The “Death” of Newspapers: 15 Years Later

About 15 years ago, every man and woman who worked for a newspaper started being told by management that the Internet was the Devil; that we would all lose our jobs because of its freedom of information distribution, and that a degree in Journalism would be worth less than the paper it was printed on within a generation.

I was working for a newspaper 15 years ago, and I heard the same fear-mongering from the leadership of our chain. Only in hindsight do I realize that they weren’t really worried about the journalists they employed, but rather their own pocketbooks.

A lot of us did in fact lose our jobs in the newspaper industry as the Internet evolved. Newspaper advertising sales dropped, classified sections became obsolete, and cash cows like car dealerships and grocery stores went online to hock their wares. But what we do – journalists, writers, editors, photographers, and designers – didn’t vanish into thin air, we just evolved right along with the Internet.

If running my own freelancing business has taught me one thing, it’s that the world needs great writers and communicators now more than ever. And that realization means that my degree in Journalism and pedigree for being able to pluck a subject out of thin air and write compelling copy about it; or take someone else’s creative work and sharpen prior to publication, is liberating, exciting, and quite frankly, one of the best revelations of my professional life.

As a newspaper guy, every year had its arc for me – back-to-school, sports, festivals, city council, school board meetings, the occasional crime wave, scandal, or election, feature photos, and try to stay awake during the summer time. It was an easy gig, but ultimately a boring gig, and one that seldom did anything to spark my passion or challenge me as a professional.

Compare that to the last 12 months, in which I have:

  • Worked with a Grammy winner
  • Reviewed a cyber-securities proposal sent to the Department of Defense and the US Air Force
  • Co-written a whitepaper on the evolution of corporate intranets
  • Served as news editor for a major education news website
  • Edited a ghost story that made quite literally jump in the build-up to the reveal
  • Dived head first into the twin worlds of SAP and BI, and ended up writing stories for a magazine whose headquarters is on the other side of the world from my office.

The Internet might have sent a whole bunch of newspapers to the morgue, but it had the opposite effect on those of us who worked for them. Death? No, the Internet gave us life.

 

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A Spooky Book Project Just In Time for Halloween

MJ Crane’ short story “Letters’ gave me the jitters during a night-time edit last week.

Last Sunday, I edited the short horror story “Letters” by budding author MJ Crane. Sitting in my home office a few feet from my wife who was checking out winter clothes for the Twin Miracles, I was expecting to get sucked into plot, but that’s exactly what happened, to the point where I had to remember a time or two that I was supposed to be editing this thing, not just reading it.

With about three pages to go, and the main character inches away from her confrontation against the creepy character who had been terrorizing her throughout the prose, my wife spoke my name to ask me a question, causing me to bounce a good four inches off the seat of my chair.

“Letters” isn’t up for sale just yet, but keep your eyes peeled on MJ’s website – there’s more to come, I know, because I’ve already gotten the call for the second short story!

The Monster Mash – a look back at the Golden Age of Horror

Hollywood has never found a better Count Dracula than Bela Lugosi

Just in time for Halloween, I recently got to work on a tremendous book by author Matt Bevilacqua all about the amazing cinematic age of horror and monster movies that encompassed the 1930s in the US. The book is called “All Godless Here: The Golden Age of Horror, 1930-1939” and really took me back to my pre-cable TV youth where Sunday afternoons not spent watching football were often made interesting by all black-and-white monster movies in which my brother and I were introduced to the likes of Frankenstein’s monster, Count Dracula, the Invisible Man, the Mummy and countless others.

Bevilacqua’s book takes a really interesting trip inside the making of these movies, the politics behind them, the rise and fall of legends like Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, and gives amazing trivia about several dozen movies that truly defined the era.

Behaviorial Science – the latest cool thing I knew nothing about

Behavioral science is at the core of Dr. Stephen Wendel’s new book on HR benefits.

As my wife will all too readily tell you, there’s a lot of subjects I know nothing about – fashion, making lists, not being a moron, etc.

One of my favorite common themes in being a freelancer is getting to take part in projects concerning subjects I know nothing about, and finding them so remarkably fascinating.

