To "Round-Up" or Not to "Round-Up"?
Must I warm up to my least favorite journalistic staple in order to stay relevant?
Recently I was invited to pitch an article to a major publication I’ve written for in the past, but haven’t in a long while. The invitation came after some tweets of mine caught an editor’s attention, and I was thrilled.
I told the editor I’d come back to her with a well-researched pitch after I was done with my book revisions (handed them in Thursday—whew!) and now I need to make good on that. I’m reaching out to experts on the subject now, and on one hand, I’m genuinely excited to get to the bottom of a particular health issue I’m having, and also by the prospect of a new byline in a major publication after primarily just publishing myself via what my husband lovingly calls my “media empire,” aka this newsletter and my other one, Oldster Magazine.
More boring than writing round-ups? Reading them.
On the other hand, though, I’m dreading having to make the piece a “round-up,” my least favorite kind of article, which I suspect the editor will want. I don’t know whether “round-up” is used universally, but it was the term we used at Fairchild Publications when I worked there, on and off, from the late '80s through the mid-'90s: a version of the “man on the street” piece, where, in addition to citing experts on a subject, you also quote regular people who are having various experiences related to the subject.
I’ve written so many goddamned round-ups in the course of my career—for trade publications, for newspapers, for women’s magazines. Writing them has always been a slog. How many different ways can you say “according to so-and-so…” as a transition between quotes? (Not that many!) How artful can you be in making the variety of people’s scenarios sound distinct yet similar? (Not so artful, really, especially the more you write these—to the point that it begins to feel like MadLibs.)
Any time I’ve written a round-up, I’ve heard my first ex-boyfriend in my head, calling me up at home expressly to insult me after my first articles ran in a major newspaper: “It seems like all you do is string together people’s quotes.” They also make me recall my exhausting days on the leg-work team for the Metro and City sections of the New York Times, when editors mostly sent me out into “the field” (aka all over downtown Manhattan) any time the weather was unseasonable to ask people just how they felt about that balmy February weekend, or that hurricane that left them stranded at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.
More boring than writing round-ups? Reading them. I don’t know about you, but any time I encounter a round-up in a paper or a magazine or on a website, I either quickly skim it, or skip it altogether, because that shit is boring. Also, since you have to give equal time to every disparate experience, they are frankly unpersuasive.
That shit is boring. Also, since you have to give equal time to every disparate experience, [round-ups] are frankly unpersuasive.
I try to remind myself of this when I get envious of colleagues’ bylines in major publications, which turn out to be for round-up pieces. Been there, done that. Too many times.
And yet, now I find myself contemplating writing yet another one, probably for way less money than such labor is worth—even less if they randomly kill it, which happens—and mostly for the sake of snagging a good byline that will help me stay relevant. I mean, I could try, but I doubt I’d be able to persuade this editor, at this particular publication, to let me approach the piece differently, specifically in the way I like to do these things: first-person, woven with expert opinions. I could also try a different publication, maybe a magazine, which would pay better. But a bird in the hand, etc., etc. Not to mention that I hate pitching.
On the plus side, however, it’s nice to have an opportunity to put on my journalist hat again after too long—even though journalism is so broken, and freelancing is so fraught. I’m just going to buck up and get to work, and be grateful that an editor wants to work with me after I’ve been out of the game for some time.
In other news…
Catherine LaSota interviewed me on her podcast, Cabana Chats.