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Knowledge Darts Vol. 17: Content Of My Character

Being a creative in this day and age is harrowing enough without the additional stressors that come with working within the space of real time social media and the 24-hour news cycle. You feel pressure to constantly maintain your presence and to give your take on or capitalize on every noteworthy news event that’s buzzing or breaking. Problem is, by participating and commenting on every single “hot” thing rather than leading the conversation or creating something new, you’re just getting lost in the current as opposed to rising above the noise. At some point you need to ask yourself if it’s more important to get your views, clicks, numbers, partnerships and brand deals by any means necessary, or if you truly value your own voice?

I personally abhor the word “brand” when people talk about themselves. I’ve never done something because it wasn’t “on brand,” I’ve instead declined offers or opportunities because I personally didn’t believe in whatever product or service I was being asked to endorse. I never had to stop and consider how my actions would be perceived by others because all that mattered to me is if I was down to do it or not. My personal code, sense of artistic integrity and standards determined what I did as opposed to external influences or outside opinions. Unfortunately, when you’re a freelancer or work for hire you rarely have the luxury of not compromising your entire belief system. You can’t pay rent or utilities with respect and Comcast won’t accept any of my intact integrity as payment for my cable and internet service.

That being the case, you often find yourself forced to create “content,” whether it be uploading a v-log, doing a Twitch stream, or running an IG Live story—anything to stay active. For those considered content creators on YouTube first they felt the need to constantly upload skits and videos. Next they did Q&As, challenges and story times. After that, they were encouraged to make second or possibly even third channels so as not to confuse those who visited their channels expecting one thing but saw something else. They constantly begged people to subscribe, like and comment on each video—not just for the sake of building community but so anyone who was willing to do brand deals would choose them. So they got more AdSense monies and opportunities to do sponsored videos.

Once YouTube switched over to a new algorithm and focused more on “family friendly” YouTube creators to better attract their corporate sponsors, they created a huge rift between long-time creators who saw their checks getting smaller and views drop significantly. Soon they had to decide if they were willing to censor themselves and begin adapting their normal content in order to comply with YouTube’s recent changes rather than stay the course for fear of losing money, since their primary means of income relied on YouTube. Once the platform switched up the rules on them, they saw their livelihoods threatened as well as their freedom of expression. Now they’d have to do even MORE work, and deliver in in edited/censored form in order to bring in the same money as before. That’s more recording, more editing & more uploading. After a while, they run the risk of producing lackluster material and eventually burning out. This phenomenon isn’t exclusive to YouTubers—it affects all content creators in all mediums across the board.

Every week I have to decide what I’m going to write about. Not only that but I have to figure what different angle or fresh perspective I can bring to the table if it’s a subject other people have written about. Sometimes I’ll write 1000 words on a subject, read it to myself then delete it and start all over because there’s nothing about it that will get above the noise. Other times, I’ll let a wave or a news item die down before I write something to avoid having to either speak on it or be asked to. I don’t ever want to feel like I HAVE to write about a particular subject, only that I WANT to. This way I can avoid becoming complacent and compromising my voice or journalistic integrity. Too often, being a freelancer means we take gigs and assignments we hate purely to keep the lights on. As if that feeling isn’t bad enough, we have to go to the mailbox every day after submitting our invoices or check our balances in hopes the direct deposits hit to justify selling ourselves short. Sometimes you gotta swallow your pride and compromise a little in order to work towards finally gaining autonomy and doing whatever the fuck you want. Sometimes it’s a matter of survival.

I constantly get asked where’s my book? Where’s my podcast? Why haven’t I ever done YouTube? Here’s the short answer: Because I prefer to just write. In the case of writing a book, I have to have the time set aside to devote to that project alone. As it stands now, I write to be able to afford to write if that makes any sense. If I did a podcast, it would need to be the right situation first. I won’t just put out anything mediocre because I feel the need to have a podcast since everyone else does. Forcing a situation never works in the end. Take your time, build a plan, then execute it when the time is right. Just ask Danny Ainge.

As for YouTube? I hate being on camera. I prefer for people to focus on the written word and I feel like the growing reliance on video content is a symptom of people not wanting to read substantive pieces anymore. Twitter doesn’t always count as reading—as evidenced by the increasingly poorer levels of reading comprehension, peoples’ inability to follow context clues, and the dearth of critical thinking skills exhibited on the average Twitter timeline. I supposedly have almost 2000 followers on Medium but based on the total number of reads for my last 5000-word piece they must all be bots. This is yet another reason why I’m not so gung-ho to devote the requisite time and energy to a book.

In conclusion, no matter the medium or format I choose to utilize, when creating content It’s imperative I not follow trends, and avoid making anything temporary or disposable just because it may be popular now. Unfortunately, I’m a freelancer at the mercy of whatever direction new media is taking, and we’re in a climate where everyone is freelancing. My end goal is to create something that will not only resonate with readers, listeners and/or viewers today but with audiences for years to come. Not only that, but I want to do so while keeping my principles intact.

This piece is dedicated to the memory of Albert “Prodigy” Johnson. Keep it thoro.

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