Happy to report that this month saw my first piece with a new client, Current Magazine. I’ll be following up with the ongoing controversy between NPR Illinois and the University of Illinois, which appears to have repercussions for most of public radio, so stay tuned! (so to speak)
You know how every year I say, “Man, the fall tour is killing me. I’m not doing this to myself next year.” And then I do it anyway? Yeah, that’s what September and October have been like. I have not had a quiet weekend at home since Labor Day, and I won’t for several more weeks. I’m not complaining (much), because it’s an incredible privilege to be in high demand, for conventions and book fairs and other groups to seek me out and ask me to attend.
But holy Hera, am I tired.
In the meantime, I did some stuff. Here’s the collection of links from the last two months. Keep in mind that I post the best of my work on Contently, and I try to keep it at the top 100 pieces of the last five years, so if you want to read the collected works of one Elizabeth Donald, that’s a good place to go. In the meantime, here’s some of the work of the last two months:
Do keep in mind that Medium has a paywall after the first few reads, and Patreon requires a subscription. I would absolutely love it if you subscribed to my Patreon – starting at $1 a month – and I do my best to give my Patrons first crack at my work and plenty of freebies – like this month, when my Patrons got a free copy of the new anthology! (See more below.)
How to survive a horror movie: 2019 edition (Medium, essay)
Jumping off the high dive: Freelancing the first year(Medium, essay)
La Gloria and five hours at the airport (Patreon, essay)
First, I’m delighted to report that one of my images will be on permanent display in the Ellisville (Mo.) City Hall. It’s “Pigeon of New York,” found here (second photo from the top). It was in their temporary Behind the Lens photography show, and apparently they really liked it!
The annual ebook for my lovely Patrons was finally completed and emailed to all current Patreon subscribers, and I thank you for your patience. Anyone who subscribes to the Patreon this month is also going to get the ebook as a welcome gift. I remain exceedingly grateful for the Patrons, whose generosity allows me to rely on steady income through the sleighride of these two years in school.
The fall semester kicked off in August, and heaven knows that’s going to swallow my life! One of my classes is on anti-media rhetoric, so that should be an interesting theme to my blogging this fall. I’m doing an independent study on the philosophical aspects of media ethics, and of course, I begin work on Ye Olde Thesis. Thoughts and prayers.
And now, to this month’s work! Or at least that which was published this month…
I’m off to San Antonio later this week for the annual Excellence in Journalism conference, where I am honored to represent St. Louis Pro to the important business of the Society of Professional Journalists. I will be meeting with my colleagues on the national ethics committee, and skulking about the panels on issues ranging from freelance survival to the ethics of covering suicide. I hope to get free long enough to get some nifty photos and possibly develop a travelogue on San Antonio, which is a new city for me.
I’ll be live-tweeting the conference at @edonaldmedia, so if you do the Twitter, feel free to follow me there if you really want to hear all about the things we journalists do when we’re away from adult supervision. It’s going to be 101 in the shade while I’m there, so whatever’s left of me will be reporting back next week!
It’s been a crazy busy month, though one of the weirdnesses of freelance magazine writing in particular is that you’ll do a pile of work in July, but it doesn’t appear until September or November. Still, by my standards, July was a bear of a month.
This month I celebrated my one-year anniversary of full-time freelancing, and we haven’t been evicted yet! I go into greater detail in “One Year Later” as listed below, but suffice to say it’s been an interesting, rewarding and ultimately positive experience, and I have a lot more to learn.
Also, this month I launched on Medium, which allows me to share essays and get paid by the click. I’m still figuring out exactly how it works, but a lot of good writers seem to be making money there, and what I’ve read so far is good quality. Please feel free to check out my page, and if you are so moved to click and “clap” for my work, it is deeply appreciated.
