Here’s my problem: I’d like to hit my financial target doing mostly journalism, working just 9- or 10- hour days.
But I’m working way too many hours for too little money. I’m too busy. I work all day and often into the evening and on weekends. I am efficient but sometimes so conscientious and thorough that it’s costing me money. I have even missed vacations to meet deadlines.
Example: I do work for a low-paying trade magazine. The editor is smart, nice, and makes my stories better. The assignments are challenging and intellectually rewarding. I approach every story like it’s the most important story I’ve done. (I figure a clip is a clip, right?) But I spend way, way too many hours at it.
I supplement my journalism with PR consulting and grant writing. When people approach me for PR work, I quote an outrageously high fee and they still hire me.
I’ve read that journalists who specialize in one thing do better financially, but I have so many interests, it’s hard to focus on one thing. Is that the root of my problem?
A: Pardon my opining and pontificating from afar.
(As if I know everything. As if.)
I hear a few different things wriggling around in this.
If you’d prefer to make your living doing pure journalism, there are a couple options.
One, you could stay with the low-paying pubs, just as you’re doing now. You like the work, you like the editors. It’s not threatening or scary. It’s easy to get enamored with such work. They like you. They compliment you. You feel good. You get to be ‘busy’, in demand. You like to re-read your clips.
But to make a living there, you have to be fast, efficient, productive. You can’t spend $500 worth of time on a $200 story. You need to take them in, turn them out, move on. Having a beat, a specialty, would help smooth out the learning curve, but you still have to type fast, be a machine.
(I’m guessing that is anathema to you.)
Another option: move up the food chain. You say you have good clips? Then parlay those clips into higher-paying, high-profile pubs. (Which, I’m thinking, is what good clips are for, after all.)
Move up from a local daily to a regional daily. From a dusty trade pub to Forbes or Wired. Here, they pay enough to be meticulous and thorough. (Maybe, I’m guessing here.)
But then, you have to think. What if you landed a piece for the Atlantic Monthly or Harpers? Or maybe a feature for the New York Times Magazine? (What is a high-paying, plum publication?)
Would you be working fewer hours per week, or even more? How hard would you over-do it for the Atlantic?
Or still another option. Stick with the pubs you’re comfortable with now, even though they don’t pay.
But subsidize it with the PR work. You don’t seem to like PR. But it apparently pays. So why not use it to add some meat to the bone, while you do the lower-paying journalism? You can do the stuff you like (which doesn’t pay) while trading a little time for stuff you don’t like (which does pay.)
It’s not unheard of. Cable networks and movie studios and publications do this sort of thing all the time. The ‘popular stuff’ pays for the good stuff.
Or maybe this. Why not approach the PR work with the same intensity, the same standards you apply to your journalism? Why not carve our your own brand of PR? One that’s more interesting to you?