There are times when I think that the concept of karma is complete nonsense, a foolish bit of flightiness that should be brushed aside without further consideration. At other times, karma really seems to fit a situation. It really, really fits.
A couple years back, Don Corrigan (my college newspaper adviser and the longtime editor of the Webster-Kirkwood Times) called me for a quote on a topic that he was writing about: the 1959 tornado that hit Midtown and created Gaslight Square as a strange, undpredictable side effect. As these things sometimes go, I didn’t really get back to Don in time and the anniversary passed without my quote in his piece. A couple months later, outside the newspaper office at Webster U., he justifiably gave me an earful of grief. I was busted. All I could do was nervously laugh and take the ribbing, which was delivered with (mostly) good nature.
This all veers back to this week’s Webster-Kirkwood Times and yesteryear’s Gaslight Square.
Some months back, I met with a pair of gentlemen (Richard Fuegner and David Roth) who were putting together a new book on Gaslight Square, which has been circulating into bookstores recently as “Gaslight Square Illuminated: The Rise & Fall of St. Louis Premier ‘Hot Spot.'” They sought me out because I’d done a previous book on the subject, “Gaslight Square: An Oral History.” We three sat down at the Bread Co. on Watson and kicked things around for an hour; I wished them well, told them to attribute any quotes from my book (which I welcomed them to do), and figured I’d see a title eventually.
What really got my attention this week was a cover story in the Webster-Kirkwood Times, written by Linda Marie Briggs-Harty. The eye-catcher was this quote, early in the piece:
Co-authors Richard Fuegner and David Roth said they were surprised no one had written a history of the Square to date.
“One other book quotes those who lived it, but ours is the first to outline the Square’s development–and demise,” Fuegner said.
I could say all kinds of things about the second ‘graf, but I’ll lead it off by simply saying this: Fuegner’s comment is bullshit.
Bullshit because writers should have the common courtesy to cite a prior work by name, rather than the vague description given by Fuegner, and passed along by Briggs-Harty. Bigger bullshit is the inference of their being first. To more accurately re/paraphrase the above, “‘Gaslight Square: An Oral History’ contains plenty of outlines about the Square’s development – and demise.” It follows a clear, sequential timeline of the Square’s history and works in most of the touchstones: the tornado, the arrival of key businesses, the departure of O’Connell’s in 1972, etc. The two had apparently thought about doing this book for long time. I don’t question why they took their time, nor do I begrudge another title (or many titles) on the subject; in fact, they were there and I wasn’t, so their stories have a certain weight. But I do wince when fellow media members take shortcuts like this, on a topic that speaks to my credibility.
So back to karma.
I work as a journalist in town, writing for straight-up news sources as a non-contractual, paid-per-piece freelance journalist. I also do promotional writing for several businesses, mostly done through handshake arrangements. Within the last year, I’ve ghostwritten advertising and marketing copy, and have penned anonymous advertorial content for others. In the modern media climate, being a professional writer means wearing many hats; some of them feel rather uncomfortable. During all these processes, I’m certain that I’ve cut a corner, or two, if judged by a media ethics workbook. All of us treat new media with some degree of confusion, posting, cross-posting, taking what makes sense and playing loose with attributions and citations. The need for speed’s a big part of all this, too, as writers aren’t just expected to execute assignments quickly, but to write cheaply, often for trade. And, frankly, when asked to crank content for next-to-nothing on tight deadlines, there’re few of us who take all the time we should, making things perfect every time out.
Maybe that’s the lesson I’m to take from the quote above. Slow down, take time, be precise, and be upfront about conflicting interests.
But if I’m in the penalty box for a bit of self-reflective time, I’m not going to completely limit myself from advocacy. Advocacy for myself and projects that matter to me.
I’m reserving the right to call bullshit when it’s deserved. And Richard and David, let’s cut out this “first book” talk okay? Because, frankly, that’s bullshit.