Journalism’s Musical Chairs (5)

Journalism’s Musical Chairs (5)

Posted by on Jan 6, 2015 in Randomosity, Video Games | 0 comments

We’re only a few days in 2015 and there’s already been so much upheaval. So many changes. Jim Sterling decided to leave the The Escapist and go independent. Shane Satterfield, Marcus Beer, and others are kicking off Patrick Klepek left Giant Bomb for a position at Kotaku, collecting two of the industry’s best investigative journalists in one area.

Today saw the announcement that Greg Miller, Colin Moriarty, Nick Scarpino, and Tim Gettys quit IGN to focus on Kinda Funny Videos full-time. Max Scoville in turn joined IGN as their new video guy. Russ Pitts also revealed his new production company, Flying Saucer Media, putting him in the same area as former Rev3 producer Adam Sessler.

These are all good people doing good work. The ones I’ve met in person have been nice folks. I like the things they’ve done before. I’m glad they have the chance to pursue creative work they love and still get paid for it.

It feels a bit like musical chairs.

The same faces moving from place to place. Things contract, new outlets pop up in their place, and we make another revolution. It’s pretty good once you’re in – lucky me – but if you’re not in, it’s hard to break through that wall. Hard work, great work helps, but there’s a number of variables forming the hammer that can breakthrough. Who you know, timing, location, conforming to certain standards; if all these things sound like pure luck, it’s because they are. Many within the circle may not acknowledge that – they work hard to stay inside the bubble – but yeah, luck plays a big part our field. In life, really.

People have been swimming around Patreon for a year now: Cara Ellison, Jenn Frank, Brendan Keogh, Mattie Brice, Matt Lees, Scott Nichols. These are all people who have established work ahead of them, floating at different funding levels on Patreon. It wasn’t until Jim Sterling decided to jump over to the service that things got interesting. See, Sterling is an established name, so his Patreon is currently running to a tune of over $9,000 per month. Patreon went from something those in the lower and mid-range used to something big established names could work with. Sterling’s success is probably why Miller and co are banking on the service for Kinda Funny Videos.

Like Kickstarter’s evolution, Patreon was once a pool for up-and-comers. Now it’s a pool for the established. There’s the potential of starting from the bottom and climbing up to the top, but in reality, you’re probably better off being affiliated with some existing thing people already like.

And this isn’t really the problem of those who are established. They still have to work their asses off to stay afloat, to stay within the bubble. It’s real easy to just fall out and be washed away. But it’s a shame because there’s not a lot of new voices that don’t feel comfortable saying whatever comes to mind from their own personal worldview. Projecting that vulnerability is hard. I’m still struggling with it.

That assuming people even get to that point, that there are those who want to write and make videos. Journalism is a middle class and upper middle class profession. Always has been. To survive in it you need to be able to make next to no money for a long period of time. Most people coming from a lower class in life don’t even think to try because they need careers that make money. Not ones that might make money. Even at its best, journalism rarely pays like that. Chris Rock talked about this idea in a recent interview at the Hollywood Reporter.

Fifteen years ago, I tried to create an equivalent to The Harvard Lampoon at Howard University, to give young black comedy writers the same opportunity that white comedy writers have. I wish we could’ve made it work. The reason it worked at Harvard and not at Howard is that the kids at Howard need money. It’s that simple. Kids at Harvard come from money — even the broke ones come from money. They can afford to work at a newspaper and make no money. The kids at Howard are like, “Dude, I love comedy, but I’ve got a f—ing tuition that I’ve got to pay for here.” But that was 15 years ago; it might be easier to do it now because of the Internet. I don’t know.

So, I have no clue what’s next. What’s going to be the new format to get in on the ground floor. That’s the beauty of musing in a personal blog, I don’t need to answer that question. Youtube and Twitch have made it. We have the PewDiePie’s and the Team Sp00ky’s, even though there’s still room to find a good niche and build an audience. I don’t know what’s the next Kickstarter, or what will be there after we hit peak Patreon. I just hope there’s something out there for new voices. (GamesBeat Community or Forbes? *shrug*)

Header image is “1000 Legs, Cultivating Fruits”, an art exhibit by Fumiko Kobayashi. Via Spoon & Tamago

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