Monday, November 29, 2004
Godzilla Rejects Conde Nast Contract
Think only travel writers get screwed by their publishers? Think again. Photographers are also falling down the deep hole into economic oblivion, as pointed out today in a snippet from The New York Post:
PHOTOGRAPHERS are fuming at the strict new contracts Condé Nast is making them sign. "If you want to shoot for Condé Nast publications — any of them — you have to sign this contract that basically means you sign your life over," groused one lenser. According to several snappers, Condé Nast is offering three types of contracts. "One says they pay you basically nothing and own all the works thereafter," our source said. "The middle contract states they will pay you $50 if they resell your photo, and the top contract says they'll give you a bit more money for reselling. But the principle of them all is the same: they own you and your work. Making us give up our photo rights is basically taking away our living and ensuring that if they open up a Vogue in the Czech Republic, they can fill the magazine with our work for nothing."
So far, shutterbugs and their agents have stood firm: "No one we know has signed the contract yet, but it is a matter of time. We have to eat, you know." Exempt from the draconian arrangements are top talents like Annie Leibovitz and David LaChapelle. A rep for Conde Nast declined comment.
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Writer's Block? Not Me!
Hack your way out of writer’s block
Nov 18, 2004
I recently had occasion to do some…errr…research on writer’s block. Yeah, research. That’s what I was doing. Like a scientist. I found lots of great ideas to get unstuck and wrote the best ones on index cards to create an Oblique Strategies-like deck. Swipe, share, and add you own in comments.
Talk to a monkey
Explain what you’re really trying to say to a stuffed animal or cardboard cutout.
Do something important that’s very easy
Is there a small part of your project you could finish quickly that would move things forward?
Sit down and write anything for an arbitrary period of time—say, 10 minutes to start. Don’t stop, no matter what. Cover the monitor with a manila folder if you have to. Keep writing, even if you know what you're typing is gibberish, full of misspellings, and grammatically psychopathic. Get your hand moving and your brain will think it’s writing. Which it is. See?
Take a walk
Get out of your writing brain for 10 minutes. Think about bunnies. Breathe.
Take a shower; change clothes - Give yourself a truly clean start.
Write from a persona
Lend your voice to a writing personality who isn’t you. Doesn’t have to be a pirate or anything—just try seeing your topic from someone else’s perspective, style, and interest.
Get away from the computer
Write someplace new - If you’ve been staring at the screen and nothing is happening, walk away. Shut down the computer. Take one pen and one notebook, and go somewhere new.
Quit beating yourself up
You can’t create when you feel ass-whipped. Stop visualizing catastrophes, and focus on positive outcomes.
Maybe try vacuuming your lungs too.
Add one ritual behavior
Get a glass of water exactly every 20 minutes. Do pushups. Eat a Tootsie Roll every paragraph. Add physical structure.
Listen to new music
Try something instrumental and rhythmic that you’ve never heard before. Put it on repeat, then stop fiddling with iTunes until your draft is done.
Accept that your first draft will suck, and just go with it. Finish something.
Unplug the router
Metafilter and Boing Boing aren’t helping you right now. Turn off the Interweb and close every application you don’t need. Consider creating a new user account on your computer with none of your familiar apps or configurations.
Write the middle
Stop whining over a perfect lead, and write the next part or the part after that. Write your favorite part. Write the cover letter or email you’ll send when it’s done.
Do one chore
Sweep the floor or take out the recycling. Try something lightly physical to remind you that you know how to do things.
Make a pointless rule
You can’t end sentences with words that begin with a vowel. Or you can’t have more than one word over eight letters in any paragraph. Limits create focus and change your perspective.
Work on the title
Quickly make up five distinctly different titles. Meditate on them. What bugs you about the one you like least?
Write five words
Literally. Put five completley random words on a piece of paper. Write five more words. Try a sentence. Could be about anything. A block ends when you start making words on a page.
Beating That Block
Monday, November 15, 2004
Here's some background on the amazingly ambitious World Heritage Virtual Reality Tour:
The WHTour is a non-profit organization dedicated to creating a documentary and educational image bank of printable panoramic pictures and online virtual tours for all sites registered as World Heritage by the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). All panoramas are shooted, built and uploaded on this website by Tito Dupret, a 33 year-old multimedia director from Belgium and Bijuan Chen, his 26-year old multimedia assistant from China.
