country’s ten highest-circulating newspapers. It ran online, but not in print. I’m not complaining; given the ridiculousness Trump had spewed that week, the editor’s decision was completely reasonable.
It wasn’t the first time I’d been Trump-bumped, and I doubt it will be the last. It’s like competing for news coverage with a human hurricane.
Fortunately I have a full-time, non-journalism career, so the diminished pay grade didn’t burn my budget. But what about aspiring writers that are scraping by, waiting tables, and trying to land bylines in big-name outlets to advance their budding journalism dreams?
Freelance writing is heavy on silence and rejection. After investing significant time and effort into brainstorming, drafting, and polishing a piece, we don’t receive so much as a cordial “No, thanks” from two-thirds of the editors we pitch. And these aren’t just widgets we’re peddling; this is our personal artwork.
The era of Trump-bumping has added a dense, discouraging extra layer to this already bruising process. Not only are the goalposts narrower as Trump stories squeeze out other commentary, but freelancers face the prospect of their work being rejected even after initial acceptance, courtesy of a lewd, last-minute Trump outburst (Editor’s note: like this morning’s “let it be an arms race” quote about nukes to Mika Brzezinski of Morning Joe).
It is highly unfortunate that, in our new era of Trump-bumping, too many talented wordsmiths will likely give up before they even get going. Like most artistic fields, writing is a meritocracy buoyed by a few breaks along the way. As those opportunities get swallowed by a Trumpian tidal wave, the careers of future Pulitzer Prize winners may drown along with them.
The result will be a silencing of diverse, insightful voices that we can ill afford in an age of lying leaders, fake news, and misinformed citizenry.