The latest entry in that line is the field of Behavioral Science, which I came across while editing Dr. Stephen Wendel’s new book, “Improving Employee Benefits”. Dr. Wendel works for HelloWallet, and what I thought was going to be a dry read going in turned into a real tour de force of breaking down exactly what makes us tick as people when it comes to HR benefits that most enjoy at their jobs.

The books contains some really tremendous graphs, charts and insight into the human condition as it applies to our ability, or lack thereof, to make big decisions on things that matter – health insurance, financial savings, our own health and fitness, etc.

If you’ve ever worked in HR or just enjoy some tremendous insight into your own self, I’d highly recommend giving it a read.

The Adventures of Freelancing Dad: A Real Kick in the Budget

superheroOne of the greatest upsides of freelancing is that you can spot a job listing, inquire about it, get interviewed be hired, and start working on really cool, high-level projects within a matter of hours.

One of the worst downsides of freelancing is that it can all be over in that same short period of time.

Last week, I took a real double whammy of economic reality when one of my most lucrative, long-term contracts kicked me, and another writer, to the virtual curb because of “a change in the company budget.”  I got a six-hour severance bonus, which was nice, but I couldn’t help briefly thinking, “Hey, what about all that hard work I did for you?” before remembering the nature of the beast.

A few days later, a new position I took that allowed me to do some really fun, really creative sports copy editing went up in smoke for exactly the same reason. I’d become good email buddies with the writer at this job, and his boss dumped the responsibility of letting me know my services were no longer required on him.

While it’s easy to get attached to jobs and projects, the fact remains that we’re hired guns, and no matter how qualified, talented, and essential we might be to a project for a given amount of time, the honeymoon is going to end at some point.

I moped for about an hour about my loss of cool jobs (and income), until the next business day rolled around, and with it new opportunities, possibilities and business relationships. By noon I was writing a resume’ for a US Naval officer, punching up copy for drug rehabilitation facilities and proofing Powerpoints for a major software solutions conference in San Francisco.

Freelancing forever!

 

The Joys of Freelancing – Today I’m Editing a Book About Barbecue

Having lived all 40 of my years in Texas, I’d reckon I’ve eaten somewhere between 500-1,000 pounds of barbecue in my lifetime.  Ribs, links, sliced, chopped, barbecued baked potatoes, chicken, you name it. I’ve got my favorite restaurant (Otto’s in Houston), and my favorite sides (potato salad, corn on the cob).

Today, my passion is earning me some $ as I edit a quick e-Book on barbecue recipes from around the world. Thank you, freelancing!

 

 

 

 

The Unexpected Benefit of Raising Your Freelancing Rate

OpportunitiesQuite recently, I decided to raise my hourly rate on the major  marketplace where I cultivate a majority of my freelance work. Unless you’re independently wealthy, the early times when you decide to start freelancing often involve beginning with low-paying jobs and then slowly building up to a more favorable rate of pay as your name and your reputation grow online.

With a particularly strong surge thus far in 2014, I felt justified in testing the waters at a new price, reasoning that if the work dried up or everyone was turning down my offers, I could always drop it back down.

What happened next took me completely off guard, although after a couple of days’ worth of critical thinking (usually in 20-30 second bursts between working and taking care of the Twin Miracles), I was able to come to a surprising, but extremely exciting conclusion.

What happened? The number of people wanting to interview and/or hire me for work has gone up considerably since I raised my rate. I’m not getting every job, but I’m getting considered for a lot more than previously, and often without having to lift a finger to promote myself.

Why is this happening? Because just like one subset of potential clients has a price maximum, another has a price minimum, a number they look for as a baseline for the quality of freelancer they can hire – either because of personal conviction or  because of what their company says the budget is for said project.

By moving my rate up, I now fall squarely into their search parameters, whereas before, no matter how good a job I could potentially do at a lower rate, I wasn’t even on their radar. It has been a serendipitous revelation, not only because I’m hitting and exceeding my weekly goals on a more consistent basis, but also because I’m making contact with more and more high-end clients, with the potential for repeat, long-term work.

Are you undervaluing your work? If so, stick your toe in the pool at a higher rate. You might be surprised how nice the water feels.