Young libertarian journalists, the future is up to you. The government will hate you. Its friends will hate you, too. But beyond the censorship and ostracism politicians will create, libertarian journalists need to remember the one factor that is equally important to evading political regulations: winning public opinion.
Let us not forget that journalism is a business like anything else. Press freedom does libertarianism no good if the movement produces no articulate writers. That being said, I'd like to offer a few pieces of advice to the young libertarian journalists who, like me, want to spend their lives combating the government's power while armed to the teeth with pencils and keyboards.
I'm a 22-year-old intern in Washington, D.C., not a Pulitzer Prize winner. This makes me a seasoned professional of trying to get one foot in the door. And my limited experience has taught me four little lessons that I find important enough to share. Perhaps you'll keep these points in memory and use them to skip a few steps ahead of those non-libertarian friends who also seek to write as a career one day.
1. Write everywhere.
There's no such thing as a bad news outlet. There are neoconservative outlets on the right and ultra-liberal outlets on the left. However, if Mother Jones and the Weekly Standard have one thing in common, it's this: they're both well-known media platforms. As long as you stick to your principles, what's wrong with displaying libertarianism for readers who otherwise may not understand it? As a friend of mine recently said (about the Chick-fil-A uproar), "If I only patronized businesses whose owners agreed with my political views, I would starve." Think of news outlets in the same way. Plus you'll reach a much larger audience when publishing outside of the immediate libertarian community.
Young libertarians can't be too picky about the outlets they write for, either. It's likely that no one knows who you are, so chances are good you'll be writing for free until you hook yourself up with an internship. And that might even be unpaid, too. Just get your name out there, don't be afraid to reach out to random editors, and enjoy adding miniscule lines to your resume.
2. Know your audience.
One column should branch out into multiple versions depending on the outlet to which you submit. In other words, "one size fits all" does not ring true. Tomorrow you may write a column on drug legalization. The tone and diction in your submission to the American Conservative will differ drastically from your submission to High Times, even if both versions convey the same message. Referring to a rare strain of marijuana, for instance, might provide some sense of semblance to High Times subscribers (thereby nurturing the relationship between author and reader). But the same reference would probably negate your integrity in the eyes of the American Conservative's readership.
It doesn't matter how well-written your submission is. Only a masochistic editor would consider accepting a column that inches its readers toward the "unsubscribe" page.
Libertarians often isolate themselves from ordinary political debates by using an awkward vocabulary. Your typical audience will be familiar with modern political rhetoric, not the theoretical terms found in Murray Rothbard's work. It is unfortunate that public policy decisions revolve around consequentialism, but that's how it is until further notice.
Jack Hunter made this observation last month regarding a debate about gun control. Liberals explain how guns will disappear under their plan, and conservatives counter that these regulations always lead to a rise in violent crime. Meanwhile libertarians, as far as the audience is concerned, babble in the corner about the non-aggression axiom and anarchistic justice. "It's not that they're wrong," writes Jack. "They're just not having the same debate as everyone else."
Ask Ron Paul why he appeals to the U.S. Constitution despite the document's flaws.
3. Use the Internet's tools.
Readers don't take what new journalists say at face value. And why would they? Most writers are pushing an agenda whether or not they feign objectivity. So, when a conservative reads a liberal newspaper (or vice versa), each author is treated with the utmost suspicion. Embrace this consumer trend. It greatly benefits the economic logic backing free markets.
No longer is it possible for a reader to put his hands over his ears and run away while screaming, "I don't believe you!" Original documents are never further away than one click of the mouse. At least in terms of reliability, the hyperlink single-handedly turned every novice into a professional. And soon enough all readers will trust hyperlinks more than a writer's reputation. If you want to show readers that sending tax money to the government doesn't raise test scores, link to a policy paper proving it. Refusal to do so gives readers an opportunity to doubt your numbers.
Rather, write in specificities: "The U.S. government spent more than $151,000 per pupil on the Class of 2009. That amounts to about triple what it spent on the Class of 1970, but test scores remain unchanged (and have even declined in certain categories)." Now the responsibility to critique an academic study is placed on the reader's shoulders, and they can't pretend it's inaccessible. Allow these concrete economic studies to imply the general assertions you want to make, and you obliterate the need for a "Prove it!" email.
You have no excuse for not linking to sources in this day and age.
4. Opinions aren't everything.
Articles (fact-based) and columns (opinion-based) are two different beasts to tackle. I made the mistake of assuming my column-writing experience equipped me with the same skill set that article-writing would have. The two categories require very similar skill sets, but I can almost guarantee you that you'll begin your journalistic career reporting hard news. Therefore, when you apply for internships, program directors enjoy seeing that you can report "objectively."
Basically this means you convince your sources to say what you'd like to say but can't.
There's nothing wrong with hard news, either. Even literary giants like Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut started out as reporters. If you decide it's your worth time to attend college, write news for the university's newspaper. If not, open a website and write news for portfolio purposes. Most domains are about $10. Learning to code is free. Numerous WordPress themes are free. Tumblr is free. Twitter and Facebook are free for content-sharing.
In the end, the only barrier to entry is you. So get out there and write -- nothing else to it.
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