Having cleared my desk before Christmas – all commissioned pieces filed – I find myself inhabiting the un-festive season of oh-bloody-hell-now-what? A few loose ideas dangle in the uncertain future but that’s about it. Although I know I’m doing it, writing instead of writing and pitching inevitably leads to this abyss. Like Wile E Coyote, the road ran out a while ago, I’ve just noticed and I’m now in free fall.
But it’s not just that…
After quitting PR in 2006/07 I’ve explored various aspects of travel writing; regular round-up columns, hotel reviews and destination features, along with current affairs crossover pieces for print, web and radio. Many of these I’ve enjoyed researching, writing or broadcasting, even some of the deskbound round-ups.
However, there’s been a developing theme, and it’s nothing new. Rates for travel writing now barely cover getting to the airport. For the record, some pieces bring in £150, others a little more. A half page feature in one broadsheet national nets a princely £350. Factor in expenses (few papers cover these), and the industry’s system of payment ‘on’ publication (‘on’ could be months afterwards) rather than on filing and… Well, you can see where I am.
Helping to focus my disillusion was a conversation I had with a blogger while on a recent press trip. They were describing Orlando. I responded along the lines of, ‘Each to their own, but you’d have to pay me.’ Whereupon it transpired some organ of Florida’s tourism marketing machine had not only sponsored the trip but also paid a daily rate for the blogger’s time. On top of this Orlando wasn’t even somewhere the blogger really rated – it was simply ‘transactional.’ Whoop de ‘effing doo!
For most, freelance travel writing is now unsustainable as a primary income. One former section editor recently described travel editorial as ‘a hobby’, another editor described writers’ pay as ‘low’ – accurate at least. Sorrow is knowledge. It’s clear that newspapers and magazines are either unable, unwilling or uninterested in paying better rates. In which case why not allow a tourist board or a sponsor pay a journalist directly? The same editorial rigour would be maintained – not something that applies to most blogs – and the writer’s fee might actually add up to more than the cost of a Happy Meal.
I know this upends a principle and will go against the grain for some. However, in absolute terms it’s little different to what we have now with sponsored press trips, goody bags, complimentary gear etc… The fact is that few of these enticements, beyond the basic facilitation, appeal to freelancers who’d much rather write a balanced, straight story and be able to pay their bills at the end of the month.
For me at least, 2018 will definitely see some changes.