The Future of Freelancing

I have been traveling in Western Oregon and northern California over the last week, catapulted from home by a conference at Stanford University called the Future of Freelancing. I feared I would meet 120 young college grads who’d make me feel like a fossil, but that wasn’t the case. I found myself surrounded by mid-career freelancers and laid-off staff writers trying to figure out how to make a living in this new world of fading newspapers and growing Internet communication. As the author of a book called Freelancing for Newspapers, I feel as if I should include an addendum these days: take the advice in these pages and apply it to the Internet with a heavy dose of blogging, Twitter, Facebook and whatever comes up next.

We had enlightening talks by editors of Esquire, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, and Wired, by book publishers and publishers of Internet news sites, and by writers who have found new ways to do the old jobs. We took classes on blogging and social networking. It’s a whole new industry for those of us who grew up in the days of typewriters and carbon paper. The message overall was that the world still needs good writing, but we need to either catch up or give up. In an age where so many staff writers and editors have lost their jobs, each of us must become an entrepreneur, not only writing but creating a “brand” that draws people to what we write.

Cell phones were banned during the sessions, but many writers were busily tweeting, Facebooking, blogging and writing during the talks. I didn’t, but my fingers itched to hit the keyboard. This new media world is addictive, but we have an obligation not to abuse it or waste it on garbage. We need to think before we post.

I learned a lot, but I will be glad to head back to the Oregon Coast, where traffic is lighter, the sea cools the air, and the only voice I have to listen to most days is my dog’s.

Future posts will cover some of the wonders I saw on my trip. Meanwhile, I have limited Internet access, and I’m having trouble making my father, who doesn’t believe in computers, understand any of this.

One of my favorite moments during the class came when blogger/professor Staci Baird asked, “How may of you have Googled your ex?” Most of us raised our hands. Think about it.