As it discloses, I am personally affiliated with The Alestle at SIUE, having served on its board for years and worked with the students this summer in an editing and advisory capacity; and my SPJ vice president is the Alestle program director. However, I believe this gives our opinions greater weight, not lesser: we know for a fact that this “student journalist” does not exist, and our responsibility to call out unethical behavior per the SPJ Code of Ethics is not lessened by our connections to the student newspaper.
Finally… I didn’t write this one. But the local newsmagazine, Edge of the Weekend, featured my family in an in-depth profile for their back-to-school edition. The weirdness of three family members all going to college together finally made print. The photos used are mine, because my menfolk are my favorite photographic subject. Many thanks to Jill Moon, magazine editor for Hearst Illinois, for thinking of us.
We’ve gotten a lot of attention on this story, and it’s been really sweet to see how many people are cheering us on and supporting us as we enter our second year of family-wide higher education and abject poverty. Six jobs, three tuition bills, two impending graduations and one car. It’s been… interesting.
And in three weeks…. here comes the fall semester!
Note: I have finally remembered to update my Contently site with more samples of my work. I try to keep it at no more than 100 clips, a sampling of my various nonfiction works. Click the link to see more.
It was a quiet month here at Donald Media, largely in transition between the daily news beat and the brave new world of freelancing. I imagine bylines will be much rarer, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped writing.
My official last byline for the News-Democrat centered on the turbulent history of the Edwardsville and Carbondale campuses of Southern Illinois University, as another president is forced to resign. I was a bit nervous writing this story right before I switched gears, but since both sides seemed to feel it was fair, I breathed easier. If both sides are happy or both sides are mad, you’ve done your job. It ran a week after I left.
• A essay titled “First Rough Draft of History” musing on departure from daily news, available to subscribers $5 and up.
• Blog posts on “Freelance Folderol, Part 1,” and on grad school: “First Class” and “Paradigm Shifts,” available to all subscribers.
• A photo essay from the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Chinese Festival, available to subscribers $3 and up.
• A fiction excerpt from Banshee’s Run, the work currently in progress, available to subscribers $10 and up.
On the home front, we spent much of August in a mad frenzy of mucking out the house (which got about 75 percent done) and setting up my office again. It had devolved into a dumping ground of storage, and still is only halfway mucked out. But I have shiny new computers in the Tower now, which should greatly expand my capability to make art and words to entertain you endlessly. Now all I need is time…
Buckle in, because I imagine the movie reviews over on CultureGeek are going to largely center on journalism movies for a while, since that’s what my grad school research will focus on. I’ve had to (at least temporarily) discontinue the Linkspam posts and the Fake News Roundups here on Donald Media, because honestly, there’s only X amount of me to go around. Those are fun features, but time-consuming, and frankly the hit counts don’t justify continuing them until or unless I acquire more hours in the day.
I’ve been asked if I intend to write political essays now that I am no longer working for the newspaper. It is very tempting, and Zod above knows there’s plenty of material these days. Here’s the thing: I don’t know what form my freelancing will take. Most freelancers I know develop a niche and specialize in a particular kind of content. I haven’t done that – if anything, I’ve been a generalist my entire career, hopping from subject to subject from day to day. In short, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that I will still be called upon to write politics, and thus it would still be inappropriate to opine about the issues of the day.
But yes, it is tempting.
Coming up this month: lots and lots of school, more Patreon work as the membership grows, the Student Boot Camp for SPJ, and the annual Excellence in Journalism Conference in Baltimore, which I will be attending to represent St. Louis SPJ. Watch my @edonaldmedia Twitter for the journalism-related material, and @edonald for personal and photographic evidence. As you might know, I lived in Baltimore for a time as a teenager, and I have fond memories of Charm City. I am really looking forward to five days staying right at the Inner Harbor, and will be shooting photos of anything that will stand still. If only I ate seafood.
In the meantime, the freelance folderol continues, the photo backlog is piling up, and the Patreon is (understandably) getting a large amount of my attention. You might consider subscribing…
It was my last month working full-time for the newspaper, but it sure wasn’t quiet. (As you can tell, since this roundup is about a week late.) My thoughts were much focused on the transition, as you can imagine.
