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MAGAZINES / BOB SIPCHEN

Free-Lancer's Sweet Revenge Is Writing a Journal of One

July 29, 1993|BOB SIPCHEN

In a way, Michael Rozek is Everyfree-lancer.

For years he toiled in magazinedom, writing articles (2,000, he figures) for publications big (Esquire, Rolling Stone, Cosmo, he says) and small (Ford Times).

In the process, he claims to have suffered the sort of indignities every free-lancer knows all too well: One 1,500-word article got cut to 50 words; another time, an editor rewrote Rozek's essay about his father's wartime experiences, throwing in tidbits she'd made up.

Like many free-lancers, Rozek came to despair "the sorry state of American magazine journalism," and to lament that he "never wrote a story that edified, that was really true, that mattered."

But while most writers plagued by those old, embittered, burnout blues only dream about starting their own publication--the one fair, truthful, righteous publication on the planet--Rozek made the leap.

And named it after himself. And fills it with only his writing.

Rozek's is printed on heavy bond paper, contains no photographs or graphics or ads and each issue features a single story of about 7,000 words.

The articles are conversational, easy-going profiles of ordinary folks with some minor claim to fame (and need for publicity).

In one piece, Rozek hangs out with a trucker who produces a radio show for brother truckers; in another he illuminates the life of a champion bass fisherwoman, and the latest issue contains the first of a two-parter on folk art.

There's a hint of Garrison Keillor in Rozek's writing, a touch of an "All Things Considered" feature on NPR and some resemblance to vintage New Yorker fare.

But neither the New Yorker nor most other mainstream publications would probably run these lengthy (some would say rambling) pieces--at least not without some heavy editing.

Which is, of course, Rozek's point.

After draining his savings and loading his credit cards, the writer/editor/publisher was doing OK, cranking out six (now eight) issues a year for his 250 subscribers in 44 states.

Then, three months ago, a lucrative job for a corporate publication fell through and meeting the mortgage on his Seattle-area home suddenly began to look iffy.

Now Rozek is asking subscribers to renew, and begging for publicity.

Not every free-lancer empathizes with his plight. After a brief chat, one struggling writer pegged Rozek an egomaniac.

"What makes you think you're so special?" she asked. "Why don't you get a job at Denny's?"

But with other subscribers rallying to his support--one fan reportedly sent him a check for $5,000--Rozek sees himself in a role like Jimmy Stewart's in "It's a Wonderful Life."

He has only one explanation for why some people respond so warmly to his modest journal: "They're just as sick of the lack of substance in media as I am."

($39 a year, eight issues, 3424 10th Avenue West, Seattle, Wash. 98119)

Required Reading

* The defining statement in EXTRA!, the bimonthly magazine of media watchdog group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), says the group offers "well-documented criticism in an effort to correct bias and imbalance."

EXTRA!'s counterpoint is equally biased, naturally, but at least it's not slanted toward the prevailing wisdom. Occasionally, the magazine walks a wobbly logic line, where words and ideas can be transformed at will to suit a suitably "progressive" aim.

Take, for instance, a story titled "Women & Aids" in the July/August issue.

Prostitutes, who might once have been attacked as anti-feminist, or at least characterized as hapless victims of patriarchy, are now virtually lionized as working-class heroes of "the sex industry."

Other times, the publication seems too eager to include any maligned group within its protective embrace. For example, is a homeopath's scolding of the press for its skepticism about scientifically suspect forms of alternative medicine really in the "public interest?"

Despite such ideological idiosyncrasies, though, the current issue does score thoughtful points against the too-often-arrogant (and occasionally downright ignorant) mainstream media.

The story on AIDS, for instance, drives home the fact that mainstream press too often treats prostitutes as subhuman "transmitters" rather than as people who have been infected with a disease.

Another piece, by Karl Grossman, takes to task the NBC broadcast, "What Happened?" about the 1979 disaster at Three Mile Island. The story cites several omissions and distortions by NBC, and points out that the network's parent, General Electric, is a major manufacturer of nuclear plants.

Likewise, Neil DeMause's critique of press coverage of South Africa describes a not-so-subtle racism. Citing several examples of recent coverage, he concludes that there's a two-part logic at work in the media. Most reporters imply that if blacks turn to violence, it's not because of provocation, but because their leaders are not strong enough.

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