Over the course of the last few months I have been working on both a documentary and a long form essay about the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. More accurately, I was focusing on the people involved at the ground level - as I do in much of my writing.
I busted my ass on this one, and was ultimately pretty proud of what I turned out. Unfortunately, it was turned down by multiple outlets for a variety of reasons. Some said it was too long, some said it leaned too far right, some said it leaned too far left, while others said it had no point. Some had criticism concerning structure and the nuts and bolts of long form journalism. I agreed with some of the critiques, and they ultimately made me a better writer. After all, I'm far from an experienced journalist or an expert in the ways of long form features.
Although you need to have thick skin in this business, I didn't think the article was so terrible that it shouldn't be read. So I made some more edits and pushed it out while the topic was still somewhat relevant. For the first time, I published on Medium.com.
I was nervous that the article would do terribly, and that it would confirm all of the editors who did not want it as right. Considering that it wasn't published on a large publication, the traffic on it was pretty decent. Relieved, I went on to my usual ritual of obsessively reading every share, comment, and critique of what I wrote.
It was at this point I discovered that I was both a liberal and a conservative. Pro-protester and Pro-DAPL. I hated the police and I hated the natives. I was a shitty, hack, wannabe journalist who had no business putting pen to paper. Depending on which side you were on, I ignored all of the "important" facts.
It was the best compliment I could have received.
All the comments, vitriol, and accusations of clear bias did a wonderful job of confirming that I approached this topic ethically and in the spirit of what journalism should be. I was unbiased and wrote without agenda. I told the truth of both sides, and I criticized both sides where applicable. For those who approached the nearly 7,000 word essay with an open mind, they were rewarded with a piece of prose that gave them a full picture.
I don't want to make it sound like it was all doom and gloom in the comments section, nor do I want to give the impression that it was a perfect piece of journalism. Far from it. I received many messages and comments commending the unbiased approach, of which I was flattered to receive. I also expressed my opinion at some points in the article, most notably in my comments towards Wes Clark, Jr. I was proud to publish it, and proud of what I wrote. But I have a lot more work to do.
Writing is a profession, no matter what genre you pursue, that requires a passionate dedication to improvement regardless of what you have accomplished in the past. You can't rest on your laurels just because you have learned to string a few pretty words together, or because you got published in X magazine or Y newspaper. You are only as good as your last piece, and there is always room for improvement. There is no such thing as the perfect prose.
I look forward to the endless pursuit of perfection in this practice, as it's the pursuit that I enjoy so much. I'm glad I have the privilege of knowing and/or working with so many talented writers and editors, they are who I depend on to push me in the right direction. I'll continue to try and represent all sides of a story, and I'll endeavor to be a better writer than I was yesterday.