The Vibe Restructuring: Is this the beginning of the end of my freelance career?

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A few of the stories I've written for VIBE. As the recession takes hold, what will happen to freelancers?

A few of the stories I've written for VIBE. As the recession takes hold, what will happen to freelancers?

Last week, a rumor zipped throughout the internets. It was posted on a few gossip blogs. And then I noticed a few of my Facebook friends linked to the article on their pages.

Word was, VIBE magazine was experiencing a financial crunch. And that they did not even have money to put out the March issue of the magazine.

I didn’t believe that for a second. I know how the magazine game works. And if a magazine like Vibe went under, it wouldn’t be like that. They’d be able to announce ahead of time that the magazine was folding. It wouldn’t fall apart in mid issue.

At least I hoped not.

The truth was revealed a few days later.

Vibe is cutting its paid circulation by 25%, going from 12 issues per year to 10. And instead of laying people off, they are moving to a four-day workweek and pay cuts that will be between 10-15%.

All of the above actually sounds smart to me. I know nothing about the business side of magazines. But I do know that if  I worked in the offices at Vibe, I would not be mad at a 15% pay cut, (as opposed to losing my job). And a four-day workweek? I’ll take it!

But this restructuring is obviously a symptom of the larger crunch that print magazines, particularly entertainment magazines, are going through right now. And of course, this makes me wonder: What does this mean for me?

I am a full-time freelancer. No day job. No benefits. (Except from TH. Which is the main reason I married him…)

Here’s how I make my money:

1. I have a writer’s contract with one magazine. They pay me XYZ every month, whether I write five stories or none. (It usually hovers around two. With the occasional cover story thrown in as well). If I break it down to a word count, I get paid much less for each story than I would if I wasn’t on contract. But this check comes faithfully every month. Which is worth the lower pay count.

2. I collaborate on celebrity memoirs.

Me holding my first copy of Keep The Faith. I burst into tears when I opend the package from the publisher and actually saw it and held it in my hands for the very first time

This is me, back in August, holding my first copy of Keep The Faith, the day I got it in the mail. I burst into tears when I opened the package from the publisher and actually saw it and held it in my hands for the very first time.

I’ve got one other book in the can but not yet published. And a few more possibilities. Obviously, this is the most lucrative aspect of my business. But it’s not secure. I don’t walk up to celebrities and say, hey! Can I write your book? It doesn’t work that way. So I never know when this kind of project could be presented to me. And then, even after you’ve struck a deal, there’s no guarantee it will actually happen. For example, I signed a deal with a rapper to ghostwrite his memoir. Before the ink was dry on the contract, he decided he wanted to try and write it himself. I’d already turned down other deals in order to work with him. So I was stuck for three months with no work. The book game, though it pays well, is tough. I can’t plan my mortgage payments around it.

3. I write celebrity features and trend pieces for magazines like GIANT, Vibe, KING.

diddy-giant-cover

This man made me wait eleven hours on the set of a music video in order to interview him. And it was freaking hot as I don't know what. And I had to listen to that song with him and Christina Aguilera 500 times in a row. And I was very very pregnant. And it was hot. I still can't listen to that song. And I feel contractions every time I look at this cover.

Sometimes I get a call and an editor will say, go interview Diddy and give me 2000 words. Easy. More often, I come up with an idea and send out a pitch to an editor. If it’s accepted, I get to work.

I can’t front. I’m worried about what the recession will mean me for me. I know that budgets are shrinking. I noticed about a year ago that I wasn’t traveling as much for stories. I did a piece on Solange for GIANT. She was in Texas at the time and I thought I’d have to jump on a plane. But instead, we just did a phone interview. That was my first clue that things were changing. If the artist isn’t in New York, the story doesn’t usually come my way. So I’m sure I may get passed over for assignments because of location. A few years ago, I was criscrossing the country regularly on assignment.

(And there was actually a time when I might fly out to interview a celebrity more than once. For a single story. Those were the days. And those days are over.)

I reached out to a few freelancers to see if they’re feeling the pinch too.

Here’s my girl Serena Kim, a full-time freelancer in Los Angeles.

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So are you feeling the pinch?

I’ve been cut from lots of my regular blog assignments and columns. I don’t get as many magazine assignments as I used to, and outlets are reluctant to pay promptly because they have a cash crunch. Things are so hard right now for my family. I can’t get into the gory details without really playing myself out in a public sphere. And yet, I continue to freelance.

Are you thinking about getting a day job?

I’ve decided that I still make more as a freelancer than I would as a secretary or some other kind of day job that I could get. So I’m not looking for a job. But if anybody out there wants to give me a job, I’ll definitely consider it! LOL.

Do you believe the recession will make things harder for freelancers…or easier since staffers will be cut?

In some ways, it feels good to be a freelancer in the recession, because you don’t have to worry about the specter of job cuts. Also you can be nimble and dabble in whatever interests you.

I totally agree with you there. I think I’m hustling more because I’m not afraid of losing my job. Since I don’t really have one. I’m ALWAYS hustling for the next job and don’t have much stability. So I’m used to this.

Exactly. I’ve survived three years at freelancing because I’ve tapped into the vast network of colleagues that I’ve built over the years. I try to hand in everything on time with impeccably compiled research and lots of self-editing. As a former editor, I remember that the writers who actually went that distance were few, and I kept going back and assigning the ones that did. Hopefully that’s why my editors keep assigning me. I’ve also reduced expectations in terms of rate and length. It’s a whole different landscape now.

Reduced expectations in terms of rate and length?! When Serena said that, I started biting my nails. I had to deal with that for the first time recently. And I didn’t like it one bit.

I’m proud to say that over the years, I’ve developed a reputation as a tenacious reporter who hands in clean copy with impeccable research. (At least 90% of the time). I’m punctual. And I’m open to edits.

And as far as I’m concerned, I want to be paid what I’m worth.

So when it comes time to negotiate a fee for a story, I have no problems asking for the high end of the pay scale. I know that times are different now. But the idea that I may have to accept a reduced per-word rate is scary. I don’t cut corners when I write a story. So I don’t want anyone cutting corners when it’s time to pay me!

