Friday, July 8, 2011

Start-up Journal: Of Inspiration and Frugality.

As a professor of journalism, it's hard to quantify success.

The work of one day - a lecture or homework assignment or in-class exercise - is but a drop in the bucket of a student's life. What I lecture about, I know, often goes unheard or misunderstood or worse: ignored. Some students, of course, eat up every word. The reality is that I rarely know who absorbs what (or doesn't).

When I worked for the newspaper, there was an immediate sense of gratification after working hard on a story: the next day or so, it was in print for thousands of people to see.

In a philosophical way, I could question the purpose of what I was doing at the newspaper and at a base level, I could question whether people read and were influenced by my work. But you could not debate the fact that a product was created and it existed in the public realm.

I thought of this as I read Shop Class As Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford. Crawford earned a doctorate and landed a high paying job in a think tank but eschewed it all (sort of) for a life as a motorcycle mechanic. And he couldn't be happier (or so it seems).

His book is a call for people to get their hands dirty. We tend to get caught up in abstract, man-made concepts designed by corporations to keep people in line. Office workers stress over stuff that has little impact upon anything. We've created a consumer culture that creates jobs to keep the consumer culture spinning.

Crawford preaches independence in the forms of manual labor and frugality. He even cites Benjamin Franklin, the king of the penny-pinchers. And Crawford urges people to learn by doing.

That's why I love journalism. I get to learn while doing. And then I get to tell people about it. Go to the concert? Yup. Hang with the band? That's my job. Sit down with people and talk about arts and culture in Philadelphia, and how we can make this city a better place? Yeah ... life is good.

Being a journalist is being an educator. As a modern journalist and an entrepreneur, I have to also think about the business end of things. I refuse, however, to let the magazine simply turn into a marketing tool. And we are not party-planners. We are an altruistic journalistic operation with modest financial goals and astronomical goals for benefiting society.

We aren't repairing motorcycle engines but we create a product that informs and entertains people. You can hold our product in your hands, savor it and own it.

I had a long, difficult school year. I got bogged down in ugly office politics and got caught up in other bullshit. This school year, I also dealt with an amazing amount of apathy from students. All of that has made me wonder whether teaching is the right job for me.

Now, all I want to do is run the magazine. Maybe one of these days ...