Thursday, February 19, 2009

My Career Has Cancer

As a writer and editor, I've been forced to face some hard truths about my profession lately. Basically, it's fucked. Regardless of the impact of the economic crisis, the publishing industry has been going through its own internet-generated shitstorm of change for some time now. And no matter which way you look at it, there seems to be dwindling amounts of money available for people like me.

The evidence is clear. I'm writing this for free, for example, a rate that is only marginally worse than some of my recent paid jobs. Shrinking income is nothing new for journalists, but when I started out in the mid-1990s staff salaries and freelance rates were contracting at an almost imperceptibly slow rate, mainly by failing to keep pace with inflation; now pay is crashing faster than a dropped brick.

Increasingly in the new media economy, the creators of content can't seem to make enough money, if any at all, from the content they create. What was once a proper job and a reasonable way to make a living is fast turning into a hobby.

There are lots of people out there trying hard to come up with a new business model for publishing that will change this, but so far they've failed. There is no iTunes for journalism, and the ideas designed to create one seem to range from the hopelessly idealistic to the plain dumb. Holding out for a solution like this is increasingly looking like hoping to be saved from a terminal disease by a miracle cure that hasn't been invented yet. It's a nice thought, but not a very realistic one.

Of course, these changes have been happening for some time now, so it shouldn't be so much of a shock. But it is. At first I wondered optimistically when things were going to take a turn for the better, and I looked for any encouraging signs of recovery, or at least remission. I got online, I started a blog or three, I embraced the new media revolution in the hope of not being left behind. But all the while the good jobs have been drying up, leaving more journalists chasing fewer jobs that are paying less.

Lately my thinking has changed, and I've found myself wondering about how long I should fight this. At what point should I simply give up and go do something else instead? My career has cancer. It has spread. The prognosis isn't good. But, like a smoker who keeps on puffing cigarettes even when he has to do it through a hole in his throat, I just can't give it up.

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