Last month, I accepted an assignment from a magazine we’ll call XYZMagazine. I’ve written at least a dozen stories for the magazine over the past five years and I have a great relationship with the editor. He calls me up:

XYZ editor: Hey there, I want you to write a story about ABC.
Me: Oh yeah. I love it. I’m on it. How much are you paying me?
XYZ Editor: Well, um.
Me: You can pay me LMNOP. Same thing you paid me last year for a similar story.
XYZ: No. I can’t. I can pay you half that.
Me: HALF!? Are you serious?
XYZ: Yeah. I am.

I was fuming. The article involves a lot of work. And I have my own research assistant that I pay out of my own pocket. And I’d written an almost identical story just a year or so before and had been paid double what he was offering. (And even that hadn’t felt like enough!).

Reduced rates. Boo. Hiss.

I checked in with another freelance writer for her thoughts. Her name is Celia San Miguel. She’s been a full-time freelancer for a minute. And she has a very cute website at sickathanaverage.com. (If you ever want to salivate over items you can’t afford. Or splurge on something anyway, check it out.)  I found these shoes on her site:

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Too cute. And I just copped them for Tog. We will NOT talk about how an almost two-year old does not need 70.00 shoes when we’re in a recession. Moving on! (And if TH is reading this, they were not 70.00. They were on sale. For seven dollars. With free shipping. =)

Celia, are you feeling the pinch yet?

Yes, yes, yes, I have very much felt the pinch directly. I’ve written mainly for music and entertainment magazines over the year, and those have gotten hit particularly hard since the music industry was already ailing prior to the recession.

Do you think there’s any hope?

Some women’s fitness and health publications are still doing relatively well, so that’s an area where there are still opportunities. But I’d say the web is where it’s at — sure, a lot of websites don’t pay writers for their work but some do, and there’s no better time than now to start transitioning since the future will very much be about being a diverse, multimedia entity.

How often do you think about getting a day job?

I think about getting a day job relatively often (it depends on how dire my bank balance is looking! lol). I can’t say I’ve been actively looking for one though. I occasionally check to see what’s out there, but it hasn’t been an aggressive pursuit. And, frankly, there isn’t very much out there in the media realm, so I’ve been pretty disappointed when I have looked around.

Do you think the recession can be good for freelancers? Or just make things harder for us?

I hate to say it, but I think the recession will make it harder for freelancers. Sure, some staffers are getting cut, but those who are staying on are being asked to do triple the work — just so they don’t have to pay freelancers. A lot of magazines are resorting to doing everything in house which, of course, means no money for freelancers.

I agree with both Serena and Celia on several points. I do think this is the time for freelancers in print media to step up their game and venture into multimedia. If you can’t shoot basic video and edit it, you may be in trouble.

I checked in with my literary agent and two editors at national magazines to see what they’re saying. My agent, Ryan Fischer-Harbage, handles all my book deals. (And that of several other clients.)

Are we going to see a decrease in celebrity memoirs?

I think celeb books will do even better in this market because publishers must sell books and our culture revolves around celebrity, for better or worse.  Name brands have inestimable value.

What about my money? Do you think advances for writers will shrink?

I think writers will be paid per their quotes as always.

Well that sounds encouraging! But then again, isn’t it my agent’s job to keep me from worrying? I do remember reading that even during the depression, the entertainment business blossomed. So maybe there’s some hope there. Although the book game is still precarious for writers, even in the best economy. What about my magazine assignments?

I called up the editory of XYZ Magazine first thing this morning.

You are the editor of a major magazine. Tell me the truth and give it to me straight. Is it gonna be hard for me to get work in this recession?

Yes, it is. I think most magazines are going to expect their staff to pick up writing. As far as freelancers go, their rates are going to get cut.

Even for your long-time, well-established freelancers that always turn their stories in on time and bring you great ideas?

Yes. Even you Aliya.

That is so unfair!

Look, it’s the reality. Advertising dollars are dropping. Our budgets are shrinking.

Well, your staffers can’t write everything. Are you at the point where you are turning down submissions from freelancers because you can’t afford them?

We’re not turning down good stories yet. I can still go to my publisher and ask to stretch the budgets. They understand that the bottom line is we want to sell magazines.

What is your advice to freelancers?

Don’t be too proud. If you have to get a cut in your word rate, you should do so. And maybe you can explore a writer’s contract. Where you’re getting a lower word rate but you’re getting security.

What about new folks, just starting out. Should they even bother?

Yes! A new person with great ideas, you’re golden right now. This is your come up. This is your chance to make a name for yourself. If you are okay with the reduced rates because you are just starting out and you have fresh, well-researched ideas, this could be a great time for you.

That was encouraging. Kind of. Except that crap about reduced rates. (Waaaah!)

But I had to get someone from VIBE to talk to me. Since this is the magazine actually taking a step to deal with the crunch right now. And lucky for me, (and all my dear readers), I did find a Vibe editor willing to speak anonymously on what the restructuring will mean for freelancers. Interesting stuff here:

What does the restructuring really mean for full-time staffers at the magazine like yourself? A four-day work week and a small pay cut doesn’t seem so bad.

The sweetest thing is that our readers will still have VIBE in their lives, and yes, those of us who remain on staff will still have a job with the same benefits. This is a strategic move for VIBE’s long term survival, and given the climate for media in general right now it’s a vote of confidence. Despite the shorter work week we still have to put together a great magazine and multimedia website.

What about us freelancers? Will I ever write for Vibe again?

The good news for freelancers is that VIBE is still here. Staffers have not been downsized but we have our hands full. Yes freelancers will get work, but they’ll have to hustle harder like everybody else. People who have specialized expertise (unique and compelling ideas, hard to get contacts, video skills…) will have an edge. People who live outside NY will get work when there’s a story in that town. As always the key is to think like an editor. Anticipate and fill the the media outlet’s needs. New freelancers should try to break in on vibe.com, which will be more of a focus for all of us. Necessity is the mother of invention, and I do believe VIBE’s best days may be in the future.

Okay. This just made me feel better. You’re saying freelancers need to hustle. I don’t mind hustling. You sound hopeful.

Like our president said, I believe in hope, but I also believe in action.

And there’s where we stand today. If you want to work, you can. If you want to make a living as a writer, it may be harder. But it can still be done. I’m still worried, quite honestly. But until we’re all selling apples in the street, I’ll still be here. Writing.

