Sacred Disorder | Cliff Bostock's blog – 'Finally, I came to regard as sacred the disorder of my mind' (Rimbaud)

Rant: saying bye-bye to ‘Headcase’

The inevitable occurred yesterday. Creative Loafing’s editor, Ken Edelstein, called and let me know the paper was discontinuing “Headcase,” because, he said, “We can’t afford it.”

I’ll get the snark out of the way first. The explanation made me laugh. I’ve written “Headcase,” previously called “Paradigms,” for – I don’t even remember. It’s been over 15 years. As of last week, I was being paid the same amount I was paid when it first started and, believe me, that was not much, at least not much before CL declared bankruptcy. I wrote it mainly to keep my mind active and it was a good way of advertising my psychology practice.

Granted, too, the column’s length was very reduced over time. It actually started as a couple pages in the paper, then was reduced to about 1000 words and, in the end, it ran about 700 words. The radical truncation was not much of a convenience to me. I could not develop ideas the way I could at the longer length.

If you’ve read me long, you know that my problem isn’t writing too little. I tried to take the shorter length as a meaningful challenge, but it left me often frustrated. (If you think truncation of newspaper and magazine articles doesn’t affect the depth of writing, you’re probably under 30.)

Ultimately, as I told Ken, I began to feel like I needed a break from writing “Headcase.” I’d been complaining a lot to my partner. This is not an unusual experience for writers. Generally, when one starts to feel this way, it’s best to shift overall focus (as I did several times) or find a new publication.

Of course, it’s unusual to write a column that long, anyway. I’ve written my other column, “Grazing,” even longer and it will continue along with my posts on the paper’s “Omnivore” blog. (And by the way, I haven’t had a raise for Grazing in over four years, either, despite greatly increased meal and transportation costs. I’m just saying…)

A new way of thinking?

I did notice an unexpected change in my thinking within a day of losing my column. Although actually writing 700 words is easy for me, finding new things to write about after 15-plus years had become challenging. Like most writers, I have long looked at all experience as “copy.” It’s a weird way of living. You’re constantly asking, in the middle of an experience, “Is this something I should write about?” So, I’m stopping myself now and thinking, “I don’t have to ask that question.” At least not with the same urgency that a weekly deadline requires.

I’m not sure what I will do for an alternative outlet. I confess I started this blog in part expecting to lose my column. But I’ve learned from our food blog that people seldom read more than a few grafs of blog posts. (If you’ve made it this far, you’re already like my best friend.)

People have constantly suggested that I make a book of my columns. I’ve even been contacted several times by publishers. But, having had the experience of blowing a book contract years ago, I’m not that enthralled with the idea of undertaking a book, and certainly not one that rehashes my work.

In actuality, I’ve never saved a single thing I’ve written. A month or so back, I received an inquiry about a magazine article I wrote years ago. I didn’t even remember it. I also wrote a (very controversial) biweekly column for a gay publication, ETC, for seven years and, when I was asked for copies of the columns for an archival project a year ago, I had to admit I’d not saved any of them. My admission was greeted with shock.

There’s no particular reason for this. I’ve never enjoyed re-reading my own stuff and, truth be told, I’ve had unpleasant arguments with friends who insisted on reading me in front of them. Re-reading all my columns to publish a collection of them is not appealing, to say the least. I can almost always think of 10 ways I could have said the same thing better.

But this is the first time in many years – well over 20 — I’ve not had to write a weekly column about something besides dining. Although there’s some grief in the loss – and I need every penny I can get in this economy — I’m interested in seeing what I can do next. Maybe not having the burden of a weekly deadline but still having the impulse to view life as copy will provoke me to finally write the book HarperCollins paid me to write 25 years ago.

And then there’s always blogging.

And so forth….

In any case, I’m sure I’ll have more to say about writing, Creative Loafing and its predictable financial hari-kari as time passes. Unmentioned in most of the articles about CL’s bankruptcy is that this is the second time it’s happened, the second time an expansionist fantasy has caused financial problems and the umpteenth time CL’s tried to recover from financial missteps by screwing with content.

I’m not saying that other publications aren’t having the same problems, because of print media’s general decline and the current economic climate. But CL’s management seems to have learned very little from its past. It’s painful to watch what would be called a repetition compulsion were we diagnosing a psychological condition. This is what happens when the so-called alternative press becomes more about entrepreneurship than journalism.

