How has the past decade of technological and business change in print publishing changed freelance patterns of work?
A lot, as it turns out.
Here, for the sake of example, is a comparison between a representative week’s work for me as a freelance sub/writer in around 1999 and the work I have been doing this summer. In typical nutritional ingredients style, at the top of the list is the stuff I have been doing most of.
- Sub-editing – often on a full subs’ desk with several people working on it. Reading copy, rewriting copy, proofing pages and arguing over spelling, grammar and punctuation. Oh those glory days…
- Feature writing – it was the dotcom bubble, but the web hadn’t come to eat into print content yet. So there was a bonanza of paid freelance writing available, at reasonable rates. And commissioned pieces were longer then, too.
- Print layout and production – monthly magazines, special reports, standalone advertising supplements – again, there was a lot of it about. And it involved scanning pictures, and putting things in envelopes for bike messengers. Weird…
- Working with a CMS – Tagging online content and helping to create a web taxonomy with keywords. Uploading stories and formatting them. Making sure all the links work and creating the home page. Troubleshooting rogue HTML.
- Web banner ads – design and animation.
- Web building – creating sites in WordPress using HTML, CSS and some brutally hacked PHP.
- Print magazine production – a bit of layout, a bit of styling up, a bit of proofing, a bit of subbing.
- Blogging – writing online. Obvously.
- Feature writing – for magazines and books. When anyone has any budget for it.
- Teaching – blogging, web audio and video
The differences stand out a mile. Much more of my work is online, and much less of it is anything like the kind of journalism/publishing I used to do.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. New and different is interesting, even if many other journalists and print media folk seem terrified of it.
But although it uses some of the skills I had 10 years ago, it has demanded that I develop a whole lot more – and very quickly. Most of this change has only come about in the past year or so.
And, yes – some of this is, for want of a better term, career development. I wouldn’t have found myself teaching journalism students in 1999, that’s for sure.
But you’ll also notice that I’m not now teaching print sub-editing or feature writing to students. I did try to do that – but there’s actually no demand. What academia seems to want now is to beef up its online offering. Much like the rest of the media.
I certainly don’t expect this to end. In fact, I expect the pace of change to pick up. Which means probably yet another and quite different “typical” workweek in fairly short order…