Dear readers, how is the recession affecting you? If you’re in media, I’d love to hear if you’re cutting budgets. If you’re a fellow freelancer, you know I want to hear how you’re faring. And if you’re in an industry far removed from media, I’d still like to know if you’re feeling the pinch. Are you cutting down on which magazines you buy? (Don’t do that! I need to eat! Ha.)

As always, I’d love to hear from you…

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62 Responses to “The Vibe Restructuring: Is this the beginning of the end of my freelance career?”

  1. NakedWithSocksOn.com Says:

    Sheesh, you’re a beast. You do mad research for your blog too. LOL. Interviews and transcribing (the worst think known to a writer)

    But yeah, it’s real in the field. As a recent returnee to the world of full-time freelancing, I have seen the closed doors, dreaded in-house word, but there’s money out there if you network, hustle and keep your name golden. And don’t think we can survive on magazine freelancing alone, if you can write you can write ANYTHING. That’s one of the pluses of what we do and why I’m not as stressed/worried about getting checks. Not saying it’s easy, but there are definite options if you get up off your ass and hunt.

  2. Alvin Says:

    It’s definitely real in the field. I’d say another key is making sure you nurture your current relationships with contacts/editors and make sure you are constantly picking up new ones. That’s something good freelancers do anyway since recession or not magazines are always closing or launching, editors are leaving or arriving, etc. Hustling hard(er) is definitely the mantra.
    Hey, it can only get better, right? I hope…

  3. slb Says:

    this was a great read. i’ve always wanted to be a full-time writer, but i recognized early on that i’m just not aggressive enough or disciplined enough for contract work alone.

    so what field did i get into? adjunct college teaching (aka: contract work alone). go figure.

    when i was young, i used to tell myself that college teaching jobs were gold because they meant a steady check, a few hours of work a couple times a week, and (what i now know are mythical) Summers Off to Write.

    but what i quickly learned is that new adjuncts aren’t typically assigned enough classes to *not* have to seek supplemental employment. which means working summers, working retail, picking up a freelance writing gig that’s *very* small-time, if you can find one. it means… being aggressive and deadline-driven/disciplined.

    these are qualities from which i can’t run away and expect to eat.

    also: there’s no medical coverage for new adjuncts. so you’re getting paid way less than full-time, non-tenure faculty, with no health benefits *and* you’re spending about five months a year unemployed. no money coming in at all.

    part of me wishes i’d followed your track and learned to freelance at a young age. another part of me feels like i should get a phd so i can get that long paper as a full-time faculty member.

    interestingly, the same conversation you’re having with your freelance friends is one that’s common to us adjuncts (i.e. are full-time faculty jobs decreasing? are colleges cutting corners by hiring more adjuncts?). it’s a crap shoot, really. on the one hand, some colleges are favoring less full-time staff, more adjuncts (we’re cheap labor). on the other hand, one of the schools where i adjunct just opened up *four* affiliate faculty positions in our department alone (presumably in an effort to decrease the number of flitting, capricious adjuncts on staff).

  4. Aliya S. King Says:

    @anslem and alvin: i should have interviewed both of you. i’d like to know the specifics of your hustle. ants: what are you writing that’s outside of the box of magazine freelancing. alvin:are you actively pitching more? is that working?

    @slb: You obviously have the tenacity and drive to freelance. Where is your heart? Not to get all Oprah on you. But ultimately, that’s how you decide. Would the Ph.D route make you happy? Would the long paper make you happy? What is the dream?

  5. Chris Wilder Says:

    I think Serena hit it on the head. However, you didn’t talk to any sports writers. Sports writing has not dried up. Maybe when he recession starts to actually hit the sports and the teams, the writing will be affected. But as of now, ESPN and ESPNU are still assigning like always. As is Sportsbybrooks.com… and Deadspin.com just hired a new editor.

  6. NakedWithSocksOn.com Says:

    Well, it’s only been three and a half weeks this far for me. But opportunities have come from doing bios on side, editorial consulting and I’ve had a lot of meetings based off my blog, ahem, http://www.NakedWithSocksOn.com. In essence what I’ve done in magazines has been limited to entertainment, but my outlet in the blog is opening up other lanes in other mediums and other beats that I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of. If you can write/edit you can even hook up a friend’s resume/cover letter for a little grocery money. Not that I have, but you gotta think outside the box.

    All you can do is pitch and pitch some more. As a freelancer you have no control over what gets accepted, but if you know something is good someone somewhere will jump at it—eventually.

    Oh, and even had a meeting about teaching leads, which is something I always wanted to do later in my career but if it happens now why not.

  7. lucky Says:

    really on point! I remember when I used to fly out of town for short 350-word stories in the Next section of Vibe. it was sweet! But now that’s totally unnecessary lol. As an editor at a national magazine, I can say the magazine industry is definitely feeling the burn. more in-house writing. less freelancers. lower rates. less luxuries/expenses. new media is the place to go but online work is also not guaranteed and they’re suffering too. I think gawker media had to cut staff recently. cliche as it is, the strong will survive and those who don’t feel like working harder will move on to other industries. but I read somewhere that there are still plenty of magazines launching everyday so it’s far from dead

    -clove

  8. slb Says:

    i’m kind of divided. the thing about academic and the lifelong formal study of literature is that i used to love that… when i was a student. now that i’m expected to teach something about which i’m not passionate (composition-writing, not lit, not creative writing), i’m indifferent and listless. i’m pretty sure that if i got a phd in lit, i’d be a great lit prof. but i doubt i’d make a good creative writing prof. (to sum up: do i want to *be* a prof? not as much as i want the comfort that accompanies that career. only three courses a term? annual lit conference tours and presentations? full med & dental? niiice salary? all that = win.)

    but i do love writing. and i’m far, far better at it than i (currently) am at teaching. but i worry that there wouldn’t be much financial comfort/stability in it. and in the long-term, i feel like that’ll trump that feeling of satisfaction about successfully fusing my creative and professional goals.

    i’m probably not making sense…. lol

  9. Alvin Says:

    @Aliya definitely been pitching more but it has been hit or miss. editors have also been very candid about the fact they have been forced to use freelancers way less with much of the writing now being done in house. entertainment/music writing is still my bread & butter but even before this “long fall” i was venturing into writing about fashion (Antenna Mag) and recently did a small story for Slam, moving on my desire to get into sports writing.
    Pitching has long been the bane of my existence (even worse than transcribing @ Anslem) but really that’s the only way to get work (thus my greedily reading your blog for insight. :)) The memories of sitting back and waiting for an editor to reach out get more faint daily.

