…and realizing that a feedback loop doesn’t matter
Maybe if I’m honest with you, radically honest with you, I can learn how to be honest with myself. As a matter of self-image preservation, I tend to avoid that sort of awkwardness, but I’m thinking now that if the big dreams are to survive, reality has to be faced head on, if only in small doses at first.
I know that I’ve arrived at a place in the life cycle of this local newsthing I’m trying to build, the Greylock Glass, where I need to abandon my initial assumptions. The last few months of 2017 were really bruising. The Greylock Glass needed, and begged for, the financial support of its listeners and readers. That support failed to materialize. I’ll tell you right now that, except for maybe a half dozen contributors, neither the audience nor the community members who’ve benefitted from the publicity they got through news coverage of their own events, businesses, projects, etc. could be bothered to show up. Some people who’d been guests on different podcast episodes two and three times didn’t even answer personal appeals for assistance. I never, never, never, ever want to give the impression that it’s pay-to-play at my news outfit, but I mean, c’mon, what the fuck, right? These are intelligent grown-up professionals. They have to understand that if a news organization is to continue to exist, to keep reporting on events and issues, the money has to come from somewhere.
And I’m talking about minuscule sums of money here. Every appeal was based on the calculus that if everyone who consumed our news contributed one dollar per month (yes, one lousy quarter a week), the hosting and other techie fees wouldn’t have to be an out-of-pocket cost, at the barest minimum. At the end of 2017, I had a steady audience of around 4,000 souls, spread out across various channels. A dollar a month from HALF of them (half of you, really, if you’ve been in that audience this whole fucking time—why not lets both of us take a swig of honesty, right?) wouldn’t have amounted to a livable wage, but I could have built a sustainable income out of it. I won’t even use the “for less than a cup of coffee” analogy here. I’ll use the “for less than you tip that dour barista in a week for getting your latte wrong at least half the time” analogy. That’s what I begged for, hat in hand, while the audience downloaded my podcasts and read my articles.
And the silence was paralyzing—professionally and psychologically.
The lack of support was demoralizing, invalidating, and wreaked havoc on my mental health. Not knowing what part of the equation contained the error, where my calculations broke down, was the worst part. To have Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award winners and so many amazing guests on my shows, of both local and international acclaim, and yet to have longtime listeners and readers completely fail to value the very content they keep coming back to…I’ve stripped more than a few gears in my brain trying to work out what the missing variable is. Thankfully, I got to hear Michael Uslan speak at just about the point I had decided that I was an idiot and that what I was creating was shit and the whole thing was a mistake and a waste of time, energy, and money. Uslan is the author of The Boy Who Loved Batman: A Memoir, which relates his experience trying to bring the Batman movie franchise to life. Even with solid industry connections, he spent ten years with people telling him that he was an idiot and that what he wanted to create would be shit and the whole thing would be a mistake and a waste of time, energy, and money.
But holy shit were the naysayers wrong. Like…Batman, right? From Michael Keaton all the way up to Ben Affleck, Michael Uslan freaking owns that shit. And he could have given up at any point in the decade leading up to his decision to cast the improbable, yet perfect, Keaton as the Dark Knight. He didn’t. He just kept believing. He developed his idea, adjusting his assumptions and vision all along the way, and when the time was just right, he took a pickaxe to the locked door of other people’s negativity.
And I believe in my quirky alternative newsthing. A righteous fire is flowing through me that tells me that my mission to save the universe via Indie journalism is spot on. Words like “authoritarian” and “fascism” are passing the lips, not of fringe players and conspiracy theorists, but of shell-shocked mainstream journalists who, apparently, never saw of this freaky reality coming. The planet needs all hands on deck for the foreseeable future because this one’s for all the marbles. The musicians, the artists, the librarians, the activists. And the humble Indie news outfits. Like the Greylock Glass.
I just have to adjust my assumptions and fine tune the vision a bit. I also need to face a really, really hard truth, the denial of which is fatal to this mission. I cannot count on the people I’m dedicating my life to helping to give a shit about me. The overwhelming majority doesn’t care that I’m down to fumes in my gas tank, that I’m playing musical chairs with the utilities bills, or that the rows of potatoes and kale and beans I’ve planted aren’t quaint—they might be the mainstays of what I have to eat later this summer.
I can’t even care about trying to make the non-paying audience get it. What I’m trying to do. I have only to make money, in whatever legal ways I can, pay bills, and keep finding ways to keep the lights on. Side gigs. On-line sales. Freelancing. Whatever. Eventually, I’ll have built up a large enough audience for one or more shows to attract a national sponsor who will shovel coin at me to put their message in from of (or between the ears of) this audience. I didn’t want to go this route in the beginning. I see now that it’s the most liberating mindset I could possibly develop. The readers, listeners, and viewers can go on slurping up the shows and articles I publish. Most of them won’t bat an eye when they slurp up a commercial for a soft drink or automobile or whatever along with the programming they tuned in to enjoy. And the money that comes in will go towards un-brainwashing the masses a little at a time with actual, objective, no bullshit journalism.
My emotions are still pretty raw, I won’t lie to you. It hurt like holy hell to discover that the hundreds of people I’ve been reporting on and thousands I’ve been reporting for lo’ these past three years were perfectly happy to leave me high and dry after getting what they wanted out of the Greylock Glass. Now I realize that, like so many other callings, the journalist has to do what he does because that’s who he is. The teacher doesn’t give up on petulant, learning-resistant students. The doctor doesn’t pass over her bleeding patient thrashing about in a fit of delirium. The shepherd doesn’t just go to bed and say to hell with that cuss of a lamb who insists on breaking out of the pasture and into some dangerous predicament. I can’t, and now don’t, care that the public generally doesn’t know what’s good for them. My job is to go out there and try to find the truth, or at least verifiable facts, and tell the story.
And hope that one day, humanity is the better for my work, even if my contribution is immeasurable.
If you think you’d like to add your contribution to help drive my contribution, I really mean it—a dollar a month from a handful of readers and listeners would, at least, stop the bleeding out of my bank account for things like web hosting. I’ve set up a recurring payment crowd-funding page at the Greylock Glass that uses the very cool payment gateway, Stripe.
Give what you can, and I’ll thank you by doing what I’ve been doing.
Thanks for reading, and have a great Summer.
Jason Velázquez is a writer and podcaster (and sometime farmer) in Western Massachusetts who operates the Greylock Glass, home to such winning podcasts as the Cornbread Cafe, INDIEcent Exposure, and Plenty. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.