It occurred to me a few months ago that I was not giving Spend Matters the time it deserved. For many of you out there, this might come as a surprise. But I made the conscience effort from that day forward to crank things up a notch. And I did this because I realized I would never have a better job and subconsciously thought that if I want to maintain and grow what I have on my hands with Spend Matters, I should commit myself to it even more. Which I have. But more important, they're a number of reasons why I've finally realized how good I have it with this thing, despite the fact I've never put pen to paper to explain why I enjoy it as much as a I do. So let me try today.
First off, I love writing Spend Matters because of the freedom it gives me as a columnist and essayist (please note I don't consider this any more a blog than a column). There is a rich history of the essay as a form of non-fiction writing, perhaps best exemplified by George Orwell in the 20th century. There are also many other famous writers who focused on this form from history including Benjamin Franklin, Ernie Pyle, Francois Rabelais, Henry Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Hilaire Belloc, and Voltaire, just to name a few (and not to mention Addison and Steele, who started it all with The Spectator). But there are few people who are lucky enough as I to get paid to do what I enjoy from a writing perspective, sharing frank and opinionated ideas without a censor. I am extremely lucky to be able to carry on the spirit of the essay in Spend Matters.
What is unique to the essay format and what does it allow? For one, it indulges my thirst to comment (and criticize) as much as to create new ideas. I've found that I enjoy responding to commentary as much as I do starting it in the first place -- which is a perfect match with this forum. Spend Matters also allows me to spark additional social commentary and conversation, using the site as a tool to start discussion and invite opposing viewpoints (rather than to get in the last word). This marks a fundamental difference in how we consume information, news and analysis today versus in the past. I was reminded of this recently when I tried to post two comments at the end of a Chicago Tribune article that were censored because they did not support the left-leaning whims of the author (who was calling attention to favoritism in university admissions from the clout system).
In these comments, I criticized racial quotas and scoring systems for admission to high schools in the Chicago public school system. I wrote in one that "The CPS admission system for top public high schools is rigged based on race. You need certain scores based on white, black, Hispanic, Asian, male/female status. It is not fair and unbiased -- it is based entirely on hitting racially and gender-defined quotas. I would welcome an investigation that exposes the system for what it is -- an affirmative action program that actively discriminates against white and Asian applicants. If numbers are ever released that show the different score thresholds applicants need to hit, the public will be outraged."
Of course as a parent with kids in the city, I care about this subject quite a lot. But no matter. My comment did not pass the stringent political orthodoxy of the reporter covering the subject so it was summarily deleted in favor of those supporting the point of view of the author. This type of thing would never happen on Spend Matters. In this regard, I believe the essay/blog/comment format supports a ground-up community that relies on expression and the free exchange of information rather than authoritarian control and oversight of ideas (which is the news, reporting and analyst model of old). You might not agree with everything we have to say, but at least you've got an equal chance to respond to it!
And perhaps most important, Spend Matters lets me leverage my belief in the power of the non-fiction essay style to shape opinion. I believe that we're slowly losing the essay as a tool to influence and teach. The way we consume information today in tweets and sound bites is not conducive to how to really shape and build rigorous and powerful arguments. The best line wins, not the best idea. But good essays are about ideas. And if Spend Matters does anything at all, I'd like to think that tossing a few thoughts out there in a structured manner will cause everyone to stop and think for a minute.
Yes, I'm lucky that I get to do what I love with this thing. But don't think for a minute that I'm going to sit back and rest on my laurels based on where we've gotten Spend Matters to date. There's far more we can accomplish with Spend Matters and I have no doubt that I'm one of the luckiest people working in this sector to be able to wake up and do what I enjoy so much every single morning.