  10. Southern_Lady Says:

    Okay. These two questions made me feel so much better!

    What is your advice to freelancers?

    Don’t be too proud. If you have to get a cut in your word rate, you should do so. And maybe you can explore a writer’s contract. Where you’re getting a lower word rate but you’re getting security.

    What about new folks, just starting out. Should they even bother?

    Yes! A new person with great ideas, you’re golden right now. This is your come up. This is your chance to make a name for yourself. If you are okay with the reduced rates because you are just starting out and you have fresh, well-researched ideas, this could be a great time for you.

    My thought is that what I don’t know won’t hurt me. So if I’m assigned a story with $200 pay, I don’t know how much I’m getting jipped. Yes, I’ve done my research on freelance pay, but that’s not my main mission at this time. My goal is to be published, so the money is secondary for me. These days, everyone has to grind.

    Thanks for the inside track, as always, Aliya!

  11. Del Says:

    Great post, Nytba! I always felt like I got into the freelance game at the worst possible time. But your talk with the editor from VIBE made me feel like this is a great opportunity for me to slip in under the radar with great pitches and a super cheap price tag. But I too am a victim of outlets reluctant to pay promptly because they have a cash crunch, like your home girl Serena talked about. Hate that. It scares me.

    Oh, and I’m all about the hustle. You know that! I’m helping a friend create a newsletter, and I’m working on the words for a couple of new websites. Hustle. Hustle. Hustle. And Hustle some more!

  12. The Vibe Restructuring: Is this the beginning of the end of my freelance career? - Hip Hop Utopia Says:

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  13. la negrita Says:

    Totally off topic, but did you do the Ciara and Bow story at the studio? If so, I remember seeing you! If not…nevermind.

    Be back later with more comments.

  14. ak Says:

    as a freelancer, it’s always feast or famine. if you’re a strong line editor, don’t forget to market that skill. i edit indie book projects and magazine supplements for lump sums along with writing and fact checking. it’s a struggle but, to borrow from kweli, a beautiful one.

  15. jay1 Says:

    Travel writing is a good side hustle.

    The travel magazines are feeling the same pinch as everyone else in terms of paying your per-word rate, but The Department of Tourism And Travel usually picks up the tab for your flight, hotel and dinner reservations.

    It’s a cool way to go out of town for free and going to a new town is a good way to come up with some new ideas.

  16. Aliya S. King Says:

    @lucky: top this. I once had a monthly column in which I had to fly to three separate cities, rent a car and stay in a hotel as long a I liked–every month. FOR A YEAR. Can you imagine?
    @slb: you make sense when I read between the lines. the tell-all line is: “but i do love writing. and i’m far, far better at it than i (currently) am at teaching. but i worry that there wouldn’t be much financial comfort/stability in it. and in the long-term”. You need to read this post. And I have nothing further to say on the subject.
    @alvin: I need to do a separate post on breaking out of your beat and writing about other stuff. this has been VERY hard for me.
    @southern lady and del: yup. you both are about to take all of my jobs. BOOOOOOO! Del, you already are! Literally!
    @la negrita: i was in LA with Ciara. In NYC with Bow-Wow. With them both at the photo shoot. I must write a behind the scenes post on that story one of these days. Jeesh.
    @AK: How do you market yourself as a line editor? Call folks up and tell ’em you’re available? I always feel weird about pitching myself as anything but a freelance writer. I can do tons of other things. But I feel weird saying, “hey, I can do XYZ too!”

  17. la negrita Says:

    Ok, so it WAS you! I helped on that shoot, (and I’m pictured in the story!) and I remember one of them talking to the person I assumed was writing the article. You were sitting on a couch when I spotted you. It was like, 9pm or something. That was such a fun day. I remember there being a free Roots concert that day that I was going to miss because we had the shoot, but it ended up being right across the street! Funny how life works out like that sometimes. :)

    Anywho, this is a great post. As a newbie I already expect to hustle hard, but in this climate you really have to kick it up five notches. That’s ok with me though. I like a good challenge!

  18. Aliya S. King Says:

    @la negrita: wow! that is crazy. yup. that was me on the couch, talking to Bow Wow. And then having to leave in mid-interview to go pick up my wedding dress because I was getting married the next day. And running BACK to the studio, trying not to ruin my dress and get the rest of my interview done? Yup. That was me.

  19. Hanif Says:

    So would it be feasible to have camcorder in tow, when doing a story that you could submit it two ways, for print and multimedia? Is that how it’s done now? It makes sense in this market that a person be versitile and flat out go hard to stand out. All it means is that when the smoke clears you’ll be in a good position. Now i’m an outsider looking to break in, does what i’m saying make any sense?

  20. Aliya S. King Says:

    @hanif: makes perfect sense. I think I will write a post on this. Because I am writing a story right now for a magazine. And I’m also producing some content with the same theme to run on the magazine’s website. and yes, we all need to videotaping our celebrity interviews I suppose. But I’m not down with this. For two reasons.
    1. It changes the dynamic of the interview. A celeb may forget that the tape is running. But a video camera is VERY intrusive.
    2. It makes me part of the story. And I’m not feeling that.
    I can see certain stories where it makes sense. But for me, at least right now, going multimedia means coming up with separate ways to reformat my content for the web…

  21. Hanif Says:

    That’s the great thing about multimedia you can remove your self and let the person tell the story, or have a sound track. You can also voice track it like a news package. It gets you so much emotion, and in the Youtube age video is critical.

    Another ?. Is is feasible to pre-produce stories and sell them to the highest bidder, sort of like how Mike does his photos. It may require to invest some up front expenses, but if you finess it right it can pay off. Right? Tell me the pitfalls of that idea.

  22. Aliya S. King Says:

    @hanif: it’s not so much about being a part of the story in the finished product. it’s being a part of the story AT ALL. I act different on camera. I’m self-conscious. I might be thinking about how my hair looks instead of getting my celeb to open up to me. Maybe other writers are different. But I don’t like video cameras in the way of my stories. Not yet anyway. I wouldn’t mind doing an interview about the story after the fact. But that’s all I’m comfortable with right now. Which is why the young ones are going to make me obsolete. Because editors WANT that. They don’t want the old fusty journos like me who don’t even want their photos on Facebook.
    re: pre-producing stories. Technically, I do that with pitches. I pre-produce them. Sometimes, I nearly complete them. Then I shop the stories. Not much up front expense in the stories I write. If you mean, pre-producing celeb stories, I don’t see that happening.

