Radio Free Nina: A Long Overdue Q & A

Editor’s Note: as I write this to you, I’m sitting in an eerily quiet home with no phone service or internet because what I can only assume is a particularly corpulent raccoon has downed the line between my house and the nearest telephone pole. As those of you who regularly read this site might have noticed, this has come at a particularly bad time because although my overall word count is on pace for a normal month, I was really hoping to catch up on the number of articles posted by having a strong finish in May. I’ve been assured by my local telephone company that a repair technician will be coming by at some point this afternoon, but since they’ve given me the dreaded 3-5PM waiting slot, I certainly won’t be holding my breath.

In the meantime, there really aren’t a whole lot of things I can work on here at that don’t require the ability to search up and reference links on the internet. Recently however, I have been compiling questions from reader emails that I simply never get around to answering with an eye on potentially doing a mass Q & A post at some point. Although the circumstances are hardly ideal, I’ve always been a firm believer in the concept of working with the material you have and right now the only material I have ready to go are your reader questions.

Please note that since I cannot rightly log on and ask individual mailers if it’s alright to use their question for this article, the identities of each inquirer have been replaced with that of a semi-random character from the Civilization series of video games; based roughly on my personal opinion of the question. Most of the questions selected have been asked more than once however and they probably trend towards the negative side because those are the inquiries that stuck with me the most as a writer. Finally, I should note that the questions have been grouped together by subject matter and clustered in pairs whenever one answer works for multiple commonly asked questions:


Social Media & Contact Questions

“Why didn’t you answer my email/Why didn’t you respond to my tweet or direct message?”

While I certainly don’t want to imply that there are legions of fans blowing up my contact page at all hours of the day, I do actually get a fair amount of email & direct messages on social media; it’s not enough to justify hiring an assistant but it’s enough that if I answered every single one it would take a small but irreplaceable chunk of time out of my writing schedule each day. Furthermore, just between you, me and anyone reading this; I have a minor but persistent anxiety problem that revolves around my inbox and to a lesser degree my telephone. It’s not constant or debilitating but there are just some days I dread getting bad news more than I’m interested in finding out who’s looking to contact me. Is it a little bit crazy? Sure, but everyone has an irrational personality tick or two and one of mine is that I’m periodically anxious about my inbox.

As for direct messages on Twitter; I use an older version of Tweetdeck to manage my posts and as anyone who also uses Tweetdeck can tell you the software seems to regard your DM box as a nether realm where time has neither meaning nor purpose. I usually get your DMs several hours after you initially sent them and unless it’s some kind of emergency, I rarely reply because it always feels a little awkward. I am typically prepared to chat publicly on Twitter however so if I don’t reply to regular posts directed at my handle it’s probably because I’m away from my keyboard; if I read your post but don’t necessarily have a relevant reply, I’ll usually at least click on the “like” button to acknowledge that I’ve seen it.

“Why did you block me on Twitter/Will you unblock me on Twitter?”

Look, I’m not arrogant enough to pretend that I’ve never wrongly blocked someone who might have been worth interacting with or eventually become a regular reader of my work; everyone makes mistakes and I’m sure I’ve made more than my fair share in the wild west saloon that is Twitter discourse.

With that having been noted and contrary to popular opinion however, I don’t block people on Twitter just for disagreeing and the vast majority of people that I have blocked were openly engaging in one or more behaviors I find infuriating. In particular, I don’t like people who argue in bad faith, I don’t like liars and I definitely don’t like being told what to write about or what to do. Naturally it also goes without saying that I will usually snap block anyone I perceive as actively harassing me because you only get so much time and energy on this earth and typically, the online harasser’s only real goal is to waste both of yours. Regardless of the reason or even which one of us was ultimately “at fault” my logic when employing the block button is always identical; life is too short to waste time being mad at some rando online.

In light of this, it really doesn’t behoove me to start unblocking people just because they can look up contact information on my website and while I have in the past unblocked someone after such an email, it’s pretty rare and most of the time I just ignore the request because I can’t remember in particular why I blocked a given person.

I will however confess that I’ve never bothered to block someone’s IP (and frankly I’m not actually sure you can with Twitter) and I don’t spend a lot of time combing through my new followers so if you’re absolutely heartbroken about missing my somewhat chaotic Twitter feed you could always use a throwaway email to just create a new account. Sure, it’s a little extra effort but it’s no more work than you’re asking me to undertake by forcing me to remember why I blocked you and re-adjudicate what was probably a meaningless and wholly negative social media interaction.

“Why don’t you post more on Facebook/Why aren’t you on Reddit, Snapchat or Instagram?”

Truthfully, I’ve never particularly understood how most people can actively manage multiple social media services in any meaningful, ongoing way. Between my writing, advertising my work and the amount of time I spend on Twitter I simply don’t have a lot of time to grow accounts on other services and based on the limited forays I have made, my content seems particularly suited for the Twitter audience.