So far, they have covered Bangladesh, Eastern Canada, China, Cambodia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, The Philippines and Vietnam. This represents 13.2 % of all 788 WH sites : 104 sites with 525+ Virtual Reality movies (VRs) available via the above menus. This project is at its beginning only and will need years to complete. The WHTour is slowly growing since July 2001 and constantly seeking financial help in order to pursue its mission. People involved in the WHTour are volunteering.
The following explanation about Virtual Reality is taken from the World Heritage Tour site, and gives some background on the fabulous VR images found at their homepage. You'll need Quicktime and some patience - about 60 seconds - to download each file if you're still stuck with 56K dial-up connections.
Quicktime and virtual reality
In order to navigate through the WHTour web site, you need to download the Quicktime plugin. It is easy, fast, free. You will then be able to navigate in virtual reality movies the way described here. Once you've downloaded a VR file, click once directly into the image, then hold the mouse down and drag it around. You seem to fly around the image in all directions, a 360 degree exploration of the environment. You can also zoom in closer with the "shift" key or zoom out with "ctrl" key.
What is virtual reality (VR)?
Virtual reality opens up the world to us in a way hitherto unknown, by allowing people to visit almost any place from practically any location without time constraints. It is a media drawing upon traditional photography and film industry. It depicts more than a photo but without the time limits of a movie. It is an interactive media meaning that the audience is active. Without their participation, the VR movie would be without animation ; in essence the audience gives life to the picture by viewing it from various angles, zooming in/out and clicking hyperlinks/icons.
It is also a very "light" and practical media. One person with skills and a backpack is enough to cover any site in the world. For this reason, it is inexpensive to produce compared to other animated systems. Moreover, it is a broad-ranging medium insofar as it can be supported on many different media systems, from a light web interface to heavy cinema productions or any printing support and at any quality level.
What is QuickTime VR ?
QuickTime VR lets you rotate your view of a scene through a complete 360 horizontal x 180-degree vertical sphere. As you change your view of the scene, correct perspective is maintained, creating the effect of being at the location and looking around. QuickTime VR is the first mainstream technology to enable theses experiences based on real world scenes.
How does the WHTour create virtual reality movies?
Taking a selection of digital images, each VR movie is made by stitching together 28 of these images. The computer creates the effect of being inside a sphere giving the user the scope to view all around oneself at 360 x 180 degrees. Actually, this sphere is made with the six separate sides of a cube : the front, right, back, left, top and bottom sides. The borders of each side connect to the others and the illusion is perfect.
For the WHTour, all VR movies are produced on site with a laptop and then disseminated on the internet through local connections. Each VR is about 1/2 day postproduction according to the complexity of stitching. Each VR of the WHTour is manually stitched.
Angkor Wat in Virtual Reality
Angkor Wat by Isaac at BigTrip.Org
Have you ever wanted to travel around the world, take outstanding photographs, and post them on your website to universal acclaim? Well, Isaac and his girlfriend did this last year, and the results are nothing short of stunning. The most curious thing about his website is the complete lack of personal biography, contact information, or background on his journey. Does anyone have the story on Isaac and his round-the-world photographic tour? Be sure to check his images of Angkor Wat, Phnom Penh, Hong Kong, and India.
The Best Travel PhotoBlog Ever
Sunday, November 14, 2004
Antartica by NASA
Travel Magazines for the Rest of Us
Tim Leffel's Cheapest Destinations
Quick, name the last three travel magazines or newspaper sections you read. Now think hard and try to remember how many articles you saw about traveling on a tight budget.
Those two answers probably sum up everything you need to know about why people travel the way they do. Where I live in the US, Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel has done a good job of showing the mainstream reader how to get a better deal, but its circulation is dwarfed by that of Travel & Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler, magazines that are really aimed at the most affluent citizens of the one of the world's most affluent countries. Big city newspapers such as the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune contain some great travel writing, but only a fraction of the typical Sunday travel section pays more than passing attention to finding the best values. It’s a little better in Europe and Australia, but most publications still tilt disproportionally toward expensive travel—-after all, that’s where the ad dollars come from.
