Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Seattle Bookfest, and trickling down in Eugene, OR

I had a busy weekend. I went down to Eugene, Oregon on Friday to participate in a Society of Professional Journalists conference at the University of Oregon on "The Future of Journalism." I was on a panel with other bloggers discussing the challenges of shifting from print to electronic journalism. We had a great audience, mostly journalists and j-students. It was actually helpful to hear how other people are dealing with the struggles of making a living doing what we love to do in a media arena that is wide-open, unformed, and has not revenue model that is sustainable for most people. (Photographic evidence I was at the conference can be found here.)

One of the points I made was that influence, money, audience: everything seems to some in trickles. There's no one way to fund a website, but if, like Crosscut.com, you derive some revenue from donors, membership drives, advertising, grants, foundations, you might just be able to get enough from each stream to make a river. Same with readers: each link, each person drawn by a single story or a niche focus, adds to the whole. As a writer, you freelance for different outlets (in my case, Crosscut, Seattle Magazine, Washington Law & Politics) and hope that is adds up to a modest living. It's a very different mindset than working as a staffer for an established media outlet. 

I drove back on Sunday in time for a Pugetopolis reading to close the Seattle Bookfest on Sunday afternoon (Oct. 25). The Bookfest was great, held in an elementary school in Columbia City and in the classrooms there were tables for browsing books for area bookstores, authors and publishers. I attended a highly entertaining reading by Robert Ferrigno, the noir author who has written a trilogy about the Islamic take-over of America. In the first, short excerpt he read, there was one hand-job and three slayings. Not for the kiddies. But he shared some interesting insights about faith and fundamentalism, and also about his own writing methods.

My reading at 5pm was standing room only and people were very responsive. Some old Mount Baker friends came and we went out for drinks afterwards at Lottie's. Columbia City restaurants and bars were hopping, even on a rainy Sunday eve. One thing I love about the district is that it embraces change but within the context of the past: the old buildings there have been preserved and give the whole commercial district great character. The places I remember as a kid (the old post office, the five-and-dime, the men's shop) have been adapted to new uses and they look like they're working beautifully.

Congrats to the people who put on the Bookfest. I heard nothing but good things about it and appreciate the chance to read there.

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