California Freelancers Find Work, Decent Pay Harder To Come By

Getting Paid in Peanuts - little pay - small paycheck

While the layoff news at newspapers and magazines seems to have slowed this year — PaperCut’s tally for 2010 shows 1,823 job losses, while there were roughly 14,783 in all of ’09 — things haven’t gotten much better for freelancers. It’s hard to say whether California is a microcosm of the media freelance world, but a sampling of 116 independent writers and journalists surveyed by GuildFreelancers, a unit of California Media Workers, found 60 percent saying that jobs pay less than they used to, the California Progress Report states. Also, nearly half say that freelance work is getting harder to find.

The survey, though unscientific, probably isn’t too far off the mark, given that newspaper publishers have maintained profitability through severe cost-cutting. One of the first areas to cut is the freelance budget — and unlike mass layoffs, these cuts tend to be meted out individually or in small numbers, and therefore, it doesn’t get reported much.

Some other stats from the report:

— Three-quarters of the people who took the survey say they rely on freelancing for their livelihood.
— 60 percent are okay with working for no pay, in certain circumstances, such as for a nonprofit, or as a way to explore an area of business that they’re unfamiliar with.
— 15 percent say quality work is still rewarded with decent pay and a smaller group are finding that there are more places to pitch their work. However, some complain of “content farms” and the much lower pay.

One particularly despondent respondent summed up his situation, “A dollar a word was the gold standard for three decades (no cost-of-living raises, of course). Then online publishing came into the mix and the bottom dropped out. I

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