Unfrozen Caveman Freelance Journalist
January 29, 2010 5:03 PM   Subscribe

Looking for creative ways out of freelance journalism limbo.

In the mid-to-early 2000s, a lot of people like me got into pitching and selling journalism pieces to magazines and newspapers and trade publications. This was before the print media crash of 2008-2009 and the new wave of dirt-cheap Internet content.

While I was working for several years on breaking into this industry, and writing a book, most of the jobs went away (and aren’t coming back.) So I now feel a little like Rip Van Winkle, professionally. Or like a buggy whip designer.

I’m trying to get back into the working world (and out of my apartment) by figuring out a new career path. Teach? Go back to school? Edit something?

I’ve seen John Zhu’s advice for ex-newspaper staffers. But this situation is different, because, unlike a laid-off editor, I haven’t had a proper boss in a while.

I know there are hundreds of us freelance journalists out there who’ve found themselves in a similar void. My question is: How have you changed careers, rebooted your life or found an interesting way out of this situation?
posted by thelastenglishmajor to Work & Money (9 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: One place you might consider is corporate communications or working in politics. The campaign season will start in a few months and you could probably land a press office or campaign communications jobs if you called around. If you get into a congressional campaign and they win you might find yourself in Washington.
posted by parmanparman at 5:20 PM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks. The political communication route, in particular, was one I’d welcome any tips on cracking into.
posted by thelastenglishmajor at 5:23 PM on January 29, 2010

You really have to apply for jobs. You should also go to the library and learn about writing a government jobs application and resume. There are many Public Affairs Specialist positions available in government that pay well. If you have a BA and a couple years' experience you could apply for GS 5-7; with an MA or 5 or more years' experience you could do GS 9 and above. It's a longer process but worth it as they will train you to fill experience gaps.
posted by parmanparman at 6:31 PM on January 29, 2010

You have to remember, journalism is not a profession, it's a vocational job. You are trained to write. Look for positions that aim to keep you writing.
posted by parmanparman at 6:32 PM on January 29, 2010

The journalists I have known who have been successful have branched out of their original expertise into other things - music journalists writing about sports, sports journalists writing about finance, finance journalists writing about fashion. They used their existing credentials to build a platform for themselves in terms of the other thing they were interested in - most of them all just started blogs (or had them) and writing for free long enough on something, given their previous experience, got them attention.

Others started web sites to fill the gaps left by their jobs going away. cnati.com is the best example of this - a site covering Cincinnati sports, created by two former cincinnati sports journalists. They're making $$ off of advertising, and they're using crowdsourcing for larger stories - e.g. they just raised $5k from readers in order to travel to cover Spring Training.
posted by micawber at 6:55 PM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I moved into marketing. It pays a lot better and it requires the same writing, research and analytical skills.
posted by acoutu at 9:51 PM on January 29, 2010

I'm in your position and just didn't want to take the only route available to me now, which seems to be "writing" nonsense for TV sites and the like. The pay was good but manufacturing that white noise made me homicidal. I decided to go back to school for a PhD in English, and I'd only recommend that path for you if your editors critiqued your work for being "too dense" or "too obscure" for mainstream readers. The print crash accelerated my trajectory toward grad school, but it certainly didn't foment it.

If you go back to school, keep in mind that j-school will probably teach you what you already know how to do. An English degree will only be useful inasmuch as you'd get a PhD and then teach literature. If the idea of writing for academic journals and teaching undergrads appeals to you, I'd suggest taking a fun job for the next year (bartending, working at a book store, etc) that gives you time to do applications on the side. Higher ed admission committees don't care too much about how you spent your years out of school, so they won't be ruffled if you currently work at a bookstore, nor will they be agape if you used to write for a living.

You could also teach journalism at a city college or whatnot, though that depends on your feelings about training future buggy whip engineers of America.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:28 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

PR, comms, or Marketing, for shizz. At least, that's what I did when my soul was eaten away by the corrosive life of the freelancer. Now, I'm earning more than double what I was, and much less stressful. Try to get some contracting work first.
posted by smoke at 2:00 AM on January 30, 2010

Hey, fellow caveman here, who until recently found himself in your exact position.

Freakishly, I was offered a staff writer position at a small community newspaper (someone was fired out of the blue, I knew the editor). The pay, stability, and health insurance has been a huge step up from freelancing. But it's sort of like accepting a job on the Titanic.

My plan is to use my newspaper beat to meet and interview people who could potentially be job contacts in the future. Job hunting is all about networking, gathering information, and building sources, and we journalists do that for a living. Plus, I work with PR folks pretty much daily, and I've asked a few to give me insight into possibly breaking into that field. (Though, speaking with them, it seems like that profession is in a bit of a crisis, too. And the hours and workload can make journalism seem like a cakewalk.)

Still, though employed, I feel as lost as you. Feel free to memail me if you want to commiserate or share ideas.
posted by sureshot at 11:00 AM on February 3, 2010

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