Monday, November 21, 2011

404 for Iowa Independent

In traditional print journalism, the end of the story is - 30 - . On line, it's 404 Not Found. Either way, that's the story this week for Iowa Independent, which has folded after four and a half years.

In an "open letter to readers" which as of Monday morning appears to be off line along with the rest of the site (UPDATE: It was back up by 10 AM), editor Lynda Waddington said that a business "shift in strategy" had led to the closing of two other state sites that were part of the American Independent network. As for Iowa: "The decision, as it was explained to me, is not one of will I stay or will I go, but is centered on the timing of my departure."

It was a blogging supergroup, the original Iowa Independent of 2007 and 2008. The recruiters brought in the core of the Iowa liberal blogosphere that had emerged in 2006. A few names came and went, but the core stayed together. Doug Burns. Tom Lindsay. Chase Martyn. Lynda Waddington. Dien Judge. And me.

It was a model for journalism of the future, which I believe will be funded by political interests rather than advertisers, with the burden of "objectivity" placed on the reader. Yes, we leaned a bit left in our outlook, but we played our journalism straight and fair. We had this state blanket covered through the epic 2008 caucus cycle. We knew the lay of the land better than the national press did because we were here on the ground all the time. (I still don't think anyone in the national media really understands Democratic caucus apportionment and viability.)

But the business side of things broke up the band immediately after the 2008 general election, and I was one of the casualties. Lynda Waddington and the skeleton crew that survived continued excellent work, with occasional help from stringers. But without the resources to keep eight or nine half to full time people on the ground, the site was never quite the same.

The state's conservatives have figured it out: TheIowaRepublican is not even close to what the original IowaIndy was, but it's a great one-stop shop for GOP news, clearly conservative but not necessarily party line. And there's clearly some money coming from somewhere. The Democrats know this but haven't followed up.

I started blogging nine years ago, just as a hobby, with no intention of turning it into a side job. There's a little money involved in the Register column, not nearly as much as there was with Iowa Independent. But that's not really why I do it. One of the best things I've read recently on writing came from, of all places, humor site Cracked:
If you're making money online, it's because you kept at it for zero reward until that happened. Some people want to quit their jobs because they hate them and go write instead, which is the exact wrong attitude for a writer. You write because you love it. You write on top of your regular work, because words might be the true expression of your soul, but your unique spirit doesn't pay the rent.

Some people get hired straight into writing because they were smart enough to do the "find out what you really want to do and work at it utterly" thing in college, which is what college is for. The rest of us simply work two jobs, where the second is unpaid for a long time.

This means that you're pouring all your free time into writing, work that matters to you, instead of spending it in an endless parade of distractions to forget the next day's early start. You keep doing this until you're earning as much from the writing as you were from your old job, then you reward yourself by taking a 50 percent pay cut by going full time and betting "I can work twice as hard as I have been doing just to earn as much as I was."
I missed the Jefferson-Jackson dinner and the Republican events over the weekend because I was working at my second job. It's not a writing job; I use some of my tech skills at a major retailer. The money's not great but the work is OK and they're good about scheduling around my first job. The point is: When my second job was with Iowa Independent, I would have been at those events. But it's a lot harder for a writer to justify time off paid work and a tank of gas when it's a hobby and not a job.

I wish Lynda and the rest all the best; any news organization in the state would be smart to sign her up ASAP.

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