This was true even during the travel slump and worldwide recession of the past few years. You see lots of luxury, luxury, luxury, as if every traveler boarding a plane is on their way to a five-star hotel and a spa treatment. Over time this warps readers' perceptions and makes them think every vacation has to cost a fortune.
A fellow travel writer calls these swanky publications "travel porn" and I can't think of a more apt description. I once saw a cartoon in a men's magazine in which a woman is standing next to a pot-bellied man in an easy chair. "Why do you watch that stuff?" the woman asks, pointing to a pornographic movie playing on the TV. "Because it makes me feel like everyone in the world is having a wild and crazy time," he replies. "Well, everyone except me."
The idea of fantasizing about a life you can't lead yourself is a big part of the "armchair traveler" appeal of glossy travel magazines. A typical issue contains dozens of advertisements for diamond watches, luxury sports cars, and handbags that retail for over a thousand dollars. Between the ads are stories about resorts we have no business frequenting unless we're in that lofty portion of the population who has more money than they have time to spend. It's nice to look at the stunning photos and read about locations if that's as far as it goes. For too many non-millionaire tourists, however, they look at those stories and think that's how everyone travels-everyone except them. So when they pick up the phone or log on to make travel reservations, they go in with the mindset that travel is, and should be, expensive.
Next time you leaf through a travel magazine, take a look at the non-travel advertisements. Do those products match up with the way you live your life? If not, try a different magazine-and a different kind of travel.
Some great magazines for independent travelers got killed off when the recession hit, including Escape, trips, and Big World. A few good ones have stuck around however:
Published in Toronto, with a Canadian perspective. Was always great, but is now hands down the best travel magazine in North America for thinking, independent travelers. Insightful and culturally sensitive writing, with a view from the ground, not from the Four Seasons balcony.
I'm biased since I have a regular column in here, but it's a great resource. Created in 1977 as the "antidote to tourism," it is the definitive guide to working, studying, or volunteering overseas. They also publish some brief travel articles that provide plenty of no-nonsense advice. The publishing company is known for some very helpful books and directories for those planning to live overseas for some time. Click here to subscribe or check a quality bookstore or library for a copy to see for yourself.
Only published in fits and starts, but this magazine manages to combine an experimental edge with a corresponding usefulness for all nomads. Not afraid to tackle taboo subjects and is open-minded enough to cover Asbury Park, NJ and Vietnam in the same issue. Also contains interesting book and world music reviews.
Frommer's Budget Travel
This is a corporate magazine mostly geared toward package tourists, and a lot of articles are about the usual suspects (Italy, the Caribbean, etc.) but it does focus on independent overseas travel a fair bit. You can subscribe for next to nothing by checking the Web subscription sites, so you'll certainly get your money's worth from the web links and resources alone. Has some good info about value destinations and how to get good airfare and hotel deals.
This UK magazine is a great find if you can get a Europe-bound friend to pick it up or you live near a magazine store that carries imports. (Or if you live in England of course.) Literate travel articles, great travel book reviews, and beautiful photography, but all the while still remembering that most travelers aren't living off $500 a day.
Travel Magazines for the Budget Traveler -- Links and More Information Here
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
CNT Editor Welcomes Freelancers
The long, sad saga of a travel writer attempting to sell his article to a disturbingly evasive editor at Conde Nast Traveler. Also note that the magazine pays only $800 for 1200 words.
Adventures in Journalism: World Traveler
By William Georgiades
November 10, 2004
A writer chronicles the birth and painful demise of an ill-fated travel writing piece.
... "We did, we did," she says. But some of my colleagues wonder if there is something we can peg the story to."
This is a death knell. I've used this ruse myself many times, when I was in her position over the phone. An editor's job is always to say no in the best or most excruciating way possible. Ideally, one can say, oh, we ran that exact story just 19 months ago, so sorry, but great idea; which is invariably the case, as magazines tend to tell the same story on a rotating basis of nineteen months. Or you can say you are not interested and you might be alienating a future Important Person. The last line of defense, however, is to say your colleagues have problems with the story and that a colleague says there is no peg and magazines are nothing without stories that have pegs. Can you imagine a world without pegs?
