Friday, January 22, 2010

Freelance Writing

An unfortunate new model. To quote the Los Angeles Times:
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.

Freelance writing fees -- beginning with the Internet but extending to newspapers and magazines -- have been spiraling downward for a couple of years and reached what appears to be bottom in 2009.

The trend has gotten scant attention outside the trade. Maybe that's because we live in a culture that holds journalists in low esteem. Or it could be because so much focus has been put on the massive cutbacks in full-time journalism jobs. An estimated 31,000 writers, editors and others have been jettisoned by newspapers in just the last two years.

Today's reality is that much of freelancing has become all too free. Seasoned professionals have seen their income drop by 50% or more as publishers fill the Web's seemingly limitless news hole, drawing on the ever-expanding rank of under-employed writers.

Low compensation

The crumbling pay scales have not only hollowed out household budgets but accompanied a pervasive shift in journalism toward shorter stories, frothier subjects and an increasing emphasis on fast, rather than thorough.

"There are a lot of stories that are being missed, not just at legacy newspapers and TV stations but in the freelance world," said Nick Martin, 27, laid off a year ago by the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz., and now a freelancer. "A lot of publications used to be able to pay freelancers to do really solid investigations. There's just not much of that going on anymore."

Another writer, based in Los Angeles, said she has been troubled by the lighter fare that many websites prefer to drive up traffic. A new take on any youth obsessions ("Put 'Twilight' in the headline, get paid") has much more chance of winning editorial approval than more complex or substantive material.

The rank of stories unwritten -- like most errors of omission -- is hard to conceive. Even those inside journalism can only guess at what stories they might have paid for, if they had more money.


Enbrethiliel said...


I'm a freelance writer myself, and I know that the article has it right! =(

Don't think I haven't noticed a small trend in your links! ;) This article is intimately related to previous ones on online pack mentality and "digital barbarism." The internet has a strange way of inflating the value of quality in music and writing. I wonder how much further we shall prove willing to go . . .

Thanks for following this issue as closely as you have. All these articles have been as fascinating as they are disturbing.

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, E. I guess that we both know how it is to work very, very hard with very little pay. There are other rewards to writing, as there is with any art form. It would be nice, however, to be able to earn a living from it....

Julygirl said...

Publishers only want 'brand name' writers that will sell. As in everything the bottom line is making money. It is happening in movie production as well. For anything fresh and new to reach the public eye an individual, such as an independent film maker, must find his/her own financing, and sometimes wait for years.