As the author of Freelancing for Newspapers (Quill Driver, 2007), I am frequently asked if newspapers are still a viable market. About the time my book came out, the economy began to crash and the newspaper business crashed even harder. Thousands of reporters and editors have lost their jobs. Those who are left are saddled with doing more work for the same pay.
Newspapers were double-slammed by the economy—loss of advertising—and the hyper-growth of the Internet. Why subscribe to the newspaper when you can get your news immediately online, as well as on TV, radio or smartphone?
In the San Francisco Bay Area, where I spent 25 years working for community newspapers, employment has decreased by 43 percent, more than the national average of 36 percent. This SF Weekly article lays out the sad truth. The figures are similar at papers across the country. More than one major newspaper has ceased publication or stopped publishing a print newspaper, going completely online. Most papers now sport fewer pages and an increased online presence with blogs, articles, videos, and reader input. There’s no question the industry is changing, but what does this mean for freelancers?
It seems to be a mixed bag. Some papers have stopped using freelance while others are hiring freelancers to do what staff writers and editors used to do. In fact, our local weekly, which never used freelancers in the past, now publishes freelance articles on a regular basis. It’s certainly a more economical option for them, with no guaranteed hours, equipment or benefits to pay for.
Many of the freelance opportunities in newspapers that I wrote about in my book still exist to a certain extent. You can still sell travel articles, opinion pieces, reviews, features and columns, but papers are buying fewer of them and we are now competing with staff writers who have lost their jobs.
The types of freelance opportunities available have changed from what they were in the last century. Tonight, I’ve been looking at Online-writing -jobs.com. I was surprised to find some newspapers seeking freelance reporters to cover regular beats such as health, auto accidents, and government meetings. If any of them were local, I would try it because it sounds like easy work for a regular market.
But some of the other opportunities make me nervous. Mancave Daily? There are listings for ghost writers and writers of press releases, blogs and other online content. It looks like we writers of nonfiction need to be willing to use our talents to write anything and everything to make a living. (Writers of fiction and poetry should already know they need a “day job” to pay the bills.)
Many of the employers listed are corporations, not newspapers. Some may be ripoffs. Tread carefully, especially if you have never heard of the company before. But you might strike gold here, too.
In future postings, we will look at other sources of freelance writing opportunities.
>Papers continue to shut down, go online, consolidate, etc. Last week the Oregonian announced another big cutback and numerous papers are asking their employees to take unpaid leaves. So, you might be wondering what’s the point of trying to do anything for newspapers these days. Indeed Salon.com columnist Cary Tennis considered that very question in a great March 17 posting a friend told me about. A college journalism professor had asked him if there was any point in trying to teach students how to work for a dying industry. The essence of his answer is that no matter what format we use “journalists find things out and tell people about it.” Amen. But I don’t want to steal his words. Go to salon.com and read the rest. Tennis’ answer should offer you some courage and inspiration.
How are we doing on the submission challenge? If it weren’t for you reading this, I probably wouldn’t have submitted much this month. I can always think of a million other things to do, but looking at my records, I see that I have gotten something out every week of March. Whew. J.M. Cornwell is writing rings around the rest of us. Anybody else want to brag?
You are keeping track of what you send out, right? We’ll talk about that next time.