Wednesday, September 9, 2009...11:48 am

How’s your media recession?

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To mark today’s news that the recession has ended, I’m running a poll here at Freelance Unbound to see if my fellow toilers in the antheap of media feel the same way.
The poll will be posted up on the right for a while – please do click to vote (though it would help if you do vaguely media/knowledge worker kind of work).
The timing of all this is quite appropriate for me, as a few days ago I actually turned down a work commission for the first time in more than a year because I was too busy to do it.
Visitors may in fact have noticed that things have been quiet here of late. That’s because I have been eye-wateringly busy doing real work – the kind with a pay cheque attached – so I haven’t had much chance to update the blog.
That’s good news in many ways – certainly in terms of paying the bills. But it has made me wonder how the rest of the media world is doing.
Looking back, my media recession lasted about five months, starting in about September 2008, during which a lot of regular work assignments dropped to nothing and my shift work looked threatened as the publishing house I am working for started restructuring and closing publications. This was scary.
In response, I did two things:

The hustling paid off, yes. But actually my main success came from a combination of luck and diversification.
Right now I’m sitting in on the production desk of a financial publishing company filling in for someone who went on maternity leave a year ago. The luck part comes in because she has decided not to come back to work full-time – or even half-time – so I get to keep working and earning, which is nice.
The diversification part comes in because the company in question runs events, and has decided to take its marketing and other design work in-house. Naturally, my production colleague and I fell on this work like wolves at lambing time.
Never mind that it’s not journalism. I don’t care, frankly (it’s why this blog is called Freelance Unbound instead of, say, Journalism Unbound). What it is, however, is an opportunity to be useful in the company. And being useful is a central pillar of freelance success, as I’ve noted elsewhere.
In fact, my media recession has been characterised by a general switch away from what you might call journalism (writing, subbing, page layout) to a more diverse range of work (CMS production, brochure design, animated web ads).
So what does this all mean for you? Are you struggling to keep following a more strictly defined path of journalism? Have you had to branch out into other areas and use new skills? Have you been forced to look for work in a call centre?
I’d really like to know. Feel free to share via the comments – or add your vote to the poll on the right.


  • Well, after wanting to be a journalist from the age of about 12, I decided around four years ago to build on my measly 4 GCSEs and get some real education and finally become a journalist. I went to the OU for three years and, after that, I enrolled on an (expensive) NCTJ course. I started the course about a year ago and finally graduated about two months ago. All through my college time, I was reading endless streams of “End of Journalism” type stuff – and found it difficult to be hopeful about the usual local rag-to-national career progression that I kind of expected. Whilst studying, nothing was certain – not one of us new whether the NCTJ we were working towards was worth the paper it was printed on. But now I have graduated, I am strangely optimistic – I have seen jobs in quite a few nooks and crannies on the net, and I feel – logically – that if I target as many newspapers as possible, for a long enough period, then my break will finally come. I came out of school with nothing and I have spent years and years working toward the day I land that first job. I have no idea whether there’ll be a news industry – due to this recession and the internet – in the future, but I am going to keep trying in the one that’s still there, init.

  • After 28 yrs as sole support of my family, I am seeing the profession of writing–and I do consider it a profession–being downgraded by digitization and outsourcing. When the $1-$5 “article” jobs stated appearing two yrs ago, I thought it was a joke. I wrote essays about “cheeseballs.” Now–it’s the norm–companies like Demand Studios, Associated Content, Hub Pages, Suite 101 and many others litter Craigs and other job boards. Bid sites like oDesk, Guru, and so on invite writers to push each other to the bottom. Writing is now “repurposing” (changing the words in someone else’s work to make it “original”) or else pulling 400 words out of your brain as authoritative. It’s educated typing, I guess. I saw an ad for 1000 articles–hey, a thousand bucks! Who could even type that much–that’s 5 novels’ worth. This business is now in shambles. Will natural selection will out and the better people and companies be left standing? I am a dreamer. Thus I dream on.

  • I went freelance mid-2007 and had a full year of working every hour going and swimming in pools of cash. I exaggerate a little bit, but it went very well – I was earning twice as much as I had done in the staff job I left, but working about 1.5 to 2 times as hard as well.
    The crash for me came in stages. One regular client cut back on news shifts in May 08. The biggest drop came in Aug/Sept 08. I found a full-time job then to see me through, but I miss the freedom of freelancing and would do it again if the right circumstances arose.

  • Don’t really know what to think about this: in the last week or so I’ve been both upbeat (after landing a couple of commissions) and in despair (after reading, for the millionth time, that the career I’ve pretty much sunk the last few years into is going to be obsolete before too long).
    Incidentally, I’ve started a blog about pitching each of the 642 magazines listed in the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. The whole project (if you could call it that) was born out of frustration and is part-gimmick, part experiment and part-necessity. Have a read here if you fancy, but it isn’t really that good yet.

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