There's money in journalism
I recently came across an interesting journalism fellowship. The program paired reporters with publications in different cities for a year; the publication had an option of extending the fellowship for another year at its own expense.
Of course, fellowships offer a great opportunity to gain experience, but there was no guarantee of a job afterward. And for me, giving up my business with no guarantee of a job, no certainty that I’ll even like the workplace in which I’d be working, no safety net from layoffs if I were hired after the fellowship—in the end, it didn’t feel worth it to me.
As I was deciding whether to apply for this fellowship, it dawned on me just how sad the news business is. Journalists are being laid off left and right, publications are shuttering, companies are consolidating…
Meanwhile, marketing and copywriting appear to be highly profitable for writers. I came across a recent Business Insider article featuring a freelancer with eight years of experience who commands roughly $950 an hour. And I thought to myself, “I wish!”
But the thing is, there’s money in journalism… on the business side. As David Uberti of Splinter wisely pointed out, the public is given every reason under the sun why journalism is in peril. Facebook and Google are taking all of our ad revenue, young people don’t want to pay for news, mobile and online advertising are not nearly as profitable as they should, etc.
There’s some truth to this, but there is one other thing that often gets overlooked. As executives at tronc receive six- and seven-figure salaries, they have chosen to lay off or journalists at their portfolio papers and offer incremental raises to the staff left.
How is it that media companies claiming to be rapidly losing money are willing to compensate executives disproportionately higher salaries than the reporters responsible for the publication’s success? I’m perplexed, and so are other reporters who are worried about losing their jobs or clients.
If becoming a freelancer has taught me anything, it’s that running a business is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. If you want journalists who are well-rested, engaged, and high-quality, you need to pay them what they're worth.
At this moment, I see freelancing as a way to be somewhat stable in an otherwise turbulent industry. When I go to local networking events, I run into somber journalists who’ve lost their jobs and are struggling with self-employment.
It’s a big adjustment, but as a freelancer, you won’t fire yourself. If clients aren’t a good fit, you can replace them.
For now, I’m keeping my eye out for the right journalism job. But before I take a leap of faith into full-time employment, I need to see signs that publishers are investing in the reporters who make the publication successful.
Full-time journalism jobs used to be a path to stability. For many journalists, this is no longer true. At this point, I want to keep freelancing and give the industry a chance to sort itself out before putting my faith into a single employer.
Should executives pass some of their compensation on to staffers? Leave me a comment or email me firstname.lastname@example.org.