Thursday, November 8, 2007

the new new grub street

Gabriele Bärtels, award-winning journalist, founder and editor of the now defunct online magazine Frida, had a remarkable piece in last week's Zeit on the financial difficulties facing journalists in Germany today. I say remarkable because there is no reason to think Die Zeit is any better than any of the other papers in its treatment of freelancers - the editors who don’t reply to submissions, accept a piece after months of silence, decide not to publish but don’t bother to tell the author are no doubt as much a fact of life at Die Zeit as anywhere else, as, I assume, are the cheques which mysteriously take further months to materialise thanks to helpful accounts departments. Bärtels’ hand-to-mouth existence, avoiding her landlord when she can’t pay the rent, staying in bed when she runs out of money, coaxing and cajoling her bank manager not to close down her account because look, a national newspaper has accepted a substantial piece of work, the money is in the pipeline if not the post, is not the predicament of someone just starting out, with no credentials and no contacts, but someone with an impressive history of publications and awards. It’s as bad as it is because of the capricious behaviour of those who buy her work. So hats off to Ms Bärtels for having the chutzpah to write about it and send the result to Die Zeit, and hats off to Die Zeit for putting it on the front page of Chancen (‘job opportunities’ would be the English equivalent, I think, but German trounces English in capturing the lottery that is the modern job market).

I can’t imagine any English-language paper of comparable stature publishing a piece that exposes the machinery behind its own publishing practice. Back in the mid-90s David Foster Wallace wrote an essay for Esquire on the Canadian Open; he spent a lot of time on the obstacles the system places in the path of talented players not yet in the top 10. It’s an extraordinary piece of work - but if DFW has written anything comparable about the system confronting writers like himself it’s never been published by Esquire or anyone else.


Bah. Many hours have passed. My start-up OS 9 disk has arrived, ordered off Ebay so I can install Language Kits for a version of Photoshop ME that only works in Classic. I wanted to say something about Adorno, I wanted to translate passages from GB's excellent article, but the phone rang and it was a friend who had been out of town, visited by another friend from out of town, we should have coffee, he said, so I joined them for coffee and was told no names could be named, Whatever you do don't mention this in your blog, my wife will think we're having an affair. Adorno. Dead giveaway. Hm. German readers can check out the piece here, those unfamiliar with the language can curse jealous wives and nameless friends.

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