(Oh! Will someone tell me what this little picture that ran with Headcase is. I literally never figured it out.)

Comment Pages

There are 8 Comments to "Rant: saying bye-bye to ‘Headcase’"

  • Ann says:

    I’m sorry to see Headcase go. It always makes me think, and ponder. I hope you’ll continue to post here, and I’ll add this to my RSS feeds.

  • JaRa says:

    This sucks. While I respect your own mixed feelings about the decision, it’s not good news for those of us who like to think. You’ve always had a fresh angle on things, but we all know the media’s not about innovative thinking anymore. What incredible dumbasses run the Loaf.

  • Drew T says:

    Reminds me of how I felt when they fired Jane Catoe and gave us the same load of crap from Hollis week after week after week. You’re a class act, Cliff. I stopped picking up Creative Loafing probably two years ago but I’ve frequently checked in to read Headcase and John Sugg’s stuff online. It’s just another step toward irrelevancy and simple-mindedness for the Loafburger.

  • BR says:

    Dumb, but I’m amazed you have stayed there as long as you have. Even when the Loaf seemed to be doing well, it was nothing but advertising and mostly inferior editorial crap. I like your food stuff, but I found Headcase more stimulating. Keep us updated if you land somewhere else!

  • Chickago says:

    Greetings from Chicago. Sorry to hear of another intelligent victim of Ben Eason’s idea of what good writing and the alternative press is all about. You might want to check out this piece in the Columbia Journalism Review by one of the Reader’s former writers:

    I thought this comment following the essay was right on:

    “Every publication desperately chasing after the 20-30 year old demographic by cutting down on its content and focusing on listings and short blurbs, as the Reader has done, needs to do what no consultant or media pundit will say: abandon the things that Craigslist, RSS readers, Daily Candy and Facebook do better, and focus on the one thing that print media still does best: long-form, investigative journalism. It’s print’s one remaining advantage, but in the pointless attempt to try and recapture long-lost revenue, it’s the least valued. Every essay of media punditry I read seems to tell me that people in their 20’s and 30’s want short bites of information. True, but they’re already getting that elsewhere. What they’re not getting, and still desire, from most conversations I have with people in their 20’s and 30’s, is intelligent, in-depth journalism and discussion. This, I believe, is why NPR listenership has boomed in recent years among this demographic–they’re the only “old media” outlet seeming to play to this core strength.”

    I wonder if this describes the situation in Atlanta too.

  • Cliff says:

    Thanks for the comments. The CJR piece is especially interesting, Chickago.

    I think, as I mentioned in an earlier post, that this “remedy” for curing Creative Loafing’s woes is not new. During the years I edited Creative Loafing and, before that, its competitor, the Atlanta Gazette, we were continually arguing about this same issue — whether the paper’s function was mainly “directional” or analytical and investigative.

    This frequently got expressed as a generational issue even 20 years ago, but it never seemed to be of much concern as long as the paper’s ad revenues were substantial. When they dropped, the issue resurfaced, since we had to make decisions about editorial priorities. The directional copy always won.

    As the comment you quoted implies, the effort to recapture an earlier market by becoming more like everyone else renders the concept of “alternative media” meaningless. This coalescence of mainstream and alternative media content began over a decade ago. Then, however, it was the MSM trying to become more like the alternatives. Now, the alternatives are trying to become more like the MSM. I don’t care what people say: Content follows structure of the medium.

    I don’t know of any newspaper that’s actually making money on the Internet. The WaPo was, but that ended some time ago. The real income earners are third parties like Google ads.

    I do most of my own reading of news and analysis on the Internet now, but it’s quite clear to me that the most successful sites are not those with telegraphic style. They are the sites that include think pieces as well as original reporting.

  • Danny says:

    Among all the other things that piss me off about this is the fact that CL loses a well known gay voice. I’m sure there are other gay people on staff and I know the paper has run decent gay reporting their… but nobody gay in Atl writes with the depth CB does. The paper is making itself dumber all the time.

  • ramona says:

    (Oh! Will someone tell me what this little picture that ran with Headcase is. I literally never figured it out.)

    so, in case you’re serious about this question: it’s a head with an x-ray skeleton. you can see the mouth screaming. it’s pretty cool, its one of the first things i recognized with your article. you are missed.

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