As we all know, the print media has taken a beating lately: newspapers and magazines have slashed jobs, trimmed budgets, cut back on page counts, migrated content to the Internet and, in some cases, closed shop. What does this mean for the well-written article—and for the freelancers who depend on these gigs for their livelihood?
Some writers find opportunity. Many papers with reduced staff are open to freelance-written pieces; at the same time, journalists who have lost their jobs have found gigs at new and established online publications that are taking advantage of the changing media landscape.
A good example of this can be found here in Milwaukee. After several rounds of buyouts and layoffs that saw some of the best-known writers disappear from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the paper has maintained its extensive coverage of the arts, media and other areas with the help of freelance writers. At the same time, some former JS arts and media critics have taken on similar roles at a number of local Web sites, including OnMilwaukee.com and Third Coast Digest. As a result, there is more arts coverage in Milwaukee than before—and there are more options for writers. But at what price?
Los Angeles Times columnist James Rainey makes the point that shrinking budgets at traditional print publications, combined with a certain opportunism, has made a life for freelancers harder than ever. He writes:
"What's sailing away, a decade into the 21st century, is the common conception that writing is a profession—or at least a skilled craft that should come not only with psychic rewards but with something resembling a living wage." And:
"Today's reality is that much of freelancing has become all too free. Seasoned professionals have seen their income drop 50% or more as publishers fill the Web's seemingly limitless news hole, drawing on the ever-expanding rank of under-employed writers."
For freelancers, Rainey suggests that resiliency is key. He cites Matt Villano, who has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, Fodor's travel guides, Casino Player and other publications. Rainey writes:
"[Villano] said some writers struggle because they have fuzzy, arty notions about their work. They need to act more like small business people, Villano said, diversifying their skills and the outlets they write for.
"Despite the endless hustle, Villano said he would not give up a career that has taken him from whale watching in Maui to the baccarat tables of Las Vegas. 'I like the diversity,' he said. 'I like doing it on my own terms.' "
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re: Freelancing's ups and downs
Tue, Feb 9 2010 11:38 AM
This is a very interesting analysis, Jeff - and very true from my own perspective as a long-time freelance writer in Houston. I wonder if, knowing the writers in your area as I presume you do, you couldn't survey them to get an idea of what sort of income the former writers of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel now have and how that compares to their former income.
Personally, I would be more interested in the business and general news writers than the arts writers. I know of former magazine staff writers who have lost their positions and are now living with relatives because they can't pay their rent.
What, if anything are former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writers doing besides writing for the web?