The self-supporting journalist, making a living from assignment to assignment, is an endangered species. James Rainey, who reports “On the Media” for the Los Angeles Times, has recently documented the decline of freelance writing. Payment in the low-two figures is a joke no more. In fact, that would be considered living high for many reporters.
“It is not uncommon at all now for those who are offering writing jobs to suggest that the payday will come somewhere down the road,” Rainey tells Chris Kenneally, a former freelancer. “They love to say this is great exposure for you, this is great experience, you can put this on your website. And somehow, the payday is always going to come from some other publisher or website… [But] if you’ve already published something somewhere, either for free at a low rate, others aren’t necessarily going to want to step up and then pay you a real living wage to run the same material.”
But with a glut of news online, it’s no surprise that the value has crashed like the 1929 stock market. What worries Rainey and many others, though, is that writing that calls itself “news” may not be the real article. “So many people are very triumphal about the Web and the wonders of it and they often cite information to me that I know to be false… Increasingly, there’s a buyer beware, reader beware [attitude] that we all are going to have to have about this information.”