... Nine months pass and she is not in touch. She nods to me at two parties, as if to say, what are you doing here (a question I am asking myself at both occasions). Seated near her at an outdoor summertime dinner party, she regales our neighbors, telling them about this brilliant piece I'm working on for her. I don't point out that she's had it for months, that it's all of 1,200 words, and that she hasn't responded to the 17 ideas I've sent over the past several months. I don't mention that the enthusiastic editor won't speak to me anymore, and that our mutual friend tells me I almost cost her her job. Sitting there at that summertime dinner party feeling the crush of success all around me, I look at the pigtailed now-37-year-old editor and think of the glory that will hit newsstands. I smile at her suggestively and she blushes like the young woman she is not.
... "Well, there's a slight problem. Unfortunately at the last minute our editor cut back our pages and it was either you or A. M. Homes's piece about the view from her apartment window so, it broke my heart, but we had to cut your story at the last minute. I am so sorry. But," She says this "but" very, very quickly, before I can say anything, "but I think it'll hold for a year—you do say the celebrations have been going on for six hundred years so... and of course I'll make sure you get paid right away. But payment will have to be a kill fee, just in case the story never runs, so that's 25 percent, and 25 percent of $600..."
The Travails of a Freelance Writer with Conde Nast Traveler
Note: Here's the hilarious blurb about the above article as posted in The Gawker
Another Day, Another Evil Editor
William Georgiades, former editor of Black Book magazine and Vanity Fair contributor, has written (for free?) a Mediabisro "exposé" on the wild world of freelancing. Georgiades recounts the long and painful process by which he was tortured by an unnamed editor (who is so totally Dana Dickey) at Conde Nast Traveler for over a year, only to see his 1200-word article in the trash. On the bright side, the experience gave him the opportunity to write about the ordeal and reiterate some basic truths about editors: they're cloven-footed devil beasts.
Monday, November 8, 2004
Thursday, November 4, 2004
Media Bistro Monkey
The following discussion is from the members section of Media Bistro in the Forums section. I've removed all the names to protect the innocent, but left in Elizabeth Spiers of Gawker fame since she's the MB staffer who responded to the rants. But first, the "Who We Are" profile provided by Media Bistro:
Who and what we are.
mediabistro.com is dedicated to anyone who creates or works with content, or who is a non-creative professional working in a content/creative industry. That includes editors, writers, television producers, graphic designers, book publishers, people in production, and circulation departments — in industries including magazines, television, radio, newspapers, book publishing, online media, advertising, PR, and graphic design. Our mission is to provide opportunities (both online and offline) for you to meet each other, share resources, become informed of job opportunities and interesting projects, improve your career skills, and showcase your work.
> Sponsor an event or advertise with us.
Our greater goal: to revolutionize the way creative/content industry professionals relate. Call it the AvantGuild, a new guild for the new guard in media. Media professionals have so much in common, yet we work in our little cubicle worlds, rarely meeting, rarely sharing our collective experiences. We want to create a new version of the 14th-century guild system — so that talented professionals in related industries can meet informally, mentor each other, work on projects together, and more. Go ahead, call us idealists. Call us medievalists even!
And now for the rants:
Anyone know how to pitch MB's essay department? They tell you how to pitch about everyone but themselves...at least, I haven't found anyting on the website about this. I sent the site an email but no one answered. I also heard a rumor that they don't pay anything whatsoever. Any truth to that?
For a site that is supposedly for members of the media, I find it sad and even irritating that they expect writers to donate their services. If they manage to pay the staff and the company hosting the site and the landlord for their office space and the electric company and so on, why should writers provide for nothing that which actually helps draw people to the site, which in turn allows them to charge for advertising? And even the idea of in-kind compensation is something that the writer has to know to ask for? Even while Laurel is quoted by a reporter about this being a money making machine?
This sounds more and more like so many other things in writing - the magazines, the seminars, the newsletters, the editing services. Yes, there are some that are more than worth the money (ASJA and Freelance success are that for me), but in all too many cases, there is a common smell. It's the aroma of someone people who had been in the business but had then decided that writers were strictly suckers and ought to be treated that way. ''Oh, yeah, we can get writers to do this - they'll fall for anything.''
I will donate my time to non-profits that I particularly like. I will spend time trying to help other writers if I can. But I'm not giving away time and effort to what is clearly a for-profit business.
Seems to me a fair in- kind trade would at least be a year's worth of free advertising in their freelance marketplace, to maintain and upkeep such a listing costs a fraction of what they're actually charging individual writers, or a spot in one of their writing bootcamps.