  23. Celia Says:

    Girll, you are THOROUGH with your blog! LOL… Glad this has sparked some conversation among all of us!

    @Alvin: I’m with you about diversifying. You can have a niche, absolutely, but the broader your portfolio, the more opportunities for work.

    In terms of what NWSO said, I agree that it’s important to establish a good reputation. But, at the same time, let’s keep it 100%: in a world as small as that of urban publishing, there are stories (good and bad) circulating about EVERYONE (yours truly included because my quick temper and general sassiness is legendary…lol).

    Now, it’s one thing if the story is that LMNOP writer faked his quotes or handed stories in a billion days late (I can totally understand why an editor would reconsider assigning to a writer after hearing some such horror story), but it’s another thing when editors choose not to give a solid, experienced, versatile writer an assignment because their ABC homeboy, girlfriend, neighbor or whomever just doesn’t LIKE the writer in question on a personal level. That’s juvenile, and it happens entirely too much in this game.

    It kills me that cats tend to assign merely to writers who are their friends and don’t give opportunities to other writers who wanna get a piece and who are just as talented and deserving. It should be about the writer’s body of work, about their ideas, about their drive. Just my two cents.

    And, as far as the recession goes, yes, we’re all getting hit but I just think that means you have to think out of the box. Go hard or go home, right?

  24. la negrita Says:

    Back again! My day job has seen the cuts too, but I think we’re doing ok all things considered. We’ve rearranged management and some people got cut to part-time, but like you said, these days it’s better than being jobless (unless you’re in a position to take severance. For some, it’s a blessing.).

    I still buy magazines, so there is one faithful reader who still supports the establishment! Even though I’m young I am REALLY fighting new media. I like my magazines in print and I get all my celeb gossip from my forum fam, so I personally don’t have a need for online mags. I refuse!!!! LOL but I am just fighting the inevitable. Poo on the ADD generation. :(

    Glossy? Forever! Online? Never!!!!

  25. Alvin Says:

    @Aliya as an absolute stickler for writers inserting themselves in stories (sometimes it works when done well, but most times not so much) I concur 100%. It’s apples and oranges when it comes to multimedia/video vs. editorial/narrative stories. on camera your subject can either clam up or in the case of hyper-ego’d rappers can get entirely out of pocket. and let’s not forget the interviewers/quasi-journalists who essentially cheerlead artists into making asinine statements for the sake of big hit/clicks…but that’s for another debate.

    @Celia i feel you a 100% on cracking the writer fraternity. i used to think it was, Man these handful of writers must be so great, but far too often it’s a case of editors being too overworked to diversify their pool of writers or to help mentor new ones with promise (sometimes) or a combo of laziness and nepotism (most times).

  26. richlouis Says:

    i used to be in the freelance writer position before i realized i wanted to do something else so I started fact-checking then proofreading. Then went off to grad school

    But photographers are feeling it as well cause of the shift that is happening in the industry.

  27. Serena Kim Says:

    Aliya you are becoming the Thomas Friedman of “urban” media.

  28. Aliya S. King Says:

    @negrita: I know this is totally unethical and unfair. But you’ve already won the Comment of The Week with that line: glossy forever! online never! Preach girl. Except…where are we right now? ONLINE. And I love blogging. So what does that mean? I’m not sure. But I DO like producing content online. And lord knows I get all my news here. I just don’t want to lose my glossies. I want the best of both worlds.

    @celia and alvin: When I was editing at The Source, I did call certain writers over and over for certain sections. But not because we were friends. It was because they were reliable, fast and gave me clean copy. Those folks are SO hard to find. And the daily grind at a magazine doesn’t leave a lot of room to read clips, pitches and try out new writers. If I try out someone new and they screw up, I am in big trouble. Not the new writer. I think editors will always gravitate to familiar names for cover stories and certain recurring sections.

    But that’s not the way to break into a magazine or become a recurring writer.

    It’s the grunt work: the news stories, the front of the book pieces that pay little, the heavily researched pieces, THOSE stories are not being saved for anyone’s friends. And those pieces are the pieces that help you become a go-to writer for the other stuff.

  29. Michael Says:

    I do an entertainment blog for a cable network, and when the topic of contract renewal came up, I was petrified about being told, “Yeah, we’re broke. It was real, though.”

    Eh, while I am fortunate enough to have my contract renewed, it’s for less money and work. I am grateful, but the pole is looking all too appealing right now.

    As for other writing, I’ve been hearing the words ‘budget cuts’ for over a year now. You just have to keep trying.

    Turns out, I may *possibly* have another blog lined up somewhere else. It may be a good luck for me, pending sight of contract. These days I don’t believe the hype until UPS drops off the signed documents. In any event, the editor just told me today that the reason she thought of me was because in addition to my ability to write, I was a go getter and very aggressive without being annoying.

    God willing, things will work themselves out. If not, I can always use prose to write up a clever little Craigslist ad. I wonder how much self-respect goes for these days…

  30. Aliya S. King Says:

    @Michael: shoot. How do you make sure you don’t cross the line? How can you be a go-getter without being annoying? I think I might veer into annoying territory sometimes…ugh.

  31. K Dubb Says:

    Man, this was very informative Aliya… I’m learning so much! Well, this recession has pretty much made me more aware of how precious my coins are… No more 5,6,7 magazine subscriptions (sorry!), although I still have to get the essential ones.. Billboard and Pink. As an employee of a major newspaper, it’s been quite interesting lately as execs have done about 3 rounds of buyouts and some “restructuring” layoffs, so our business is definitely changing… Our current consolidation of online and print divisions will help to keep the wheels a’spinnin’, so I’m just hoping for the best. MAN, do I miss the old glory days of newsprint though… On another note, Vibe Prodigy, a parenting title? Hmmm, as a mom of two sons, I’d love to see that edition.

