Brian Hieggelke

Putting the Free in Freelance

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The LA Times is reporting on a not-so-secret secret of the media business: that the market for freelance writing has collapsed as a byproduct of the digital economy. We at Newcity have been as guilty as anyone in furthering this trend: our already rock-bottom rates had to be halved in order to survive about five years ago, and we still struggle to pay these new rates on any timely basis. That, in spite of the fact that we rely on freelancers more than ever.

This is a matter of considerable pain and sorrow for us, for we value the writer and artist above all. When we started Newcity as a print publication nearly twenty-four years ago, we had no revenue, no prospects. But we insisted on paying writers something for everything we published from day one, even though it was not unusual for small startups to operate on the efforts of “volunteers.” We were not a charity, and it seemed odd to try and build a business on the backs of folks working for free. (Interns are another matter, since there is a trade of education and career enhancement for their labors, which are defined by their temporary tenure.) Read the rest of this entry »

Ginormous: The penis enlarger of the lexicon

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I’m no semantic prude: I actually have a fondness for new constructions, new etymologies. Word purists are square, man. But sometimes language can go so wrong. And lately I’ve been obsessing on the need to put an end to the use, any use, of the monstrosity “ginormous.” I’m hating on that word.

It started so harmless; a word to describe, well, burritos and things. Things in need of a bastardized version of the language, befitting their street-food/drunk-food idiom. Im OK with that. But all of a sudden, this frat-boy street slang has slipped into the “real” vernacular, the language. God help us, OED. So make this your new year’s resolution: this is not a word you should ever deploy. If anyone uses it, though, be nice. They are not to blame. After all, the Tribune thinks it’s the raw material of art reviews. Hell, I want a ginormous burrito right now. But I can’t help thinking  of those penis-enhancement ads. Is it really bigger than “gigantic?” “Enormous” is just too small? Really? Two thousand years of largeness are not enough? Or is maybe your largeness not so large? Maybe you should use, or make up a new word to cover, well, the somewhat smallness of what you have to offer?

I understand, trust me. It’s the sign of a decade just vacated. We need big big words, bigger words than ever before, to describe, well nothing. A decade of nothing. Of nothing, but a decade older. It was a ginormous decade.

Now do not use that word, ever again.

Public Disservice Journalism

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Today’s New York Times carries a front-page story by Julia Macur that raises the question about whether slow runners should be allowed to participate in marathons, whether their “participation” diminishes the accomplishment. It’s an entirely absurd argument, and a form of journalism that does a public disservice, since it might tend to discourage slower runners from taking up the sport. We’re suffering a national obesity epidemic, and the last thing we need to do is to start shaming the still very few—at any pace—who set out to build the endurance and strength to cover 26.2 miles.

If it were a real raging debate, and I contend it is not, based on my experience, it would be newsworthy. But I just spent a weekend with running journalists from around the country and, while there was one short conversation about the effect of charity runners crowding out mid-pace runners from some of the top marathons, no one suggested that slow runners get the boot. Nor have I ever heard the argument in my three years of serious running and, trust me, runners talk. And talk. No doubt every race has to have a cutoff time—in Chicago it’s six-and-a-half hours—but to suggest that a greater degree of  elitism is needed with marathons  not only runs contrary to the extremely supportive spirit that pervades the sport of running, but where would the line be drawn? I’m sure every critic would suggest the cutoff just a bit after their expected finish.

Rather than positing this as a “slow” versus “fast” story (ironically, one of her naysaying “fast” sources recently recorded the middling time, albeit a bit better than mine, of just under four hours, six minutes), the meat of her discussion was the more realistic dilemma that races have in setting a final cutoff time, if at all, where issues of cost, traffic control and safety come up against the spirit of participation.

But that’s not as sexy as the fast kids making fun of the slow kids. Even if they don’t.