March 31, 2011

Walk of Shame? Baby, I Strut

Editrixial, Vitals 11 Comments

Editrixial, March 30, 2011

It hadn’t been fourteen hours since I received an e-mail from the Village Voice letting me know that a budget cut was forcing the publication to retire both of the NakedCity blogs that I had a message from the web editor of the New York Observer asking if it was true that the blogs were getting killed.

I hadn’t even told my parents when the Observer‘s story about it went live. Though certainly not without some vexation at the intrusion, I know the way of the web. Today’s commentators are destined always to become tomorrow’s fodder. The masses must be fed, after all, and nothing is more appetizing than the demise of something.

Except, perhaps, sex.

In the past months I have spoken with people at Playboy and Fleshbot about properties like that of NakedCity, tossing around the incredible paradox posed by sex on the internet. The masses can’t resist sex. Any story about sex on any publication goes through the roof with views. Sex sells, goes the tired saying, and when you look at it this way, it does.

But make a property devoted solely to sex and you find yourself in the precarious situation of being completely unable to show serious financial reward for your efforts. Sex, apparently, sells everything except advertising space and any hope of a decent search ranking.

When the Village Voice approached with the idea of the NakedCity sister blogs, we envisioned a project that playfully showcased the cultural differences between New York and Los Angeles, with sex-related stories framed by text conversations, tweets, Craigslist and Backpage postings, accounts of hookups and pictures. As I noted on a post there:

We no longer have myths – not in the same way that the Navajo, Inca, Chamorro, Inuit, and Aztec did. But have our desires. If you think about it, our erotic writings are an incredible artifact; they literally leave the cultures from which they spring naked.

Look at the Marquis de Sade — yes, his work is brutal and colored with his own philosophy, but who can miss the glimpses of that time’s corrupt lawgivers and philandering clerics? These same glimpses of time and place appear in every story from the anonymous Autobiography of a Flea, which depicts the hypocrisy of Victorian England, to Emmanuelle, which gives us a taste of the leisurely life of diplomats in a foreign land, to the diaries of Anais Nin and Henry Miller, which offer to us the ins and outs of Paris.

Sexuality and the nature of desire change constantly, subject to the dynamics at play within a culture. There is an incredible dynamic between a culture’s sexual narrative and its social reality.

The journey wasn’t without its internal adventures: like everything else, NakedCity made its fair share of pivots, from a serious editorial foray into the uncomfortable space inhabited by sex in the mainstream media, to killing the galleries of real photos people posted on networks like Craigslist so we could focus exclusively photos of people enjoying the local nightlife.

Porn, I would learn, cannot be done half-way. When you’re up against an arsenal of user-generated content, free streaming sites, torrents and paying sites, a site with limited and static graphic imagery cannot compete — no matter how clever the snark or hip the lol. You will suffer all the restrictions a porn site suffers (being blocked by providers, blacklisted by DNS, and losing whatever ground you legitimately made on Google), without any of the rewards.

Profitability, in this scenario, is incredibly difficult to achieve; users who encounter content that is not safe for work or blocked by their work-place providers will access sites on their mobiles where ad models do not perform.

I’m fortunate that Sex and the 405 was never about revenue. To be honest, at first it wasn’t about readers, either. I originally started the blog because I got too many cool press releases between columns and could never find a place to store the information. When the site started, it was just going to be a little digital notebook I accessed from anywhere — in the event I ever did start writing a column that needed to reference something I’d once read or discovered about sexuality.

When KTLA came knocking not three weeks later, I joked that it must have been a slow news day. But a part of me also realized that there was a need for reporting about sex that was not sensationalist, link-baity or condescending, a space for reporting that offered a sex-positive angle without being too stern or afraid of making a few jokes.

Having no advertisers meant I couldn’t pay my contributors, but that didn’t stop anyone from sharing their stories. It’s liberating not having to worry what anyone might think if their ad appeared next to a piece about a cookbook filled with semen recipes or one that elaborated on the Christian virtue of nudity, and while I would love to pay everyone who contributes the sort of rates we once enjoyed in the days of Orangina, this blog will never adopt any advertising that hinders people’s ability to make intelligent commentary about sex.

But not all blogs have this luxury, least of all blogs run by publications in a tense metamorphosis between old and new media who still respect their writers enough to offer them the sort of pay that enables a decent lifestyle.

And so we come to the end of this rather haphazard eulogy. NakedCity, more than the great cultural experiment I envisioned you’d one day become, you instead offered one of the most intensive syllabi I have ever endured.

