I am mindful most days to not fall into the “Hell In A Handbasket” mentality. It is so easy to do, especially as you acquire more years on the planet and see things that were comforting or meaningful to you mutate into something else or disappear completely. But the “HIAH” attitude just makes you a crank, and doesn’t get you anywhere. Everything changes, in all directions and at all speeds, all the time. You are just sitting here on the planet for a short time, so it’s better to accept that some of those changes will bum you out sometimes instead of whining how everything blows now and everything used to be so cool while life passes your old ass right on by while you stew in your own stale juices. This very paragraph, in fact, is an old ass cranky whine. Look at my mindfulness in action!

Well, what got me started here was this L.A. Times article by James Rainey (linked on Facebook by awesome Texan writer/pal-from-JKC-days Joe Nick Patoski)about the sorry implosion of intelligent, in-depth journalism, and more specifically the pathetic opportunities for the current freelance writer. You might be surprised given the questionable quality and wacky scope of this blog that I have a major jones for beautiful, professional writing: words that are put together so nicely that the prose just sings, whether it’s a straight piece of reporting or a short story or even a technical manual. But I do, and it pains me to see more and more poor writing as standard fare now. On top of that, no one wants to pay people to write. Living wage writing jobs are going bye-bye by the tens of thousands per year. On top of THAT, the trend now is for newspapers and magazines and their respective websites to court people to write content for them FOR FREE or for pennies. Yes, I am not at all kidding.

How do you convince people to work for free or might-as-well-be-free? Well, it apparently is incredibly easy, because lots of writers are doing it in the hopes of getting their names and skills out there to the public, in further hopes that their writing will be so pithy, noticeable, and clearly superior that the free/cheap jobs will lead to real-pay work. But it isn’t happening. The pay jobs – even the barely-interesting ones – are taken, and those folks are clinging onto them with bared teeth and machetes. There are lots and lots and lots and lots of writers, just like there are lots of artists and musicians who also have no way to make a living. The well-written word is a luxury item now.

In the Information Age, oddly enough, we find that people don’t really want all that much information. It’s all too much to intake, from too many places. The collective lizard brain takes over and says, “Just give me only as much as I need, the basics, and something about Hollywood and a massive freeway pile-up, please.” The media outlets have to make money, and they are desperate for readers now as more of them downsize or outright fold, so it’s Give The Lizard What He Or She Wants. We can’t expect anything else, can we? I can bemoan the state of professional writing all I like as this is America and such, but as this is America and such, the dollar is the bottom line. If people don’t want to read certain kinds of work or read at all, that’s the way it is, and it’s not going to go back to the way it was. Murrow and Cronkite and Sontag and Kael and Wolfe and Woodward and Bernstein, if starting new in journalism today, would be offered $50 to write ten paragraphs on how Brad and Angelina were looking at each other at a red-carpet event, sent out on assignment to report that cheese often tastes exactly like cheese, or convinced that if they spend a year writing for free they could “strengthen their brand.” Worst of all, all of those talented and important writers might never have written anything at all, given up and done something else, and we all would be much poorer for it.

We as a country don’t really care about the quality of so much we choose to bring in to our lives, I guess. Substandard is good enough. There are those who will always strive to do their best no matter the circumstances or the pay; there are those who will take the extra time to find quality even when it is buried in a heap of celebrity gossip and Tyson Chicken Nuggets. There are some writers who will survive and thrive, and some who will end up translating government Hep C brochures into Spanish and working 8-6 at the dry cleaners, while hoping for their big break, handing Edward R. Murrow his neatly-pressed white dress shirts that he insists on wearing while driving a semi for Safeway.

Hell In A Handbasket? No. Just Sad In A Satchel.