Tuesday, August 18, 2009...11:00 am

How 10 years has changed my freelance work week

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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…


  • How interesting, Simon. Judging from this introspective list, I’d say your work has become more diversified, technical, personal and ‘fluid’. If you don’t mind me asking, are you making more or less money?

  • Tom – hi.
    About the same actually – which, given that a decade has passed, is not so great. My peak earning year was about 2000/2001, just before 9/11 triggered (though wasn’t the root cause of) the early 2000s publishing recession.
    I think there’s a certain ceiling in media/publishing work that it’s difficult to exceed as a lone freelancer – especially if you don’t become a “name”.
    Having said that, my freelance work allowed me to compress all my earning into about 8-9 months last year, allowing me to take three months off to do puppet animation, so the flexibility is nice.
    And, yes, the work is becoming much more diverse – and diffuse. I am putting a lot more time and effort into things like this blog and learning web-type skills because they contribute in a very general way to my success as a freelancer – though not in a very measurable way. In effect, I am finding that my work life and creative life are bleeding together in interesting ways.

  • You’ve definitely gone a long way, comparing those 2 years. Looks like a success to me!

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