By Levi Gogerla

It’s a hurtful term, but it’s probably an accurate one, at least in a cultural context. Generally, the term “content provider” would probably do when you try to describe the role of the journalist in the eyes of the 21st-century digital world.

It seems to be implying in lamest terms that the most important relationship between this art form and the artist is only as relevant or meaningful as to the degree in which it fulfills the relationship between reciprocation and viewership en-mass.

Hello we are a digital content provider and we would like YOU to provide content for various media outlets…

This was the beginning of an email I received after working a few local media scrums. What it worked out to was a networked digital media firm asking me to put out video, pro-bono or a few free write-ups of “relevant, trend-focused beat reporting,” that could then be put on mobile phones and such, providing content to an audience of hyper-consumers spastically glued to phones craving an entertainment fix. It’s a caustic joke rejected with fire and fury. You can’t eat or drink exposure.

I refused, of course, and continued writing with the indies punching a clock at 10-25 cents a word, all the while working two shit paying jobs – it was better having a voice at pennies a print than not having one at all. Highly paid journalism seems a fever dream, as encroaching student debt looms nauseously over the not too distant horizon.

I’m buggered to damnation and I haven’t got a penny to wander the dark streets of London.

– Shane Macgowan

Part of the fun about writing for and sticking with the indie or arts publications, besides the obvious passion of those sinking their time and energy into the craft, is that people kind of stumble across your work in the middle of all this other stuff in transit. There’s always the element of surprise when published work nets you a well-deserved meal. Or better yet, when it covers the rent or car payment, all in which in my freelance life seems to be a few steps behind and constantly chasing.

There’s a bit of charm in the scatology and filth working freelance beats for the sake of exploring and sharing art. There are a lot of messy beats in the indies. Other publications ignorant of the fact, really don’t touch them. The stories born in sewers and the cities underbelly need a champion who is often gruesome, awful, abrasive, and beautifully artistic.

Writing stories about “horrific melancholia” or “the force of space ripping the skin off your bones, and your intestines being blown out of your ass … [a] process of dying that would be fast and intense,” in front of a certain audience sometimes gives you the evil warding eye and I’m sure others in the field often question whether you, the writer of said piece, is having some sort of schizophrenic breakdown. The work goes up in a vacuum none the less, if anything to humour and pay homage to the artists and honour our respective work. The viewership hasn’t come to the indies to read you, they aren’t your audience, they just passively consume the media, and it’s sometimes fun to give them something challenging to choke on.

Reducing journalism to that of a content provider implies that “these acts were done for this concrete purpose, and this alone;” to provide you, the viewers, the all important and consuming entity with what business executives deem necessity to drive interest, internet revenue, and advertising potential.

When the ball’s rolling, we’re encouraged to spend a lot of time thinking about what people do and why they do it. Networked digital communication has stripped the ball of much of its momentum – clickbait, and social aggravators rule what’s left of paid journalism and most think the media and industry are nothing short of a joke. The art becomes caustic as form churns out increasingly drab content to meet imaginary internet quotas the infrastructure of old crumbles in search of greener pastures.  Everyone provides content in some form or another, the pedestal that separates high art from the legion of hacks, lies I suppose in one’s duty to the craft and the work.

Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful — be concerned with doing good work and make the right choices and protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually, that name will be its own currency.

– William S. Burroughs

Working a few beat circuits, I’d often be asked, what are you writing about? Whatever I can find of interest that’s directly in front of my nose or at the end of my fork, I sometimes reply. Pitching stories Monday for a beat due Friday already shapes my parameters – 1000 words usually less, a couple days’ research and reporting, rinse and repeat. My job? Providing the content, with shaking hands to the Moloch machine, “destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked.”

People know what the rules of a news publication is. I’ve been often asked by professors and communication professionals how one can mess around with it and still on some level deliver something that’s supposedly newsworthy. Therein, I have been told, lie the greener pastures.

I would say that there’s a good case to be said about any genre or form – that it’s never more interesting than it’s disrupted in some way. That’s what they’re for forms, and genres – to be pulverized and disregarded beyond repair.

So where does the disruption need to occur? Is it possible to reconsider our relationship with digital networking and the public sphere?

Networked digital communication technologies worm their way into everything – or at least, are often forced into things. Facebook alone is vicious and invasive, and apparently, some people have a longstanding urge to outsource the operation of their front doors and pet crates to networked services. Is there a strategy of refusal of a deeply chaotic networked world that doesn’t look like the Amish? To push journalism and art forth and not be reduced to a content provider who’s worth is valued less than one’s digital assets?

I think one can certainly opt out of much contemporary technology, sure, in the limited sense of clearing it of your personal sphere and living space. You can, if you wish, forego a smartphone. You can surely do without personal biometric monitors and a profile on Tinder or live tweeting some shit event for “coverage.” Plenty of people do, and so far as I can tell, they don’t suffer much as a result of these choices.

But there are two circumstances presented to us by networked technologies that you can’t opt out for quite as easily, if at all. The first is being an operand, an object of the networked data collection and processing techniques that are now brought to bear on you by various institutional actors both public and private, and which will increasingly determine the shape of your life chances and the choices that are available to you. And the second is living in a world where the great majority of other human beings you interact with have chosen to embrace these technologies, to a more or less conscious degree, and have their subjectivities altered by exposure to them.

The first circumstance means that nothing short of a Kaczynskian retreat from public life will stop various types of actors from attempting to gather information about you, correlating that information with other information already at hand, building models of your personality and psychic state, or using those models to project and anticipate your future behaviour. And what is more, any such retreat will necessarily come at the cost of meaningful participation in the contemporary economy. The second circumstance means that any social interaction whatsoever with people who haven’t undertaken that kind of retreat will henceforth come at the cost of inviting the network into your life, albeit indirectly. So while you yourself may somehow be able to absent yourself from networked visibility, and content providing all your interlocutors will be people whose tastes, preferences, capabilities and desires have been inflected by their long-term immersion into the networked condition.

All of this is just a very longwinded way of saying no. No, at this point in time, there is no meaningful gesture of refusal available to the overwhelming majority of us. If we want to create spaces in which refusal is possible, we have to do the work of organizing, articulating our grievances and desires and bringing those spaces into being ourselves and independently. I’m still concerned, however, with making good work and building a name. As long as that drive persists, I shall write and try to make art work.

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