Recently, The Washington Times laid off more than 20 newsroom staff writers. Not surprising considering the landscape of traditional news reporting, print publications vs. digital media, and the economy.
Although I write for the Washington Times Communities (TWTC), I am not an employee. What I write does not make it to the print version of the publication or the main pages of their website. My Times gig does not benefit my checkbook, but it does help build my portfolio. It’s fun, not work. I have a day job.
I also have sympathy for the writers who were laid off. Who doesn’t? Regardless of the market, losing your job and trying to find a new one is humiliating and daunting. For writers and reporters, I think the prospects and hopes are even more daunting than those in other careers.
As a writer and independent contributor for other online resources and sites, I know what companies are willing to pay and what they are not willing to pay for good writing. Not much! Sometimes absolutely nothing. And there are more and more of us “amateur” writers willing to receive little to no compensation to help businesses and organizations fill the empty spaces on their sites.
What’s the payoff? For me, there is an enormous feeling of accomplishment in having my work published instantly for all to read and comment. I’ll be honest, I don’t publish crap I don’t like. I publish the stuff I am most proud of and that I believe will be most helpful to the readers of this blog and my TWTC column.
I would never insult the profession of journalism and call myself a journalist. Writing might be fun for me, but writing and reporting the news is serious business and not always a good time for journalists.
I once worked in a newsroom as an undergrad. I was an unpaid intern. I was given soft-news stories to draft, stories that didn’t make the headlines but interested readers none the less. I couldn’t pick and choose what I wanted to write. There was an editor who told me what I could write. If I had ideas of my own, I had to run them past her first. The experience was eye-opening but not very gratifying. Needless to say, I was not encouraged to become a newspaper reporter. Not only does someone else dictate what and when a reporter writes, but a reporter is also challenged with research and source verification (something good journalist ALWAYS practice) on a deadline-driven basis every single day! I think of reporters and journalists as being highly stressed and recipients of few perks and compensation but lots of criticism and little praise.
I’m a writer with many passions. As a blogger and TWTC contributing writer, I enjoy the freedom to write when and how I want to write. I have a voice I’m interested in sharing. Much of my writing is based on my experiences and opinions. But experiences and opinions don’t pay the bills. I know that and you know that.
Even though I love my blogging community and think there are some amazingly talented and gifted writers here, we still need the skills and expertise of educated and trained journalists to bring us the most accurate and timely news, news that influences our thinking, writing, and conversations.
Keep the staffers who were laid off last week in your thoughts. Demand the best from the news sources you go to every day. Let them know when they’ve succeeded and when they have failed to bring you reliable and trustworthy news. If writers and reporters are losing their jobs, the ones who still have their jobs need to be the best of the best. At least that’s what I think. 🙂