I don’t use Reddit because I find the community a little insular and hard to break into; furthermore, their posting rules make it difficult for me to advertise my work without actively joining a community and as I’ve already explained, that isn’t easy nor do I particularly have the spare time for it. I don’t use Snapchat, Instagram or any other photo-based social media services because believe it or not, I don’t use a cell phone and thus have to borrow my boyfriend’s camera if I want to take pictures to post online – besides, I’m a writer not a photographer and I can’t imagine there is anything special about the pictures I would take that other people desperately need to see.


Content Questions

“Why don’t you write more longform essays/Why are your essays so goddamn long?”

As you might imagine, almost every single individual reader has their own idea about how long is too long, how short is too short and what is the ideal effort/reward ratio for any given article they’re reading. Furthermore, these preferences and preconceptions often exist in direct opposition to each other; it’s extremely difficult to write a piece that appeals both to guy impatiently muttering “get to the fucking point” and the scholarly reader who wants to explore every nuanced counterargument before accepting the primary thesis of an article (see below.)

While neither of these desires is “right” or “wrong” in any reasonable sense, I tend to prefer to write longer pieces if I can find the time but I also acknowledge that there are only so many words I can churn out per month while still maintaining a high quality of work – and the website/readers always hunger for more (and current) articles; so that necessitates a certain number of shorter posts per month to keep the maximum number of readers happy with the content provided.

“What’s up with the memes/What’s the difference between a Brief Thought & an Info Meme?”

If carving out a role for myself as an independent analyst and government critic has taught me anything about the “blogging” business it’s that time is the best teacher and over time, I’ve come up with a few ways to present information in a manner that the maximum number of readers can find useful. One of my primary goals during the past thirteen months was to create articles that appealed to people who only have a minute to spare, those that have between 5-10 minutes to spare and readers who’re prepared to sink a whole hour or more into understanding a topic – at the same time.

After trying (and failing with) a variety of formats over the course of the past year, I finally settled on what I’ve since named a “Brief Thoughts” blog post – a combination info graphic, link dump & short essay all about the same topic/revolving around the same thesis statement:

  • The info-graphic (or staggeringly unfunny meme if you prefer) at the top of the article is designed to be the “water cooler” version of each story and should allow even the most casual reader to walk away with a rudimentary thesis statement and basic supporting evidence for a given argument in 350 words or less.
  • The short essay at the bottom of each article is designed to add nuance to and otherwise flesh out the argument presented in the info-graphic at the top of the page; while it’s not absolutely necessary to read both the info-graphic and the essay to understand a given topic, the essay will always contain additional supporting information and should therefore never be a waste of anyone’s time.
  • Finally, the “Sources” section of each Brief Thoughts article will contain numerous links to outside essays, articles & social media posts that both verify any claims made in the info-graphic and allow readers to explore related topics for the total information immersion experience.

Unfortunately, while readers who understand how to absorb these types of posts seem quite happy with the format; it is a little different from what you’ll find on other websites and sometimes new people find it too busy, gimmicky or complicated to enjoy fully. Furthermore, I’m constantly struggling to make the font size on the info-graphics as large as possible while still leaving myself enough room to actually complete the most rudimentary version of an argument in the space allotted; it’s very much a work in progress – even if I am fairly happy with the results so far.

As for the Info Meme of the Week posts; they were actually one of my original and ultimately less successful attempts to address the same problems that the Brief Thoughts blog posts tackle now. Since the creation of the Brief Thoughts section on my website however, the Info Memes have been re-purposed to function in a sort of “shorter blog posts” or even “headline news” role – the primary difference being that Info Meme of the Week posts will often contain shorter (or even no) op-ed type essays and are designed to be shared on the internet with or without a link back to the post and sources.

“Why don’t you write more regular memes/Why don’t you make more Wall of Shame posts?”

Frankly, I have been blessed with the occasional ability to be funny but not so blessed that I’m always capable of humorous writing on command and after the year we’ve all just been through, there are long stretches where I certainly don’t feel like telling jokes – what exactly is satire anymore when there are actual fucking fascists in the White House and the opposition party is writing a Tom Clancy novel instead of protecting their voters?

Good memes (as opposed to info-graphics) are by their very nature amusing and Wall of Shame posts without the requisite dose of humor are just angry rants from the void. I enjoy a good joke as much as the next gal but the operative word here is “good” and there is nothing sadder than a forty year old woman failing to land jokes in meme form; if you don’t believe me, just check out Joan Walsh’s Twitter feed. When the mood strikes me I’ll put another media moron up on the Wall or bust out a new Comedy Meme Collection, but trust me when I say that you don’t want me actually trying to be funny when I’m not feeling it.

“Why don’t you write more about Democrats/Why don’t you write more about the GOP & Trump?”

On some basic level, I simply write the stories that current events dictate and as a result I often find this question more than a little bit irritating. Yes, I acknowledge that I don’t have the manpower necessary to cover every single topic making its way through the media and therefore, to some degree I do in fact choose what to write about  – but that doesn’t mean that I’m interested in devoting my analysis towards one particular (flawed) ideology or another.