To those who will miss the blog, still your little hearts. We’re up, redesigned and ready to go here at Sex and the 405, and while we refuse to be limited to the vicinity of the 405 — despite a name that draws an excess of attention to this brutal freeway — we do keep a finger on the pulse of this here city you know and love. And if that’s not enough, you do also still have the LA Weekly‘s AfterDark LA.

And yes, you can tell Barbie Davenporte I said that. As soon as I’m done enjoying my impromptu vacay, I’ll be coming after her job, so by all means consider that last paragraph the pimping of my next venture and not any sort of acknowledgment.

AV Flox

Your humble editrix-in-command.

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  • http://audaciaray.com/ Audacia Ray

    I edited Naked City (and produced a video podcast: http://nakedcity.blip.tv/) from April to August 2008, and it got shut down then for similar reasons. I think one of the mistakes that gets made with blogs like this, and was certainly a big problem when I was editing Naked City, is that the Village Voice assumed that sex sells, so they didn’t have to work very hard to promote the site. It was a struggle to get them to place links to the site on the main Village Voice page, and getting them to highlight content from the blog was an ongoing battle. I wrote two pieces in October 2008 about some of these issues: The End of the Sex Writer? http://www.wakingvixen.audaciaray.com/2008/10/03/the-end-of-the-sex-writer/
    Commerce, Activism, and the Frivolous World of Sex http://www.wakingvixen.audaciaray.com/2008/10/10/commerce-activism-and-the-frivolous-world-of-sex/

  • Harriet

    Agree with you a million percent. They treat it as an easy sell, but fail to do anything to actually sell it and depend on the talent behind it to do all of the leg work. Pun intended here, since Anaiis’ legs are pretty attractive.

  • Lennierosswrites

    Looks like porn is having a hard time these days! Perhaps all you guys out there pleasuring yourselves will have to make time for the real ladies in your life :)

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for the comment, Audacia. It’s sad to discover that despite the renewed effort two years later, there is still no solution to the question of sex online. I will continue to turn it over in my head — as I suspect you still do — in hopes of coming up with something.nnThe question of fresh talent willing to be paid less (or paid in “exposure”) is true of all beats. The abundance of content on the web, along with the quickness and lack of depth associated with online content also contribute to low wages, or perpetuate the notion that writers should be happy to make do with the “publicity” they garner by writing for the publication, and the occasional, end-of-a-post link to their blog.nnFor those coming from a journalism background, it’s a sobering thought. Once upon a time, we were paid per word and now online, we’re paid per post. In the past two years, I have noted the industry average has gone down from $20 to $9 — for all blogs regardless of content.nnThe particular problem of the sex blogs arises from the inability to monetize the content. The problems you saw with advertisers (I still can’t get over a condom company not wishing to be too closely associated with sex, by the way) continue. So sex blogs are the first to go when budgets tighten.nnYou’re right that we do ourselves a disservice by making light of the work that goes into a sex blog. I, too, joked about spending my days in lingerie, watching porn and extolling lunch meetings that consisted of discussions about whale threesomes and porn star’s Amazon wishlists. I even repeated a joke that my job description was “fuck and write about it,” though, as you note, these blogs are far more than just the blogger’s own experience.nnNot that there is anything wrong with that experience, as experience tends to color our perspectives. No blogs are more up-front about their position than those that reveal things about the lives of the writers behind the commentary. The blog, with its continuous gate-keeperless editorials, destroyed the illusion of “the view from nowhere.” And there is something to be said for that.nnThe issue, essentially, is two-pronged. On one side we have old media moving into the new, and all the changes this implies, changes that affect not just revenue models, but liability and credibility (and by that I don’t mean sexuality reflecting badly on a publication, but rather, the lack of gate-keepers allowing a writer to be negligent in reporting or opining and how this impacts a publication). You also do not see many (any?) web ombudsmen as you might for print, and you run the risk of advertorial content from bloggers who do not understand the ethics of journalism (or who do not think it applies to them even if they work for a newspaper or a weekly).nnAll of these factors affect how bloggers are viewed by publications. Thus, they cannot be but seen as something lesser than a journalist. And this invariably shows in how much they are paid, whether they ever become part of the staff with access to medical insurance or remain indefinite contractors, even if they do spend the same amount of time (or more) as a staffer laboring over their work.nnThose are just a few of the problems on that side of the situation. On the other side, you have the social perception of sex as something not worth reporting. Even the editor of another sex blog joked that NakedCity (v 2.0) was nothing but a bunch of salacious stories and text messages. If the editor of a sex blog can brush off sexual experience as unimportant, well, that more than illustrates the problem of how society views sex.nnWe have a long way to go. The issues, unfortunately, are not related. Even when publications sort themselves out in this world of web, there is no guarantee that sex will be treated as any more important or that advertisers will start to see it as something natural and not toxic to the public perception of their companies.nn

