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Freelancing in a world of media cuts

by Étienne Lajoie November 24, 2015
Freelancing in a world of media cuts

The “Media layoff season” gives a positive boost to freelancers

On Nov. 5, Bell Media announced they would cut 380 positions across their channels, from CTV to TSN radio, across the country. A day later, it was TVA Publications’ turn—by putting an end to six magazines they cut 25 jobs.

Graphic by Charlotte Bracho.

Graphic by Charlotte Bracho.

Widespread cuts in the media world have hit organizations regardless of their growth. For example, the Conde Nast Media Group, a media company publishing magazines such as Vanity Fair, GQ and The New Yorker, announced late in 2013 that they posted “advertising and revenue growth on all platforms in 2013” in a press release.  Just about a year later in October 2014, Advertising Age revealed that up to 70 employees would be laid off in the corporate sales department, more specifically at Conde Nast.

Some people refer to this time of the year as the “media layoff season,” including freelancer Noah Davis.

On Sept. 8, Davis published an article in The Awl called, “If You Don’t Click on This Story, I Don’t Get Paid.” In the piece, Davis—who spoke with more than 20 writers, editors and media experts—said “the general consensus is that it’s the best time since the very early days of the web to make money by writing online, and a marked improvement from even two years ago.”

Davis explained how print, which usually pays around $1.50 and $2 per word, has “limited” amount of work. As he puts it in his piece, “a magazine is as long as its ads will allow it to be.”

While hundreds of staff journalists are sad to lose their jobs, Davis said this time gives him an opportunity to write even more. The media layoff season, “from a strictly business perspective, [is] actually beneficial,” Davis told The Concordian. The big corporations are “still [going to] need to fill [their] pages with writing” he said, adding that “if there are fewer people on staff to do it, they’re [going to] turn to freelancers.”

Davis said the rates for freelance work in print publications has gone down, but “there are a dozen websites that are really well funded and that will pay 33 cents [to] $1 a word,” which he said was unheard of a decade ago.

However, Davis said since everyone thinks they can be a writer, a lot more people are trying to become one.

“There are people that are good at it and there are people that are bad at it,” he added. “Hopefully what happens is that people who are good at it make a living and people that are not good at it find something else to do.”

For that reason, it’s tougher to stand out, said Davis. But even if some websites have reasonable rates, you can’t just start of at the top; Davis said you have to work your way up and that means writing for practically nothing. Davis has written for Vice and Deadspin, but also has a series in Pacific Standard magazine called “How Do You Make A Living?” He interviews people with odd jobs such as “Puzzle Maker” or “Board-Game Rulebook Editor.” Davis was also a columnist for the sports blog Grantland covering the United States Men’s National soccer team and is deputy editor at American Soccer Now.

He continues to write for smaller sites at the same time like The Classical, a sports website created by David Roth and Tim Marchman who now respectively work for Vice and Deadspin too.

The 32 year-old Brooklyn resident has spoken to hundreds of freelancers throughout his professional career. One fact common to everyone of them: they all had a side-gig. Unless you’re in what Davis calls the “star system”—“it’s easy to make money if you’re one of the top one per cent,” he said—you’ll need to go out of the creative spectrum and do rather boring work.

“I got into this to tell stories, but I also have an apartment that I like that I’d like to stay in,” said Davis. The “lucrative side-gig” can be “corporate work” or “copywriting for advertising.” By doing this kind of work for about 10 hours a week, Davis is able to spend more time “doing stuff that is telling stories or finding a long form piece that doesn’t pay well.” It’s “the reality of the economic situation.”

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