I’ve found over the course of the past year that my work tends to be naturally divided roughly two to one in favor of (or rather, against) the ruling government as opposed to the opposition. When Obama was president and it looked like the Democrats would retain the White House, I tended to write more about them than the Republican Party and now that Trump is president; his objectively noxious government occupies a larger percentage of my time. Truthfully however, these are just guidelines and to some degree my work is always going to be skewed ever so slightly towards criticizing liberals because there may yet be hope of reaching them – I already have a pretty good idea which side Republican voters will be on if and when all hell breaks loose in western democracies.


Personal Questions

“Why don’t you do a Podcast or Youtube show/Why aren’t you writing for my favorite indie mag?”

I think it’s important to know what you’re good at in life and try not to push your luck too much; I personally think I’m a reasonably skilled writer but there’s really nothing about my personality that suggests I’d have much of a career in broadcasting; internet or otherwise. When you’ve got a face for radio and a voice for silent pictures but can write circles around Harvard boys and Vassar girls in your sleep, it’s best to stick with your fastball. Furthermore, in light of the fact that Youtube is apparently no longer interested in letting oddballs rant about politics for money; it strikes me as a staggeringly poor idea to launch a channel that could be legally subject to corporate censorship right now.

As for why I haven’t collaborated with a more established website, the answer is pretty simple – nobody has ever offered me more money than I could make on my own while still allowing me the creative freedom to chase the stories I feel obliged to chase. If such an offer came along, I’d consider it but in light of the fact that I’m already soliciting donations for my own website, I would likely need more lead time than most professional outlets are going to be prepared to offer; I’m not interested in dumping my readers on short notice for a name credit in a Gawker clone for example.

“Do you have to be such a bitch/Do you have to swear so much?”

I get asked this question at least twice a month and it’s usually accompanied by the admonishment that it would be easier to take my work seriously if I didn’t employ so many “blue” expressions. This of course implies that the inquirer currently does not take my work seriously and as such is usually met with a reply of “yes, now fuck off” if I bother to respond at all.

Look, at one point way back in childhood my use of colorful language probably was an affectation designed to make my writing more edgy, but we have long since passed that stage of development. Every once in a while a particularly heartfelt letter will convince me to try and rein myself in to reach a larger audience, but this literally always ends in frustration and disaster. It’s now part of who I am as much as it was part of who Hunter S Thompson was and I’m inclined to believe that if a few artfully placed curse words are enough to make you shut down mentally while reading an article – there’s a pretty good chance you weren’t going to have a lasting relationship with me or my work anyway.

Finally, if I had a dollar for every time someone focused on my inability to be “nice” because they couldn’t address the substantive aspects of my argument, I wouldn’t need a goddamn Patreon account to fund my work – so I see no real reason to fundamentally alter my writing style for people who’ve probably already decided they don’t like me or my analysis very much.

 “Why don’t you have more subscribers/Why don’t you have more Patreons?”

Well, I think if I’m being honest here (and I always try to be) you can find at least part of the answer to that question in the replies I’ve already given above; my work is an acquired tasted, my personality can be a little off-putting and it’s hard to go it alone in the indie media business – whenever I get discouraged about how hard raising enough donations to make even a rudimentary living is, I try to remind myself that I’ve only been doing this for just over a year now.

Ultimately however, I also have to acknowledge that I’m simply not all that good at advertising my work or begging for money; like I said earlier, it’s important to know what your talents are and while I’m certainly a confident person, I am somewhat loathe to engage in the act of self promotion. It’s not really a judgmental thing either, I actually envy content creators who excel at promoting their own work but I’ve never really been able to get around the awkwardness asking for assistance brings.

Additionally, I’ve found that when I actually do work up the courage to ask for money in particular, that request tends to hit home hardest for the least financially stable people who read my website. There is a reason that doesn’t have (and never will have) a pay wall; I’ve grew up poor and even now, later in life I remember how it made me feel when well-meaning people asked me for money that I simply didn’t have. The monetization of truth and information is perhaps the single greatest evil of our time and I simply cannot bear the idea that anyone might feel bad for reading my work without donating because they just can’t afford it.

Over time, I’ve gotten a little better at posting a lot of links to my stories on Twitter and I’ve created a page asking readers to help me share my work even if they don’t have money for a donation – but I still struggle with posting links in new communities and the act of asking for monetary donations; even though I actually do need those donations to keep writing and I can’t reasonably keep sponging off my boyfriend to make ends meet forever. Mostly I just put the Patreon donations button at the bottom of each article and hope for the best; so far results have been mixed.

“Why don’t you like DC movies/Why can’t you see Man of Steel was brilliant?”

We’re done here – like I told you bad comic movie fanatics already; DCU movies give rectal cancer to nine out of ten exposed lab mice and Zack Snyder must die for the harvest. Man of Steel was literally the worst fucking movie I’ve seen in over a decade and killing me won’t make Wonder Woman suck any less, ya goddamn fanboys!


  • Nina Illingworth


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