Monthly Archives: December 2010

Facing an ethical issue

It's not unusual to be hit with??ethical??conundrums when you're working as a freelance journalist — and unlike staff journalists, you don't have a company policy to help guide you with the subtler problems. Sometimes it comes down to — do you follow your conscience, or just grit your teeth and do the dirty deed so that you can get your landlord off your back?

A short blog entry by a college student who is a freelance food writer illustrates how this can happen. She writes about how she was asked to report on a fruit juice produce being marketed to diabetics, and after reading the list of ingredients, realized that the "all natural" juices weren't all that natural. But instead of simply quitting the job — which, she says, she was tempted to do — she convinced her client to downgrade the assignment from a full article to a sidebar, so that at least it was less noticeable.

As she says, not an ideal solution. But an illustration of the type of problems freelancers face in balancing their ideals and their pocketbooks.

Taking my food writing lumps

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A survey of freelance business journalists

The??Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW) just announced the results of an informal survey of freelance business journalists. Out of 67 responses that they received in October and November, the organization found that their respondents made an average of??$25,000 to $30,000 a year, and two out of every five were laid off. Other results indicate that if??paid by the word, freelancers receive an average of 75 cents to $1 per word. If paid by article, post or project, the average rate is about $250 per assignment. In addition:

The informal survey found that nearly half ??? 32 ??? of the freelancers who responded make less than $25,000 a year. However, there were six freelancers who reported that they make more than $100,000 annually.

Nearly three out of four freelancers said they are making less now than when they were a full-time journalist. About one out of every five of the freelancers said they are making more than 50 percent less than their full-time work.

Unfortunately, I've seen this report generalized out on the Web as being about the state of freelancing in the United States — even though it's based on 67 respondents, while there are most likely thousands of independent workers currently in this country (and several hundred, at least, are business journalists). In fact, the title of the article on the SABEW site is "SABEW survey: Freelancers make $25,000 to $30,000," which could encourage that perception, especially for those who don't read it carefully enough.

It illustrates two things, at least to me: That the freelancers surveyed by SABEW had some interesting information to impart, and that you have to look into how surveys are conducted before you generalize them to an entire population.

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Adventures in Freelancing: The Trend Story

One of the most fun and useful Web-based services that I’ve found over the past year is a site called Xtranormal. It allows you to make your own animated YouTube shorts by simply setting up a few visual criteria and then typing in the dialogs you want your characters to recite. 

The funniest and most enlightening Xtranormal animations have offered slightly off-the-wall conversations that illustrate the absurdities of the publishing industry — of how, for example, tech journalists have problems getting review units out of PR people (one of my personal favorites).

The latest Xtranormal cartoon that I’ve enjoyed is one that many freelance writers will appreciate: a conversation between an experienced writer and a not-so-experienced editor who wants the world in exchange for $300. It was created by a writer named Laura Lipton, and while it’s slightly exaggerated — it’s only slightly exaggerated. Enjoy.

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Classical Musicians Search for Work

When I think (or write) about freelancing, I tend to look first in my own backyard: Jobs that have to do with writing, or a bit beyond that, jobs that have to do with office work. However, the New York Times recently had an article about a freelance community that is in crisis, but that is not much thought about: classical musicians.

According to the article, the Great Recession (which seems to be the term that is coming to characterize this economic downturn) has been hard on freelance classical musicians — when concert producers need to cut down because they can’t afford to front performances, jobs dry up for the freelancers. In addition, other things are changing — for example, recording producers are looking for less expensive talent overseas or using digital music; there are less musicians being used in Broadway theaters; there is a flood of a new young musicians coming into the market while older musicians are clinging desperately to the jobs that they have.

It’s an interesting article that deals with a segment of the creative freelance community that I only know a little about.

Freelance Musicians Hear Mournful Coda as the Jobs Dry Up

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Freelancing & homelessness

The Las Vegas Sun has a series called "The New Homeless" which features a disabled freelancer in his 50s named Rodger Jacobs, who moved to Las Vegas to care for his mother and now finds himself without the means for a permanent roof over his head. He and his girlfriend are trying to move to Las Angeles, where they think they'll have better income opportunities, but haven't been able to afford to move yet.

But the story has become more than simply the story of another victim of the recession, or of a freelancer who is falling off the edge. The first entry in the series apparently was greeted by a mass of unpleasant comments by people who felt that the writer was probably not working hard enough, deserved everything he got, should pull himself up by his bootstraps — so much so, that the comments became a story in themselves.

Most of the original comments are no longer available; apparently, the Sun has a policy of only keeping "trusted" comments on their site; others are eventually expunged. However, the third entry in the series was published today (December 5), and it's easy enough to get an idea of how some people reacted to the original story by reading the comments section. It's also an interesting indication of what people believe a freelance writer does: One entry states that the profession is as outmoded as a typewriter repairman; others accuse him of sitting around and planning to write the Great American Novel (Jacobs has worked as a trade journalist, a true crime author and a documentarian, among others).??

In other words, they seem to lack the ability to empathize with the writer (something that brings me back to PK Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep," an interesting discussion of which was conducted recently on Jim's show "Hour of the Wolf" last Thursday morning — you can find the stream here). Is it because people are so frightened and angry in today's nasty economic climate that they need to be able to blame the homeless and/or jobless as a reassurance that it won't/can't happen to them? Or because the perception is that anybody who is a writer can/should be able to earn money? Or that writers don't really work and therefore deserve what they get?

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Freelancing in the UK

While the freelance life in the United Kingdom has some major difference than that in the United States — for example, freelancers in the former don't have the same health insurance worries as those in the latter, while the libel laws in Britain can be a bigger headache than those in the U.S. — it is still interesting to read about the types of issues that freelancers deal with. In November, for example, the online magazine wrote about the CRAPP awards, which "aim to honour the ???special relationship??? that PRs and journalists have."??

I know several journalists who wouldn't mind making some nominations for that — and vice versa.

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