I think that's one of the things you can negotiate for, if you know to ask. Now you do. I like MB, and have found the site extremely useful, especailly for jobs. But it seems to pose as a money-making business when it's convenient, and as a struggling nonprofit when that suits its ends--when it needs to rationalize or explain not paying writers or its constant call for volunteers (the latter seems to have ebbed, though). What businesses call for volunteers? Again, I don't like to bash MB, because the site, and many of its panels and short classes, are good and useful, and not that expensive. I just wish it would get over its irritating hypocrisy. Instead of advocating for better treatment for writers, it perpetuates the writer-as-victim philosophy--bad pay, late pay or no pay, bad contracts, the idea that writers should be grateful to have their work displayed anywhere--that it should be working to combat.
Posted – 11/3/2004 12:12:39 PM
Here's what I told a few people who inquired yesterday:
The standard policy right now is that we don't pay for essays, but historically we've compensated people who write for the site on a regular basis w/ avantguild memberships, other freelancer services, or whatever we can scrape together. there seem to be (at this point) enough good writers who will write for free to build a clip file and to get their writing in front of editors (and a wide variety of editors, at that) so there's not a tremendous amount of pressure to do otherwise. That said, the policy is very erratic and where we need to compensate, some people already have avant guild memberships so i'm trying to come up with a better way of doing that. If you have suggestions (besides the obvious $1 a word, which doesn't appear to be tenable*) do let me know. I'm looking for creative solutions. And money isn't entirely out of the question, but it'd probably come out of my own pocket and not my budget, so it'd have to be really fucking good. I don't exactly make Anna Wintour-level money.
*MB is profitable, but more on the solid-small-biz level than the media conglomerate level. And it was never a non-profit (which is a descriptor of intent and tax treatment, not profitability. Most non-profits are profitable.)
For those who don't have her finance background, let me explain in simpler terms what Elizabeth is saying (which, in fairness to her, is no more or less than she can say as mouthpiece for the business plan Laurel created):
Newbie writers are essentially like illegal immigrants, or mine workers in pre-union times, or underage children in third world sweatshops. It's fair to exploit them because they are willing to be exploited. You want the clip but don't want the exploitation? No problem. Someone else will put up with it. You, unlike the utility companies or the landlord, are completely expendable. Don't like it? No problem. There are plenty of other suckers out there who will be more than happy to create the content that creates the page hits that create the numbers MB uses to sell its classifieds and otherwise continue charging forward as, in Laurel's words to The Economist, ''a money-making machine''. You're a log to be thrown on the engine. Don't want to get burned? There's plenty more logs where you came from, so screw off.
This is, as Erik Sherman already said, a shameful way for a business to treat the professional community it allegedly exists to serve.
With all due respect, Elizabeth, the theory that editors are (more) likely to call you with work after you write for free on this site is, in my own limited personal experience, not necessarily true. My essay on trauma ran here last spring -- yes, because the potential payoff was some increased exposure for my new/first book and no, I was not paid. Nor was I paid to run a concomitant BB discussion on the same topic, a thread that ran for several weeks with many thoughtful messages. Maybe my writing just sucks, but no one has contacted me since then to assign work to me. So you pays your money (or do not receive any) and you takes your chances...Flame me for making that decision.
I did it once, but am unlikely to do it again. I doubt anyone with a choice (i.e. experienced writers; see floruja's comments) or without a timely or specific need for (greater) exposure for their ideas or POV will repeatedly do so either. The only writer whose name I've read here and then recently somewhere more exalted, (and you can guess wildly and inaccurately as to cause and effect), who may also have worked for free, is Lizzie Skurnick whose byline has recently appeared in the NYT Book Review. With all due respect to Lizzie, and good for her, did Sam really come trolling the MB site for new writers? I somehow doubt it.
Good grief, call off the dogs. I think it's great that MB is willing to work with new writers, even if they don't have the $$ to compensate. It's a great way to get clips. I've written for other sites for free, and for the pleasure of it, and for clips, and it was a great stepping stone to get paid assignments. If you don't like the policy, you don't have to write for MB, for free, in-kind payment, or otherwise! There's lots of other outlets out there!
Media Bistro Discussion on Pay for Freelance Writers