  32. la negrita Says:

    Yay!! Comment of the week! *does the George Jefferson in celebration*

    I agree with you. I enjoy blogs as well, and I get most of my news online. Because of the immediacy if the Internet, I feel really bad for newspapers. Magazines can cater to a niche and have a little more leeway as far as time is concerned. Newspapers just can’t compete with the Internet’s “live” factor. But we still want them for nostalgia’s sake. Although the Obama coverage is annoying at this point, it revived newspapers for a hot one because we wanted hard copies as keepsakes. I would love to be a fly on the wall in the newsroom of a daily just to hear how they plan to move forward in the digital age.

    For the most part, we’re still trying to figure out how to use new media. Everyone wants to get in on it and have their voices heard. Over time, folks will be weeded out and the cream will rise to the top. I do think Internet regulation will come sooner than later, and that will take new media to a whoooole ‘nother level!

  33. TLAWrites Says:

    I’ve been freelancing for a few years now and its actually been getting better for me. Writing for the main newspaper here (and even some of the free ones who pay) has been a great way for me to network with editors and get my work seen in more than one place. I supplement that with web work and artist bios. There are always places and people looking for a fresh voice. And knowing someone who knows someone helps too.

    I need to step up my pitch game across the board more than I ever have before. Only the hungry are going to eat right now. In the mean time I’ve also stepped up my work on a short story book I’m going to shop too. Hopefully, things will turn around before long.

  34. Michael Says:

    Well, I’m overanalytical so I try to pace myself, because I always worry that I’m already appearing too eager when I hit them up. I try to wait at least a week to follow up — maybe even ten days depending on who it is. It’s all trial and error, but I’ve noticed over the past few months folks appreciate if you wait a couple of weeks for them to get back to you (that is, if this is first contact). I’m impatient as hell, so that’s hard for me, but with my situation, I have no choice but to wait. Sometimes it’s taken people a month or even longer to get back to me. :| In the end, most of the time waiting paid off.

    I’m not sure if this helps at all, but I try to wait until the very last second when I begin to worry whoever I’m contacting might have forgotten I was alive. LOL.

    I can’t afford to come across as annoying. I’m already a couple of lost assignments away from doing the stanky legg in the street for spare change.

  35. Aliya S. King Says:

    @KDubb: I know, I like the sound of Vibe Prodigy!
    @La Negrita: Internet Regulation? Whatchutalkin’ bout Negrita?
    @TLA Writes: Yup. Gotta hustle like its 1976.

    @ Michael: Did you just say you were close to doing the STANKY LEGG in the street for spare change?!?! You had me sitting on my living room sofa with TEARS streaming down my face. The stanky legg?!?! What IS that? Is that what Gator did to Mrs. Purify in Jungle Fever?

  36. TLAWrites Says:

    “And knowing someone who knows someone helps too.” I meant to add (not that I know anyone who knows anyone!).

  37. Michael Says:

    LOL. Aliya, this is the stanky legg: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mf2KL0sV98.

    I have a soft spot for ign’t dances.

  38. Timothy Says:

    Wow, there are a lot of writers on here, i wish I could write. But I do feel everyone’s pain. I’m in construction and I’m really suffering here as the economy swirls and swirls downward.

    If I can share my 2 cents, it’s important to understand the upside to an economy like this. Opportunity. The greatest change of wealth will occur over the next few years. Rich to poor, Poor to rich, with middle class dissapearing and going in both directions.

    If your being shorted on your skills, take the time to create an opportunity or take someone elses; your own book; magazine; new media; etc.

    The money is still out there, and people will spend it, if you really have something that they want to consume ie. some 70 dollars shoes that a special child had to have.

    Dont feel bad Aliya, I spent 50 bucks on a Spider-Man action figure that regularly goes for 90 bucks. Don’t ask. But to me it was worth it…it was on sale!

  39. Chris Wilder Says:

    Nate Robinson did the Stanky Legg after one of his dunks in the dunk contest last weekend.

    Right about the :30 sec. mark

  40. Aliya S. King Says:

    @michael and wilder: I think I’m a fan of the stanky leg.
    @timothy: um, did we buy this fifty dollar action figure for a special young loved one? Or did we buy this fifty dollar action figure for ourselves?

  41. la negrita Says:

    Oh, don’t mind me Aliya…I’m just a wee bit paranoid! I think the Internet is too “free-for-all” right now and that pretty soon, there will be some rules and regs introduced to rein some things in. Radio is SUPPOSED to be public domain, but who owns the airwaves? Deregulation. I don’t know much about legal stuff, but just thinking as a layperson…there is a lot of money to be made on these internets, and when money gets involved, the powers that be will have their hands in it.

  42. Timothy Says:

    hahaha…for my son…i guess i neglected to say that…but i admit, it is pretty cool….over 30 points of articulation!

  43. Aliya S. King Says:

    @lanegrita; no, I’m with you! I’m just waiting for them to say that sending an email will be five cents!
    @timothy: 30 points of articulation just made me laugh almost as hard as the stanky leg dance. you are a writer. you just don’t know it.

  44. Michael Says:

    Yay @ for you liking it. I recently blogged about the “Ricky Bobby” and “The Halle Berry.” My niece informed me of the former, and oddly enough, my mom called me to ask what in the world was the Halle Berry about a month ago.

    The dances are getting dumber by the day, yet here I am, ready to get up and practice the “Ricky Bobby” after I finish this piece. Shame, shame.

  45. Aliya S. King Says:

    @Michael: can you please write a guest blog post for me on these dances? Please? The Halle Berry? What the?

  46. Aliya S. King Says:

    @michael: dagnabit. I just saw you posted it on your own blog. How could you! I’m stealing it. The whole thing!

  47. Joyce E. Davis Says:

    Superfantastic post Aliya. after more than a decade on staffs at mags and 2 1/2 years of full time freelancing, I got a college gig right before the beginning of the recession in Nov 07 but was still freelancing heavily…and of course I’ve gotten a contract cut, but still have a regular freelance gig and some articles here and there…but its dry as a bone out there…I’ve never been a good freelance hustler/pitcher….kinda relied on my connections for assignments….I love what I’m doing at my college FT (its melding all my passions and experience), and I guess the capricorn and single mom in me likes the security of a regular check and damned good benefits…I got a couple of books out there and one in the hopper, but like you said, it sho ain’t dependable duckets…and freelancing helps me keep my skills sharp. I am missing that, but I just am not excited about throwin some bows with other experienced and newbie journalists to get the few freelance gigs that are out there…don’t get me wrong…I miss the extra money too, but I try not to build my necessities around freelance money…so I don’t know where my journalistic creative outlet will find itself, especially if I wanna get paid some respectable dollars…I’m not motivated for the hustle…but I guess with my institution going through NY Times covered budget cuts and layoffs, I betta find some motivation, huh?