• An essay on “Annapolis,” which was cross-posted to the Patreon as a public post.
• “Our Year in Review,” a roundup for the St. Louis Pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. We did more than I thought…
• A statement on “Lindenwood’s Legacy” regarding that university’s decision to shutter its print magazine after it printed stories considered damaging to the university’s reputation.
• “SIUE and SIUC had turbulent history before Dunn’s departure,” an examination of the history of the university campuses and what will be in their path going forward. Covering this controversy during my exit from the newspaper has been an interesting experience. Technically, this is my last byline from the News-Democrat as full-time staff, running about a week after my departure.
And elsewhere, I’m happy to announce that Highland Arts is now carrying my photography, both for in-stock prints and metal wall art. Stop by anytime, or go to the photography site and order directly from me. Custom orders welcome!
And finally… I was not permitted to use puns in this story. I think the loss of income going freelance will be worth it simply to be allowed to pun in public.
ME: Am I allowed to say he got stuck with the bill?
ME: Sigh. Someday I’m gonna quack you up.
ME: Look, Leader Pub’s lead is, “One Six Flags patron apparently thought it was duck season.”
EDITOR 2: Are you sure it’s not wabbit season?
EDITOR: I’m about to declare a time-out.
ME: I’m not allowed to use puns. See? No puns in my story, and it is physically painful.
EDITOR 3: Since you’re leaving, does that make you a … lame duck?
ME: *points* How come he gets away with that and I can’t make a single pun??
EDITOR: I gave him the side-eye glare.
I spent most of May finishing a project a year in the making: a package on teen suicide prevention co-written with Alexis Cortes at the News-Democrat. Alexis and I started working on this story before I was transferred to a different team, so it didn’t really have to take a year, but it kept getting postponed during the reorganization.
It was one of the most difficult projects I’ve ever worked on, and one that made me quite nervous. I’ve written about sensitive subjects many times – a series on domestic violence, an in-depth look at shaken baby syndrome, unlicensed day care centers, LGBT rights pre-Obergefell, racist harassment, etc. All of these subjects required careful, deft handling of both sources and subject matter.
But none of them had the blatant warning sign: If you do this wrong, people will die.
Suicide contagion is a real thing and we shouldn’t scoff at it, particularly in the news business. Several reliable studies show that completed suicides rose by 10 percent in the weeks following Robin Williams’ suicide, which was widely covered in the press. Talking about suicide doesn’t make a mentally healthy person commit suicide. But something about reading about suicide or watching depictions of suicide in entertainment has a tendency to tip a person on the edge over into an attempt.
I told Alexis several times during our efforts to report on teen suicide that I’d rather we did it in a boring way or not at all than do it wrong and have suicide attempts on our hands. Both of us took extreme care in the reporting of the piece, and we were backed up all the way by our editing and audiovisual team.
Our first instinct, of course, was to focus on a family that had lost a teen to suicide and the impact it had on them. But I made a habit of asking every expert we interviewed one question at the end: “Do you have any suggestions for how we can approach this subject without doing more harm than good?”
And they all said, “Please don’t focus on a grieving family, or the memorials, the damage they leave behind.” Apparently that is one of the things that tends to kick off suicide contagion – along with graphic depictions of suicide methods, or words like “unsuccessful suicide attempt” as if suicide itself is a success. Or, as they told us, everything that 13 Reasons Why did in both seasons.
The show was part of the reason we looked at the issue, tracking the number of completed suicides in our region compared with state and national rates. With the guidance of counselors and experts, we focused instead on a young woman who survived, on ways schools are trying to cope with teen mental health, and on paths to heal and get better.
I’m proud of the work we did, and just as happy that we managed to do it ethically and responsibly. Would it have been a more compelling piece with a grieving family weeping into the camera and sad pictures of a grave? Perhaps. But it would not have been a responsible piece, and that’s more important than the hit count.