Rolling with the freelance market changes

March 19th, 2009

As you no doubt heard earlier this week, the print version of the Seattle P-I, one of my city’s two daily papers, is no more. (The 20+ staffers who kept their jobs have embarked on a big fat newspaper 2.0 online experiment, complete with reader blogs, canned content from magazines owned by Hearst — the P-I’s parent company, and links to competing news outlets.)

As devastating as the folding of the print P-I is to those of us who learned to write a lede on a typewriter, the noose has been around the neck of newspapers for some time now. Freelance budgets have dwindled, pay rates have shrunk, and paid contributor opportunities are nearly extinct.

Writers, photographers, and illustrators have had fair warning about this monumental shift in the freelance market. That’s not to say some of us haven’t cried our eyes out about it, but we’ve had fair warning. Those of us who value eating have adapted, branching into online markets, magazine work, trade publications, corporate work, consulting, editing, et cetera. You know, diversify or starve.

Although I got my 9-to-5 start in newspapers, I’ve never been more than a sporadic contributor since going freelance in 1992. In the intervening years, I’ve hopped from freelancing for the book publishing biz to dotcoms and the corporate tech sector, back to magazines and newspapers and books, and lately, over to web news media — though to stay afloat, I still do some of each.

As long as newspapers, magazines, and books are around, I plan to have a hand in them. But I find myself working online so much these days that I have moments of thinking, Six months is a long fracking time to wait to see that article I just wrote in print and on newsstands. 

This horrifies me somewhat, because like so many, I grew up wanting to work in print publishing. I still want to work in print publishing. (As an aside, it’s my firm believe that most people do. I mean, when was the last time you met a person who didn’t tell they wanted to write a book? When every last one of us is reading a Kindle or whatever the next space tablet is, wannabe writers and life coaches will still be saying they hope to see their name in print someday.)  

Aspirations aside, I also want to pay my bills. So I do some of each medium: print, online, old school, new school. Given the past six months of media layoffs, the recent avalanche of newspaper closures, and all the news reports, blog posts, insider gossip, tweets, and panels about the colossal shift in the news/information biz, I’d be crazy not to.

Regardless of whether you work in the news/information biz, I imagine most of you have done the same since the economy went seriously south last fall: print designers teaching themselves WordPress, desktop programmers developing mobile phone apps, anything to give yourself an edge.

If so, what shifts has your work seen in the past six months? Have you felt the need to pick up a new tech skill or two? Started working in a medium that’s a first for you? Infiltrated an industry that’s brand spanking new to you? Please share with the class.

Entry Filed under: This freelance life

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Gretchen Cawthon  |  March 19th, 2009 at 9:21 am

    I have to be honest here – I haven’t seen any slowdown in my line of work as a web developer. I think people are turning more towards marketing on the web because it is cost-effective and let’s face it – a lot of folks live online these days. If you want to reach them, show up in their inbox.

    I haven’t received a newspaper in years. My local tv station has a website and that’s been pretty sufficient. They haven’t yet embraced all available web technology such as RSS and newsletters, but it is nice to grab instant news and weather updates whenever I want them.

    I think the writing opportunities are still out there, they are just digital now.

  • 2. Michelle Goodman  |  March 19th, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Gretchen, I wouldn’t imagine you’d see a slowdown, being in web dev already. :) Glad to hear you’re busy as ever.

    As for writing, I agree — still plenty of writing opportunities if you look in the right places; I’m certainly not short on work. But in case you didn’t know, writing for some (but not all) MSM sites pays even less than writing for a newspaper. (!) So again, writers need a variety of clients (corporate pays better than media).

    Many editorial workers I know (writers AND editors), even the tech-savvy ones already working online, are having to hustle a tad harder in the wake of massive personnel changes, budget cutbacks, and full-on company closures. It’s just a different market for us. And it just got a lot more crowded, now that tens of thousands of FT journos are laid off this past year. Granted they won’t all freelance or even know how to, but many will.

  • 3. Susan  |  March 19th, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    I too am a print person, and I think I was born a little too late to really cash in. But I love the web, too, it’s just a different animal entirely. Last weekend I filmed my first-ever vblog for a web publication that requested it. It was a lot easier than I expected, so maybe this will be a skill I can use more often (that and podcasting). I already shoot my own photos for some stories if they don’t have the budget for a photog.

  • 4. Toni  |  March 20th, 2009 at 5:29 am

    In my role as a public relations professional, I’ve had to cozy up to social media management and campaign development as a huge component of my job. As a Facebook junkie, I became the SME simply because I was well-versed in its functionality. But in having to counsel clients on using social networks for business”hey, groups are cool.”

    Also, I’ve had to go from my normal, casual interaction with bloggers (like Michelle!) through email and comments to strategically trying to “pitch” them–umm?

    I can say the constact changes to sites like Facebook, although loathed by users, really present a level playing field and a chance to become an expert with each redesign. So it’s a challenge and a chance to study and learn about these new applications, because for all their users and fans, there doesn’t seem to be enough people who “get it” and can help their clients “get it” too.

  • 5. Free Agent Jungle Web Rou&hellip  |  March 20th, 2009 at 8:57 am

    [...] Goodman at The Anti 9-to-5 Guide writes about the print version of Seattle P-I closing and the need for freelancers to diversify and [...]

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Who I am

Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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