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for the comment, Audacia. It’s sad to discover that despite the renewed effort two years later, there is still no solution to the question of sex online. I will continue to turn it over in my head — as I suspect you still do — in hopes of coming up with something.nnThe question of fresh talent willing to be paid less (or paid in “exposure”) is true of all beats. The abundance of content on the web, along with the quickness and lack of depth associated with online content also contribute to low wages, or perpetuate the notion that writers should be happy to make do with the “publicity” they garner by writing for the publication, and the occasional, end-of-a-post link to their blog.nnFor those coming from a journalism background, it’s a sobering thought. Once upon a time, we were paid per word and now online, we’re paid per post. In the past two years, I have noted the industry average has gone down from $20 to $9 — for all blogs regardless of content.nnThe particular problem of the sex blogs arises from the inability to monetize the content. The problems you saw with advertisers (I still can’t get over a condom company not wishing to be too closely associated with sex, by the way) continue. So sex blogs are the first to go when budgets tighten.nnYou’re right that we do ourselves a disservice by making light of the work that goes into a sex blog. I, too, joked about spending my days in lingerie, watching porn and extolling lunch meetings that consisted of discussions about whale threesomes and porn star’s Amazon wishlists. I even repeated a joke that my job description was “fuck and write about it,” though, as you note, these blogs are far more than just the blogger’s own experience.nnNot that there is anything wrong with that experience, as experience tends to color our perspectives. No blogs are more up-front about their position than those that reveal things about the lives of the writers behind the commentary. The blog, with its continuous gate-keeperless editorials, destroyed the illusion of “the view from nowhere.” And there is something to be said for that.nnThe issue, essentially, is two-pronged. On one side we have old media moving into the new, and all the changes this implies, changes that affect not just revenue models, but liability and credibility (and by that I don’t mean sexuality reflecting badly on a publication, but rather, the lack of gate-keepers allowing a writer to be negligent in reporting or opining and how this impacts a publication). You also do not see many (any?) web ombudsmen as you might for print, and you run the risk of advertorial content from bloggers who do not understand the ethics of journalism (or who do not think it applies to them even if they work for a newspaper or a weekly).nnAll of these factors affect how bloggers are viewed by publications. Thus, they cannot be but seen as something lesser than a journalist. And this invariably shows in how much they are paid, whether they ever become part of the staff with access to medical insurance or remain indefinite contractors, even if they do spend the same amount of time (or more) as a staffer laboring over their work.nnThose are just a few of the problems on that side of the situation. On the other side, you have the social perception of sex as something not worth reporting. Even the editor of another sex blog joked that NakedCity (v 2.0) was nothing but a bunch of salacious stories and text messages. If the editor of a sex blog can brush off sexual experience as unimportant, well, that more than illustrates the problem of how society views sex.nnWe have a long way to go. The issues, unfortunately, are not related. Even when publications sort themselves out in this world of web, there is no guarantee that sex will be treated as any more important or that advertisers will start to see it as something natural and not toxic to the public perception of their companies.nn

  • http://solitarex.wordpress.com Allison

    Onward and upward, or downward, depending…

  • http://solitarex.wordpress.com Allison

    Onward and upward, or downward, depending…

  • http://solitarex.wordpress.com Allison

    Onward and upward, or downward, depending…

  • http://solitarex.wordpress.com Allison

    Onward and upward, or downward, depending…

  • http://solitarex.wordpress.com Allison

    Onward and upward, or downward, depending…

  • http://solitarex.wordpress.com Allison

    Onward and upward, or downward, depending…

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Editrix-in-Command:
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Sex and the 405 is what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.

Here you’ll find news about the latest research being conducted to figure out what drives desire, passion, and other sex habits; reviews of sex toys, porn and other sexy things; coverage of the latest sex-related news that have our mainstream media's panties up in a bunch; human interest pieces about sex and desire; interviews with people who love sex, or hate sex, or work in sex, or work to enable you to have better sex; opinion pieces that relate to sex and society; and the sex-related side of celebrity gossip. More...