Saturday, May 9, 2009

Dan Baum spills the (red) beans on why he was fired from The New Yorker ... by Twitter

Posted By on Sat, May 9, 2009 at 12:02 AM

This is just bizarre. Dan Baum, who moved to the Marigny after the storm and wrote the online New Orleans Journal for The New Yorker until the magazine didn't renew his contract, this afternoon the story of his firing ... on Twitter, in 140-character chunks.

Baum, who came through town a couple of months ago on a tour for his book Nine Lives (Gambit review here) and managed to put his foot in his mouth in the process, was always, to me, an incredible bundle of contradictions -- a brilliant writer and unabashed fan of New Orleans who, still, never quite got over seeing the city through the eyes of a charmingly bedazzled and sometimes gaffe-prone tourist. (See foot-in-mouth link above.) But none of this explains why a guy would feel the need to relate the story of losing his job, two years after the fact, and use the staccato text-message format to do it.

You'll have to read from the bottom up to get the story (and the surreal effect):

Loved it. More later.

It gets away with it, because writing for the New Yorker is the ne plus ultra of journalism gigs. Like everybody, I

Just the way the New Yorker chooses to behave. It shows no loyalty to its writers, yet expects full fealty in return.

Year. Every September, I was up for review. Turns out, all New Yorker writers work this way, even the bigfeet. It’s

My gig was a straight dollars-for-words arrangement: 30,000 words a year for $90,000. And the contract was year-to-

But rather a contractor. So there’s no health insurance, no 401K, and most of all, no guarantee of a job beyond one year.

First, a little about the job of New Yorker staff writer. “Staff writer” is a bit of a misnomer, as you’re not an employee,

Character chunks.

Nobody leaves a New Yorker job voluntarily. I was fired. And over the next few days, I’ll tell that story here, in 140

People often ask why I left the New Yorker. After all, I had a staff writer job. Isn’t that the best job in journalism? Yes.

It's hard not to feel empathy for the man, even as he comes off as tone-deaf to the way other writers (and people) live, complaining about a gig that paid him $90,000 a year for 30,000 words; that's nearly six figures for around 1,700 words a week. But despite that salary, he apparently felt ill-served by the famously imperious magazine: "Every September, I was up for review. Turns out, all New Yorker writers work this way, even the bigfeet. It’s / Just the way the New Yorker chooses to behave. It shows no loyalty to its writers, yet expects full fealty in return. / It gets away with it, because writing for the New Yorker is the ne plus ultra of journalism gigs."

Telling the story of losing your job in 140-character posts on Twitter is a whole lot of things, none of which seems like a remotely good idea for a teenager fired from a fast-food gig, much less a national magazine correspondent. Baum mentions several times last week when he lost track of the days, showing up for appointments one day early or late, not being able to sleep, and this meticulous, microscopic story of losing a job he loved seems the work of a man under a tremendous amount of pressure, using the Internet as a therapist. And though I don't know Dan Baum, I hope he's OK.

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