Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

media. music. feminism. food. city-dwelling. story-telling. and other things.

R.S. McCain Chastises Us Whippersnappers …

with 6 comments

… and rightly so, I think. The man may, overall, be marginally despicable, but he makes some good points in the comments to this League of Ordinary Gentleman post:

When I was your age . . .If you’re under 26, I was working as a nightclub DJ or driving a forklift or playing in rock-and-roll bands. At 26, I got a $4.50-an-hour job as a staff writer for a tiny weekly tabloid in Austell, Ga. After another 18 months of job changes, in fall 1987, I landed a job as sports editor of a twice-weekly paper in Calhoun, Ga. By June 1989, I was 29 years old, married, with a newborn daughter.McCain

So I was closing in on 30 and considered myself doing well to make $300 a week covering prep sports in North Georgia. I was 38 years old when I was hired in November 1997 by The Washington Times.

Now, try to see all this from my perspective, will you? I don’t give a hoot in hell what your SAT Verbal scores were, some of you youngersters appear mighty doggone ridiculous trying to run before you’ve even crawled. As someone even more grizzled than myself said in an email yesterday, self-publishing software has made it very easy to think of yourself as a writer.

Prior to the widespread availability of the Internet (mid-1990s), your choices at age 23 would have been (a) take an entry-level staff gig at a newspaper/magazine, or (b) dwell in that sleazy semi-pro twilight of doing record reviews for crappy weekly “alternative” tabloid or maybe Xeroxing your own crappy “zine.”

Well, hello, WordPress and now, without benefit of filling out an application or sending “over-the-transom” submissions to publications, you get that short feedback loop: Megan McArdle linked me! or: Did you see my exchange with Larison?

Think, dear boys, how ludicrously vain you appear to a 49-year-old who worked his way up through the trenches of local straight journalism to arrive in Washington at age 38. In short, I am insanely jealous to think what might have been if, when I was a senior in college, it might have been possible so much as to send an e-mail to a magazine editor.

So I see you young ‘uns with these infinite opportunities, and doing so damned little with them, and watching you fritter away your time makes me angry at the idiotic waste of it all.

E.D. Kain mocks:

Did you know, back in my day before the printing press we had to shout our thoughts from atop a large boulder! Now you damned vainglorious youngsters can actually participate in the conversation! And you don’t even have to walk seven miles through the snow to do it… You damn kids should be working in, er, journalism with all those great journalism jobs being created each year….because 2009 is just exactly the same as previous pre-internet decades when people actually still read newspapers.

While that’s some mighty fine snarking there (and I—unlike Sonny Bunch and others in the pissing contest discussion that spawned the post on which McCain was commenting—am a fan of well-used snark), I don’t think McCain was suggesting that all bloggers/young writers should have to go pay their dues for five years at the Lima Daily News or something. Rather, I think he was making a good-faith effort to explain the complicated relationship he has to watching today’s young writers or would-be writers and the ridiculous advantages we have over previous bright young things (and disadvantages, as E.D. mentions); the ways we capitalize on them and the ways we squander them; and the sense of ‘what if’ that must pervade many in the older generation of writers who came about things a different way.

By the by, I’m sure we are all aware that there are plenty of young journalists who still get their starts at small, daily papers (hey, I went through, uh, a year of journalism boot camp at a daily Ohio paper) and work their ways up there the old fashioned way (I sometimes think I should have stayed longer. These are (and I mean this neutrally) just entirely different creatures than the majority of species Blogger.


Written by Elizabeth

February 3, 2009 at 1:44 pm

6 Responses

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  1. At some point, the basic fact is this: McCain dramatically misrepresented what John Schwenkler said. And that sucks.


    February 3, 2009 at 3:05 pm

  2. Oh, I don’t disagree. I’m just taking this comment of his completely separate from the whole Schwenkler/Palin/C11/Bunch/snark/etc. fiasco. I didn’t even really see his comment as a response to that (maybe it was?), but more as just a general, sort-of-out-of-left-field reflection.


    February 3, 2009 at 4:20 pm

  3. Yeah, I’m thinking I wasn’t too sarcastic. A good snarky moment can be a worthwhile endeavor…


    February 3, 2009 at 4:39 pm

  4. There, that damn wordpress.com username keeps popping up instead of my own moniker…

    E.D. Kain

    February 3, 2009 at 5:33 pm

  5. As I said in the comments at our site, I think this comment of McCain’s was absolutely correct and a worthy reminder to be a bit more humble in responding to our elders (though I really am curious as to why it was the C11 crew that drew his ire even as he was more or less celebrating the “Joe the War Correspondent” stunt). And, frankly, apologies for getting involved in flame wars are exceedingly rare, so given his apology it’s really difficult for me to conclude that McCain is all that bad a guy. Of course, he then has this bad habit of fawning over some writers who really are bad guys, giving them a venue for their insanity. All of which is to say, I simply can’t figure RSM out.

    Mark Thompson

    February 4, 2009 at 1:44 pm

  6. Jealous for the (pre-RSMcC)days when you could actually make a living freelancing for one of the country’s zillion profitable papers.


    February 12, 2009 at 1:25 pm

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