I’ve been connecting with a lot of newly-redundant journalists over the past few weeks. Most have been abruptly swept into freelancing through no fault of their own. Their first move is often to start pitching half-baked stories and accept any old gig, no matter how low paid. It’s an understandable response, but a terrible strategy.
Let’s be honest: few people make a living by writing the occasional longform feature for literary magazines like Joan Didion and co did in the heyday of the 1970s. Anyone who does probably doesn’t do it by writing listicles for fifty bucks a pop either.
My advice to frustrated former staffers is to take a step back and think carefully about what made you decide to write in the first place. Why are stories important? What does your work give you, on a human level? Next, I tell them to consider how their skills, knowledge and energy can be best applied in this new phase — and how they’ll use those things to create corners of the internet to thrive in.
People who’ve been on traditional career paths tend to think in very limited terms about their options, so this reflection time is essential. You have to identify what makes you unique, what you can do with it, and how you’ll create a “company of one” that’s meaningful to you and adds something valuable to the global conversation.
Journalists were once beholden to the whims of advertisers, but more of them will be accountable directly to the public in the 2020s. The talent that was locked away in newsrooms can now flourish in virtual environments. I’m looking forward to seeing what this fresh cohort of knowledge workers does with the opportunity.