Maud breaking in here, on Annie’s clock. One of my favorite critics, Scott McLemee — who writes for publications like Bookforum, Newsday, The American Prospect, and The New York Times — sent me a brief essay yesterday about his decision to relocate from The Chronicle of Higher Education to Inside HigherEd, where he will serve as “essayist at large” and write a new column that will launch early this year. (You can see a beta version now at InsideHigherEd.com.) Here’s what he said:
To make a long story short, I’m going from a secure job, at the best-established publication in the country covering university life, to a situation that will be utterly unpredictable. Being a senior writer at the Chronicle meant that, after years of freelance hell, I got into one of those demographic niches that inspire David Brooks to come up with cute names. All that upward mobility is over. Now, as columnist, I’ll be paid in ramen noodles and crates of generic soda. At least I think that was in the contract. The soda may be “incentive pay.” I should probably check.
Anyway, what makes the move appealing is the chance to go beyond what I’ve already learned how to do, as a writer. To experiment with style and format, mixing and synthesize reviewing, personal essays, and more traditional forms of journalism — trying to create a way of writing about scholarship and intellectual life that is accessible to non-experts, but never dumbed down.
How much an audience for that is there? I really don’t know. All my models for it — Floyd Dell’s Intellectual Vagabondage, the essays in The Mass Ornament by Seigried Kracauer, the great feuilletonists for European newspapers including Baudelaire and the guys collected in The Vienna Coffee House Wits — are long dead, and pretty much forgotten. But what the hell. Their example is what I’ll be following, more or less. If it tanks, at least I will have lived the dream, albeit a weird one.