Question: Where can long-format journalists publish their work?
Bill Wasik: Well, I think that there are a lot of great, sort of smaller journals, a lot of them don’t pay very well or don’t pay at all, but there area a lot of places that are keeping long form writing alive. You know, some of the literary journals that get published by universities will have non-fiction stuff. There are some smaller quarterlies, you know, like N+1 magazine or The Believers is a monthly magazine, Paris Review is now running long-form non-fiction, the Virginia Quarterly Review is a great place so there are sort of smaller places to do it. I also think that just keeping a blog, I mean, it can be very useful too. For all the reasons that I talked about earlier there are ways in which the technology of the internet almost sort of inherently encourages you to write shorter and to write more of kind piffy sort of possibly viral stuff. But, I think it’s possible to keep your head your head out and to create a blog and do your own writing that can really impress editors at bigger magazines and make them want to give you a shot. I feel like that really the crucial thing is to find places to write that let you write with style, that let’s you write at length and that let you write with a certain kind of humanity that if you spend all of your time writing for places that force you to write very short and that force you to write with in really, really narrow stylistic constraints then it’s going to be very, very difficult for you to find your voice as a long-form narrative writer.
Question: What is the logical extension of the micro-journalism trend?
Bill Wasik: Well, I mean, we have the logical extension of it with Twitter, you know, Twitter where, you know, a hundred and forty characters is all you get and, you know, you see a whole Twitter culture developing online and it is the…it does seem like the logical endpoint of this shortening of the process in this speeding up of the process so that what you have when you log on to twitter is just this kind of constant just wash of tiny little updates from hundreds of people that you might be following that you sort of are able to digest by scheming in this one long stream, you know, and that’s the conversation of the 21stcentury. It’s my hope and my faith that people will have that kind of conversation but that they’ll reserve a part of themselves for another more old fashioned kind of conversation where people are writing at greater length and contemplating things at more remove that we will sort of have our instantaneous, you know, friend feed going on our screen but that will also still have place for essay and for argument, you know, for narrative journalism and dialogue and for books and I believe that we will. You know, at the end of the day, I’m hopeful about this stuff. I really think that we, you know, will be able to strike a balance between the turn of the internet and just the basic demands of being human and having the community which require people to take their time and to think things through.
Question: What advice do you have for prospective journalists?
Bill Wasik: I think that even if print is dead or dying—and I’m not convinced that it is—but even if it is, we’ll always have a need for journalism. Journalism will always be a vital function of what people do and I think if people decide to go into journalism, I think that they should try to not be too narrow in terms of the platforms that they imagine doing their journalism for. So you know, if your goal is to write long-form narrative journalism, take classes in long form narrative journalism, but also learn how to make a podcast, learn how to use video—you know tools—and to add videos, learn how to do other types of radio broadcasting. There’s all kinds of great radio stuff going on right now and, you know, NPR, you know in a bad media environment, NPR has been one of the great success stories of the past few years, you know, that they’ve been able to grow their audience and they’ve been able to, you know, through listeners’ support staff and able to stay very financially viable.
I think that, you know, if people decide to go to journalism school they should be thinking about spreading themselves as widely as possible on learning all of the different forms, learning all the different media and then, you know, thereby preparing themselves to whether, you know, the whatever storm is approaching or whatever storm it is that we’re in the middle of in terms of careers in journalism. Now is the question of whether to go to journalism school or not—I think that…that there’s no need to do it. I think that journalism remains one of the great professions that you can, you know, walk into town with nothing but a pad and a pen and make a name for your self and sort of learn the craft as you do it.
That having been said, you know, journalism school continues to be valuable for a lot of people as a way to get started and thinking about not only how to do journalism, but how to have a career in journalism, how to pitch stories and how to work a beat as a newspaper person, you know…I think that as the technology becomes more important for journalists, you know, in terms of knowing how to do podcast and knowing how to do the video stuff, I can see the role for journalism school expanding even further in that; getting that hands-on experience of mastering the different technological platform and stuff would be a valuable thing for journalism school to teach.
I sort of see journalism school how I think a lot of short story writers see MFA programs. The value in it isn’t what you learn from the professors per se, the value is the time of giving your self the time to sort of figure out what you want to do and find your voice and also the company, you know, the value of spending those years in the company if other students who are aspiring to the same sort of things you’re aspiring to and then the company of some really accomplished professors who can share in some of their wisdom with you. Now you know in a lot of journalism schools the price that you pay for the time in their company is pretty high and so, you know, that’s the decision that everybody has to make on their own.
Recorded on: June 3, 2009