Going from a career based around permalancing — where you’re basically on staff for an outlet or multiple outlets, only without the benefits and with a lesser expectation of output per month, more or less — to fully freelancing this year has been, to be blunt, a learning experience. There’s certainly a skill to simply keeping track of the multiple outlets and deadlines and relationships necessary to keep yourself active and successful as a freelancer, and it’s been a pretty heavy learning curve for me, especially in an environment such as the past year or so, when so many publishers have been cutting back so dramatically when it comes to freelance budget across the board.
Even inside that larger learning experience, though, there has been an additional lesson that’s been a tough one to swallow: repeatedly getting stories that you just know would be worthwhile — or, at the very least, successful, which is far from the same thing, but perhaps no less important — turned down, because they’re not worth taking the risk of paying for even by editors who are otherwise in favor of them.
Part of this is genuinely the result of being spoiled by permalancing in the past, I know; pitching stories that editors perhaps weren’t entirely convinced by, but knew that it wasn’t going to cost them anything extra because I was paid per month, not per story — and, as a result, getting to do some pretty niche stuff that went over well as a result. That kind of thing just isn’t possible when every single story has to be paid for, and that money has to be justified to other people less willing to be forgiving for some of the random things I suggest.
I’m writing this now, salty, having (unsuccessfully) pitched variations on an idea to three different outlets and being told, essentially, that could be fun, but I couldn’t justify it each time. It’s frustrating, and depressing, to see in real time just how conservative (small c) online journalism has become, for entirely practical reasons. Alas.