Maybe I picked the wrong time to get into this business.
Freelance Writing’s Unfortunate New Model was printed in the LA Times yesterday, taking a look at the current state of freelance writing. It talks about how well-paying journalism jobs are scarce and all people want to pay for these days are short, SEO-friendly articles for the web that regurgitate content that’s already out there.
This is disturbing for someone who’s trying to make a living as a writer, to be sure. But I found it disturbing from another perspective as well—that of the person who likes to hear about interesting news developments and make connections the government / big business / whoever else is involved don’t necessarily want me to make.
A snippet from the article:
“There are a lot of stories that are being missed, not just at legacy newspapers and TV stations but in the freelance world,” said Nick Martin, 27, laid off a year ago by the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz., and now a freelancer. “A lot of publications used to be able to pay freelancers to do really solid investigations. There’s just not much of that going on anymore.”
Another writer, based in Los Angeles, said she has been troubled by the lighter fare that many websites prefer to drive up traffic. A new take on any youth obsessions (“Put ‘Twilight’ in the headline, get paid”) has much more chance of winning editorial approval than more complex or substantive material.
The rank of stories unwritten — like most errors of omission — is hard to conceive. Even those inside journalism can only guess at what stories they might have paid for, if they had more money.
So there are two problems here. One, the people with the money would rather use it to pay for short, fluffy pieces that are guaranteed to pull up their site on a search engine (regardless of the actual content) than in-depth features. Never mind that it doesn’t take a ton of skill to write some of this stuff, and it definitely doesn’t require much research or put an emphasis on getting your facts straight. And two, crazy things are happening in the world that we may never hear about since no one’s writing about them.
I don’t think good writing will ever really go away, although this article sure makes it sound like the ability to support oneself off of it is becoming much tougher than it used to be (as a journalist, anyway). But I am increasingly bothered by the dangerous way the Internet and the news play together. (Um, Balloon Boy?) Just because something was posted online doesn’t make it true. News outlets don’t always seem to realize this. Fact checking and research have gone out the window in the interest of getting the story out there quickly. And the writers who make their living bringing news to light via well-written, well-researched feature articles might be the casualties.