Thursday 16 April 2020

Laissez les bon temps rouler - encore une fois

Today New Zealand enters its fourth week of Level 4 lockdown, with 9 deaths recorded and a total of around 1400 Covid-19 cases, half of whom have recovered. Level 3 is looking likely - time to think about work again...
A couple of days ago, there was a first; and also quite likely to be a last - for some time, anyway. The Herald sent me a payment for a travel story I haven't even written yet. That's unheard of, in my experience, which previously has been: submit story/have it accepted/wait 𝓍 amount of time to see it published (record: three years)/submit invoice/wait another month for the pay round to process it/finally receive the money. Not exactly conducive to peace of mind/physical survival if I was relying on that as my sole income - especially considering the standard word rate has almost halved since I first started. As I always say, about travel writing: it is (or was) a great lifestyle, but no way to make a living. 
I don't entirely understand why this particular payment has happened. We all know, or should, that newspapers have always relied much more on advertising than selling copies to fund them (seen those early front pages entirely comprised of classified ads?) which is why they're on their last legs now. Facebook, Google* and Trade Me/Ebay etc have stolen all that income. And currently even the small businesses that today make up the majority of their advertising revenue have faded away during the lockdown, so hundreds of news media employees have lost their jobs, those that were spared are suffering pay cuts, and their overall future is very uncertain. All this, at a time when people want more real journalism than ever, and readership is soaring.
The travel section is heavily influenced each week by the ever-changing advertising content - the lead stories are selected to support full-page ads. The account manager is therefore presumably as important as the actual editor to the supplement's health. How it all works, I have no idea - but, presumably, this time the agency behind the planned Southern States issue was a lot more upfront with their funding than usual, and the Herald has kindly passed that on to those of us providing the bits that readers actually read, rather than turn the page on (I'm assuming that they're like me: literally blind to all advertising (ssshh, don't tell them)). Of course, all this was before the travel industry died, world-wide, and NZ locked its borders till who knows when.
So, what will my story, when the travel section revives, be about? Lafayette, Louisiana. I spent three days there en route to IPW in New Orleans in 2016 (this year's event has, of course, been cancelled) and have written about it only twice since. The first thing I remember about the stay is my overwhelming feeling of sheer relief at returning my hire car intact (both the car and me) after driving myself around on the wrong side of the road with no gps support (SO many u-turns!). Once I'm past that though, I remember lots of lovely things about the town. Pretty historic buildings, friendly people on the street, all sorts of new and delicious foods, such great dancing, a new appreciation for air conditioning (it was June), and far fewer alligators than expected.
I remember the olde-worlde charm of Coerte Voorhies with his waxed white moustache, and wonder now whether his son Kim is still happy with his choice of president ("He's crazy, but at least he's not a politician"). Is Terry still playing cheerful music with his Zydeco Bad Boys band at the Blue Moon Saloon, or is it locked down too? How about all those oldies I saw strutting their stuff so energetically at Randol's Restaurant and Dance Hall? Are they pining away in enforced isolation? Did the Old Tyme Grocery manage to sell their standard 2,000 grilled shrimp po'boys every Friday through Lent this year? Has Zachary the young fish-counter managed to hold out against all those fierce husband-hunting mothers with unmarried daughters? Only three days, but vivid. Thanks, Lafayette.
*UPDATE: And today Google announces its Journalism Emergency Relief Fund! Kind thought, somewhat undermined by their attitude to paying (ie not paying) their taxes anywhere.

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