Discover more from Adventures In "Journalism" by Sari Botton
Careful What You Wish For
You just might get it.
For five weeks I've been pressuring myself to do something I'm fairly certain I don't want to do, but which has been hard to let go of because it's something I once thought I wanted to do—actually, something I used to do.
In late August, an editor at a major publication I've long wanted to write for approached me about covering the growing tension in Kingston between locals and newcomers, and the effects of gentrification on a growing housing crisis that's leading to more and more vulnerable people being displaced. It's a subject on which I'd pitched this exact publication years ago, back when billionaire developers from Manhattan first began their pissing match with one another over who could buy up the most commercial real estate for cash, at three times appraised value—long before Covid led to an even more significant influx of moneyed city people.
Each time I pitched (a different editor who is no longer at the publication), my idea was rejected, but I was encouraged to keep trying them. Now, gentrification—a phenomenon I've been observing for years, and have also played a role in—has been accelerated to a degree to which it is a much hotter topic, one that can't be ignored, and the publication is ready for me to get to work reporting on it.
The editor said the publication saw this as a possible beat for me, and an earlier version of me that apparently still lives inside me got excited, because since shortly after arriving in the mid-Hudson valley in the mid-aughts, after getting gentrified out of New York City myself, I had been trying to establish this as my beat, mainly for the New York Times. I can't stand it each time I read a piece written by someone who doesn't live in Kingston or the area. So many journalists have gotten it all so wrong. My proximity, my being a community member, my longevity here all give me a greater grasp of the many complicated issues here. But it's possible I'm also too close to it all.
The things that make me a good candidate for this gig—that I am part gentrifier, part displaced person (as recently as three years ago, my husband and I got bounced from an affordable apartment in Kingston after the building was sold to a rich developer from Manhattan)—also make me conflicted about writing about it. Especially for a publication that is supported in large part by ads for expensive residential real estate and home furnishings, and mostly caters to an affluent readership.
In the past I published a fair number of articles on the area, and each time I discovered it was nearly impossible to cover all aspects fairly, especially given limited column inches, and since editors tended to boil the stories down to their lowest common denominators in a way that created a thumbnail sketch digestible to those outside the area, but left locals feeling misrepresented and misunderstood. Each time, I wound up angering everyone on every side of whatever particular angle I was covering. It became hard to be a member in good standing of a community I was reporting on, so I decided to stop reporting on it.
Since the editor and I spoke five weeks ago, I've been turning the whole thing over and over in my mind, agonizing over coming up with angles I feel confident I can do justice to, and which wouldn't get me run out of town. As a full-time freelancer for 25 years, my heart rate naturally quickens at the offering of an opportunity, especially one for which I'd been priming myself for years.
Right now, the only idea I can settle on is a personal essay (surprise, surprise), which I doubt they'll go for. Other ideas have arisen that I'm fairly certain they'd go for, but which I am hesitant to write—and which I worry either I or they would want to kill if we disagreed over certain aspects, like how local interests are presented. I'm definitely not up for investing a lot of time and energy in a long reporting, writing, and editing process, and winding up with only a 25% kill fee.
I'd promised the editor a list of ideas the following week after we spoke. It gives me a stomach ache to think about doing this, but it's probably time for me to drop a line and say I'm just not up for it.
In other news, over at Oldster Magazine I interviewed journalist, author, and environmental activist Bill McKibben about Third Act, the environmental action group he’s starting for people 60 and over. Thanks to those of you who have become paying subscribers to Oldster. It helps me to pay writers. I’m hoping to be able to assign some longer pieces to other writers soon…