  48. missoldschool Says:

    I will stay anonymous for reasons that will become evident. I am a writer who has been doing this for a long time. I have been both full-time freelancer, full-time staff, full-time freelancer with a regular check from one company and have worked at a magazine, a website and a newspaper.

    Things have been changing. I remember flying to Atlanta for two hours once to interview one person in a group. That would never happen these days. I have gone from spending up to a week hanging out to write a magazine feature story to doing cover stories by telephone. Thank God that I got on the web relatively early.

    I have always gone between full-time jobs and freelancing. I am seeking full-time work, but would love to remain freelance if the money was truly there. I am actually surprised that Vibe did not fold, as I believe the future of music magazines is online, simply because the medium is so much better for that particular genre of entertainment. By the time I get my Vibe, I’ve already seen the video, heard the single, read the story online and they are often behind due to magazine
    deadlines.

    Take for example the Chrihanna debacle, which has already dissected by the blogs. I’m sure Vibe will do a story, but they, like other genre magazines, are regularly scooped because of magazine deadline realities. Also, truth be told, I no longer think Vibe has much journalistic integrity and the stories are no longer the much-reads they have been in the past.

    Yes, there are a few things still good about it and I certainly support the young journalists that are still there, but I think it’s the struggle that all music mags have. The medium is no longer relevant in that genre.

    Shelter and fashion I think will always be magazines, because that experience is just not the same on the web. Travel magazines may prevail as well, because travel content is still not that great online, and sometimes folks like to hold on to ideas and stories about places they’d like to go. Same with shelter – despite Domino’s recent demise – I think it’s because their design sensibility only spoke to 250 interior design lovers who live in NYC. Also there will always be ads for shoes, furniture, and travel. Another thing that will probably remain alive and even grow in the recession – food. I would hazard a bet that Rachel Ray’s magazine does well….

    I concur with the poster that says travel is a great hustle, if you can figure out a way to make it pay. There are some high-end folks that are doing so, and the perks are commensurate with what you used to get in music. But there are a lot of folks in that field, and writers of color are few and far between, though they are out there.

    And it’s not without issues…airline magazines, the ones you get on the plane went from something like $2 a word to .45 cents per word.

    Ebony is restructuring as well and I think they are still viable, especially in the age of Obama. They have to find a viable content formula that brings in advertising and I think they would do well by adopting a four-day work week and cutting to 10 issues annually. I would shut Jet down and focus any money saved there on relaunching a decent website. I think that makes sense for any mag that does not have to be super-timely.

    The web will keep growing while newspapers and magazines keep shrinking. The newspaper industry, like the music industry, was slow to embrace technological advances and they haven’t figured out a “ringtone” or Itunes profit center, though maybe the Kindle or something like it is the future there. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to charge a subscription or per-use fee to read online content, as they are absolutely giving it away now and ad dollars are not enough.

    In the meantime, people seem to be doing very well with niche blogs, including the ever-popular black gossip sites. I’d say, get on board online with something fresh and hustle it. I think we are in the age of the entrepreneur. But some folks will find opportunity and win because when one sector is down, another one is always up.

    Just my .025

  49. kendra Says:

    having spent the past 10 days trying to figure out ways to slasher-film my publication’s budget so my miniscule staff doesn’t make like the weather and go below zero, it’s good to take a break to read about other people in the same boat. guess misery really does love company. i don’t have anything positive to add (other than yes, we’re reducing writer fees, but hang with us; we’ll make it up to you when things get better…). just feels good to lament with like-minded folks.

  50. Denene@MyBrownBaby Says:

    What a beautifully-written, thoughtful, post–and informative comments. It’s 1 a.m. and I’m writing… always writing… which is a good thing because I’m a writer. But it’s hard out here–no matter how connected/talented/resourceful/ready-will-and-able you are. I’ve been feeling it for at least a year; I just thank God that I got out of the regular job and figured out how to make it without the steady paycheck four years ago, and not in the middle of this madness, like way too many of my writer friends who are being unceremoniously booted from what used to be stable gigs. They’re the ones I fear for, because they are technologically inept, don’t understand the ways of the internet, have no idea how to do the freelance hustle, and generally aren’t the entrepreneurial types. These days, writers have to know how to do so many other things besides write. I’m still learning. But the key is that I’m willing to learn.

    What ticks me off most, though, is that virtually everyone in the comments here writes for primarily urban (read:black) magazines. No matter how talented you are, it’s virtually IMPOSSIBLE to get coin from mainstream mags. What up with THAT?! I feel like our options are EXTREMELY limited, not because we’re not willing to expand ourselves as writers, but because those magazines don’t see us. So we black journalist end up fighting over a very small slice of pie. The options are way too few for us.

    Great blog, Aliya–I really enjoyed this perspective and the responses of your followers.

  51. la negrita Says:

    missoldschool, your post is very insightful. I would LOVE to do travel writing. I’d always heard it was very difficult to break into. Hmmm…*jotting down ideas* It would be absolutely lovely to have someone ELSE pick up the tab for my international travel. miss, you just gave me some inspiration for that area. Thanks!

  52. la negrita Says:

    @Denene, you bring up a great point about urban magazines. I have a question for the veteran writers. Have you tried to branch out to mainstream mags and been met with lukewarm responses? I would think being writer for urban magazines is a great advantage (especially in this “Obama” era), because who better to write about a culture than someone who lives and breathes it? Never even crossed my mind that there may be a barrier. I’m interested in hearing you guys’ thoughts.

