What Some Writers Made and Make
If I weren’t working on Food52, I would not be a full-time writer because, even as an experienced journalist and best-selling author, I would not be able to pay my bills. Just 10 years ago, food writers with staff jobs were able to earn $80,000 to $150,000 a year, and freelancers were regularly paid $2 a word; today, these jobs barely exist. Advertising revenues, already on a steady decline, plummeted online. Online, $35,000 to $60,000 a year and $.25 to $.75 a word is more like it. New publications simply can’t pay very well, if at all. Just ask our writers.
And the real problem with these figures is that they’re static—you don’t start at $40,000 and work your way up to $80,000. You either happily stay at $40,000, or leave and let the next young, bright writer take your spot. This $40,000 also comes with many fewer perks—no expense accounts and little travel budget. In 1998, the New York Times sent me to France for two weeks to find some stories. Today, this would be unimaginable.
—Food52’s Amanda Hessler writes about how her advice to bright young things has changed in the past year, what with the Death of Old Journalism. She is transparent about salaries (which I love and think is super important), makes some excellent points, and gives some super advice.
Elsewhere, Billfold BFF Nancy Rommelman co-signs Hessler’s take, shares some salary history of her own, and details how the new is wystem working for her:
In 2003, I made $58,000 as a freelancer and was sent, on various publications’ dimes, to the Bahamas, San Francisco and North Carolina on stories, stories that paid between $1 and $2 a word, and ran between 3,500 and 8,000 words. Every editor of the above stories has lost his or her job in the past three years. In January of 2009, five of my editors —at Bon Appetit, the LA Weekly and Wired—lost their jobs in the same month.
Lest you think I am walking point for the doom patrol, I am not. I have had spectacular things happen because old journalism is dying. I am part of Dymaxicon, a new and nimble publishing house. Because of the speed with which work travels, I was able to post The Queens of Montague Street on New Year’s Day, at home, while the rest of my household nursed hangovers, and the following day, have my publisher slap together a cover and have it for sale on Amazon by the evening of January 2nd. From there, and with the help of some tweeting from Sam Sifton at the New York Times, about 10,000 read it, Longreads named it their #1 read of the week, and the NY Times Magazine asked me to excerpt it as a Lives column. This would not have happened back in the 90s. As Hesser writes, “This new era is actually better. Everyone who can write well is now welcome to.”