>While I was in Portland, Oregon last month, I grabbed every newspaper I could find. Among them was the Portland Mercury’s Guide to Food & Entertaining. No real freelance opportunities here. It appears to be all ads and staff-written copy. But it was amusing to read. To get an idea of the tone, the cover picture showed a turkey on a plate on a linen placemat. This turkey was arranged like a headless woman in a yellow bikini. Next to the date were the words, “Put This Butter on Your Ass.” Um, okay. I wonder why the spoon and forks were upside down?
This is the kind of rag that has lots of ads, including sex ads. One of the most fascinating features was a page of classified ads from people who wanted to hook up with someone they had met but didn’t get contact information. For example, “Prince Pasha Seeks Snow White” wrote, “Met you at the Matador on Halloween, wanted to see you again.” This could be a gold mine for fiction writers seeking plots. Listings for movies, plays, and concerts by groups like The Dirtbombs and Eat Skull fill many pages. Oh, and there are actually recipes for dishes that include pot. The Thanksgiving issue offered advice on how to be a lazy host, how to succeed at small talk and how to get totally smashed at your own party. You get the idea. Nothing is off limits. The Mercury also has serious news, but always with attitude.
I was struck by how one columnist referred to print newspapers as “dead tree media.” Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Even if this is not your cup of ganja juice, it’s worth reading the alternative weeklies because they speak to a slice of the population that we must not ignore if we want to succeed as freelancers. Most big cities offer these papers in newsstands for free. Take one. Read, laugh and learn.
>Last week we were talking about how many staff writers who have lost their jobs are now posing stiff competition to freelancers whose resumes aren’t as impressive. There’s certainly truth to this. An example close to home: The former editor of our local paper, who has gotten herself a totally unrelated full-time job, is now writing for the News-Times as the “North Country correspondent.” Ironically, that’s the job she started with, except now she’s doing it without a regular salary and benefits. If you’re an editor and the person who used to cover the beat is interested in doing it for less, it’s a no-brainer.
BUT, don’t despair, my freelance friends. The competition is much more level among newspapers that have always relied on freelancers for most of their copy. For example, the alternative weeklies, like Metro in San Jose or Willamette Week in Portland, and many specialized papers, such as the various parenting newspapers, hobby publications, and environmental rags, always have and always will be primarily freelance-written. Ditto for most of the city magazines. There is work to be had. Study the markets and go for it.