  53. Denene@MyBrownBaby Says:

    @la negrita: Lukewarm responses? How about NO responses. I’m luckier than most; my journalism career spans almost two decades, and save for a three-year stint as the features editor at Honey, I’ve worked in mainstream media for most of my time as a writer. My last in-office gig, at Parenting, opened doors for me, and for that relationship, I’m grateful. But even with three contributing editor titles, 15 books (including a Number 1 New York Times Best Seller), and a pretty good track record of being a thorough, seasoned, easy-to-work with journalist, I don’t even get so much as a reply email acknowledging receipt of my pitches from many mainstream magazines, much less an assignment. I haven’t be shut totally out; I’ve written for a few of them. But the assigning editor was usually a sister who knew my work from having worked with me at a black magazine. It’s always about who you know–simple as that. And if you don’t know the white editors at the magazines, you’re not getting assignments–no matter how esteemed you are. Now, I don’t know if this is the way it works for white journalists with 15 books, an NYT best seller, a national column, and contributing editor positions at three magazines. I can only tell you that for this African American journalist, it doesn’t seem to count for much.

  54. Aliya S. King Says:

    @denene; first of all, thanks for weighing in. I’ve never really tried to break into mainstream magazines. I’ve written for a few mainstream pubs. But only because I happened upon the assignments.

    I know it’s real though. Because the first time I saw Denene’s byline in Parenting, my heart skipped a beat. (Seriously). I flipped the magazine over to make sure I hadn’t read the title wrong. Was this magazine really called Black Parenting?

    Nope. Blond-haired blue eyed cherub on the cover.

    Now keep in mind, I didn’t even know Denene. I just knew her byline and her books. And I knew she was Black. And that she’d come up in our sphere. So to see her name there was jarring and very exciting.

    How sad is that?

    Denene, I’m gonna have to beg you to guest-blog on pitching mainstream publications. Cause I have way too many questions. Were you pitching stories outside of what you normally cover? Did you follow up with phone calls? Snail mail letters? Did you start off by asking to meet with editors first? Or were your pitches “cold”?

    There is absolutely NO excuse for someone to not respond to you. None. I just need more details. I really don’t want to believe that people can be that insane.

    I want to believe that if I *really* wanted to write a piece for Vanity Fair, I could. Couldn’t I?!

  55. Denene@MyBrownBaby Says:

    @Aliya: Some of the pitches were cold, yes. But they were always “walked in” with a nod from other editors who know me. So if I wanted to write about relationships, but the editor I kinda know from around our circles edits finances, I’d ask the finance editor to e-intro me to the relationships editor so that I could formally pitch. On many occasions, this meant nothing.

    I follow up with one phone call and one email. Don’t want to be a pest about it (as a former editor, I HATED when people harassed me. If I heard from you twice, chances are I looked at your proposal and I’m either considering it or deaded it. Call me a third time, and I’m tossing it in the trash. But I’d like to think that I was nice enough to send a return email saying, “Hey, I got your stuff.”).

    I don’t bother anymore. The most insightful, dead-on thing I read in this post/comments, Aliya, is that we’ve now entered a time where, as journalists, we have to be willing to be entrepreneurs. If you’re waiting for someone to read your pitch/hand you a story/cut you a good check for your words, you’re going to starve. Multitasking and finding new ways to communicate with the masses is where it’s at, kids.

    You may be able to write for Vanity Fair one day–I’ll never say never. But it wouldn’t be easy, I’ll tell you that much.

  56. D Says:

    Reading these comments as well as the great, insightful post are both eye-opening and scary. As someone who recently (very) got laid off by a top-tier mainstream magazine, I’m both excited for the possibilities but a bit lost. I always said that I wanted to do more freelancing and I feel like this is my opportunity, so it’s good to read something that is realistic about what my chances of being published are.

    I interned at Parenting not too long ago and remember seeing Denene’s column and hearing great things about her, so it’s good to get your insight. As a lover of magazines, words and everything in between, I know now that it’s going to be that much harder to not only pitch ideas to mainstream as well as urban magazines, but to look for another job. Thanks again Aliya, I love your blog and it’s really a go-to blog for new writers.

  57. Saptosa Marginee Says:

    Very inspiring blog, Aliya. Though I jumped the freelance writing ship about four years ago (after 7 happy, eventful years), I still go through the same uncertainties and financial fluctuations as full-time co-owner of a small communications (marketing/advertising/PR) boutique. Competition is stiff, budgets are small, and nepotism/”boys’ club favoritism” is rampant. We’ve had to be really creative with our hustling, tight with our spending, and invade industries that rarely, if ever, see two young black chicks in shelltoes. Which is why we’re still around and some of our competitors aren’t.

    I’d say don’t be intimidated by mainstream magazines…go for Vanity Fair, O, Esquire… whatever. You’re more than qualified to write for those mags. It may take a while but you’ll make relationships which is what freelancing/entrepreneurship is all about anyway.

  58. Wifey Says:

    Wow. What a great post and informative comments. I’m a former music exec and remember the plush days of writers flying around to interview artists. Money never seemed to be an issue for pubs or labels. Not now.

    I’ve been part-time freelance writing and am looking forward to adding a few more outlets in the mix. This information is really helpful. Being a former publicist I guess I never really looked at the top tier mainstream mags anyway … knowing how “special” some people can be; but I’m trying to keep a positive attitude about being creative and finding some outlets to write for – print or web.

    When I first started writing I did some entertainment pieces but stayed away from that and I’m glad. I haven’t gotten to high end per word fees yet so lower fees won’t rock me the way they will someone like yourself. But I always strive to produce great work in a timely fashion and would like to be paid accordingly.

    Thanks for penning such a great piece! Smiles.

  59. Janee TMB Says:

    Aliya, I have to echo Celia and Anslem on how thorough (and timely) this post is. Haven’t had the honor of meeting you, but am very familiar with your work. I appreciate this one soooo much since it hits close to home as a freelancer trying to stay in the black. Even as we are all struggling with the times, the fellowship with other writers has helped keep me going.

    Thank You! – Janee’ TMB

  60. 6 Things I Learned This Week « Aliya S. King Says:

    […] named Michael has a blog that makes me laugh out loud. In the comments section on my post on the restructuring of VIBE, he mentioned that he was two assignments away from “doing the Stanky Leg dance in the […]

  61. Mocha Dad Says:

    I worked as a freelancer for a few years after college. It’s been about eight years since I’ve submitted work to magazines. I had no idea that things had gotten so bad.

  62. Machine Gun Funk | More Reasons Why Being Deaf Sucks/Rocks - Blender R.I.P. Says:

    […] when I heard about the dire situation that Vibe magazine was in earlier this year, it was troubling, even though I don’t read Vibe. It was just a bad sign for the industry as […]

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