Like pretty much every journalist, I think about who I am writing for* from time to time. Most writers aren’t just sending messages into the ether, after all. Unless they are writing for therapeutic reasons. Or they are diarists. But even diarists are typically writing for some future audience they have in mind. Be they archeologists, aliens, or merely grandchildren.
For myself, I write to a general audience, yes. But that’s not who I write for week to week. So I thought I should discuss that aspect of my process a bit for the curious or perplexed. And it’s helpful exercise for me, too. Since one doesn’t usually write this kind of thing down. As Johnny Cash, an artist and humanitarian who I have long admired, once did in his song “Man in Black.”
Naturally, I’m always thinking of the subjects of my articles when I write. The good guys, not the bad guys. If they’re getting a raw deal, then I certainly write for them.
And I write for my wife, my friends, and my extended family. Because they are the touchstone for everything I do. Even the ones I don’t see very often.
But there’s more to it than that.
I write for the common people. Just like me. The people who do not have great wealth. Who are not presidents or princes or potentates. Or executives or generals. The great mass of humanity that gets up every day and goes to work. Or works from home. Or does housework and cares for their children. Not because they want to—although they may—but because they have to.
Because they need money to survive. Because it’s their responsibility. Because it’s necessary.
Or because they are forced to. By circumstance. Or convention. Or threat of ostracism… or even violence.
I also write for the people who cannot work. Because there aren’t enough decent jobs. Because they’re sick. Or disabled. Or addicted. Or tired of life.
I write for the very young. And the very old. Who have little say in the course of each day.
I write for the students. Just not the rich ones. (Unless they’re nice.)
I write for the outcasts. The street people. The homeless. The hustlers and petty criminals.
I write for the night people. The touched ones. The mad ones. The rebels.
And if you’re reading this, I write for you.
Though I can never speak for you.
You should speak for yourself.
Experience the world. Then write what you think.
Like the legend on the old Samuel Eliot Morison statue on Comm Ave:
THEN WRITE THEM
AYE, BUT LIVE THEM FIRST
And the world will be a better place for it.
*Note to grammarians: Yes, I know that, technically, the correct usage of “who” as the object of the preposition “for” should be “whom” throughout. But as our copy editor said, “That means you’ve got an article called ‘Whom I Write for,’ which is awful.” So I’m sticking with the colloquial usage of “who” here. Like the townie I am…