AM: In a broader sense, in general, print audiences are declining and the print publications are where the majority of the money is. It’s where the highest paid writers are employed. Freelancers get paid the best when they are writing for a national magazine generally. I think in the next year there will be a bit of a correction where publications will start to pay their writers better and perhaps… it’s pretty evident that free publications will scale back their staff and their budgets for commissioned work will still decrease. I think the web will probably make up some of that slack. I think there will be more of a balance with budgets of print and web in the next few years. At the moment I prefer to write for print because I do get paid a lot more. I love writing for the web though too because the immediacy and the community that builds around each article or website. I know that at the end of the day I want to get paid and I get paid best when I write for print. Maybe one day there will be a correction and web will pay more than print but I can’t see that at the moment.
As you know I’ve been writing consistently for street press for 14 years and in that time their pay rate hasn’t gone up at all.
AM: Well, street press is a different kettle of fish because as we both know their margins are less than of other print publications like a national magazine. Their basic income is lower which explains to a certain extent why they pay their writers less. I don’t see that changing.
I’ve been told that it basically won’t really change and that we’re fortunate enough to get paid because there are some street press in Australia that don’t pay at all. You get told that if you don’t want to do it for that rate, there are people coming fresh out of university that are keen to do it and passionate about it who will do it for free. And it’s like well, I have oodles of enthusiasm for what I do, I take it very seriously, I have passion – otherwise I wouldn’t still be in music writing – and I have the experience on top of that… that doesn’t seem to matter though.
AM: Yeah it’s a shame that that accrued knowledge isn’t reflected in what you’re paid because as far as I can tell the only ones that are paid well are the ones with salary positions and staff writers – anyone that is out of that system they are subject to pay rates that are way below industry standard. I know that it’s music journalism which is generally below the rest of the print media industry but it is journalism none the less – it’s researching and interviewing people, the work is being done it’s just the pay rates aren’t reflecting the effort that goes into it.
As far as your freelance career goes where do you see yourself headed?
AM: Feature journalism, multiple thousands of words stories that look at complex issues and communities and people and condensing that into compelling narratives. I always use The Courier-Mail’s Q Weekend Magazine as my favourite example. I’ve read that religiously for years. It’s the best journalism in QLD. I love it! Each writer has their own voice and it’s just brilliant work week in and week out. I’m inspired by the words I read there. For years I’ve seen that as the path that I want to go down. As you probably would have gathered that has nothing to do with music journalism and to some extent I’m doing less and less music journalism because I’m focusing my attention on those kinds of stories which is where I see my talents being put to use best.
So as you see it, it is important to have a plan, to plot a career? I find a lot of freelance journalists – me included for a while there – don’t have plans.
AM: I can tell you from my experience, before I had Nick there to keep me accountable it was just me getting up each day sitting in front of my computer reading some news and thinking about story ideas—there was no system. No method to what I was doing. I’d pitch stories, sometimes forget what I pitched, forgetting editorial contacts I’d made because I didn’t have any tracking system that I could reflect on; what I’ve done and what I hadn’t followed up on. Few editors in my experience get back to you on the first email or the first phone call. Following up is the fucking lifeblood of freelance journalism I think because as a freelancer you’re outside the salary system and in most cases outside of the office so people can’t see you. If editors can’t see you they can easily forget about you.
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