A two part post on The Open Notebook about the value of science journalism.
Definitely check out the posts in entirety. Here is a preview:
The money in this job sucks. Let’s get that out up front.
Even from my first days of grad school I knew that a majority of my college classmates working in the corporate and finance worlds were making scads more money than I was—and probably ever would. But, as I smugly told myself, I love my job.
And I still do most days.
After 11 years of freelancing, I’ve added a mortgage and two kids to the mix. As science journalism tosses about in the current (everlasting?) economic maelstrom that is publishing, it gets harder and harder to sustain myself financially. And I’m not the only one.
The combination of the collapse of print advertising, declining magazine subscriptions, the enormous availability of free content online, and the rise of the gig economy, has led to pay rates that have stagnated for the last 30 years, says Robin Marantz Henig, freelance writer and president of the National Association of Science Writers (NASW). This malaise has writers of all kinds talking and writing about their job security fears and inability to make a living wage in journalism.
The current economic state of science journalism is making it increasingly untenable to do serious and thoughtful work. Low and even declining pay rates are also pushing many of us to become what we’ve always feared—the harried reporter who turns in subpar copy that rests on thin reporting and shaky fact-checking because we literally can’t afford to spend one more minute on it. It’s also keeping the gates closed to more diverse perspectives from those who are less privileged—those would-be writers who must choose a career track with a real paycheck over a writing internship or a newsroom job.
“There is the disappearance of the idea that you can live the life of the mind and actually make a living at that,” says Henig. “None of us got into this profession for the money, but we did expect to make a living wage.”
It’s good that writers are talking about the problem with each other, in the halls at conferences, on online private forums, and on blogs. While much of that may be intended as venting, sharing knowledge also increases our collective power. We need to continue to shine a light on this issue. Barring a miraculous influx of cash to the system, this is the reality that freelance science writers and editors must work within. The challenge for all of us will be finding ways to continue to produce quality work under these financial constraints.