BY JIM FULLER, Daily Herald
First they came for our freelancers and stringers. The budgets dried up. The content provided by those outside helpers became part of the regular duties of the full-time staff.
Then they came for our desks. The free WiFi provided by coffee shops, libraries and book stores paired so well with the laptops, smart phones and cameras journalists carry every day that big computer monitor, seat and filing cabinet no longer had utility. We were better off in the field — a newsroom of one for whatever beat we covered.
With newsrooms emptying out so journalists could be in the field, the next cuts were the newsrooms themselves. Bureaus closed. Editors gained the ability to work from home. Copy desks consolidated into a central location.
You can’t help but wonder if the next wave is us.
My wife became a part-time journalist more than six years ago. She gets a story assignment here or there. It’s usually on the light side or something for features. A few phone calls over the course of a few lunch breaks or weekends, and she’s done.
I hung on a bit longer, only transitioning a month ago. But only four weeks in I can see how my typical day could be the journalism of the future for many of today’s full-time reporters.
In a sense, I’m still a full-time journalist. I still have a county government beat. I’m still fielding and sending text messages and calls at all hours of the day when an issue is breaking or hot. I still sweat over making sure everything is accurate, fair and turned in on deadline.
I just have fewer deadlines now. Where I once filed a story just about every workday, now I write two to three stories a week.
It’s not unusual for me to have two starting points to my day. Starting point one will be a county government committee meeting first thing in the morning. Starting point two will be the first time I hang my coat up at my full-time office at the College of DuPage.
At lunch, I’ll bang out a story. Or maybe I’ll make another call or two on my commute home from my full-time job, and I’ll complete my story as the first thing I do when I get home.
When I don’t have a daily assignment, I’m chipping away at a longer piece or plugging data into a spreadsheet during my lunch or for an hour or so after putting my kids to bed.
I’m lucky in that my full-time job couples well with my part-time journalism pursuits. I oversee the student newspaper at the College of DuPage. When I’m not practicing journalism, I’m teaching it.
Keeping my toe (more like a whole leg) in the newspaper world helps me keep my skills sharp and up to date, which is what my students need from someone showing them how to crack into the world of dwindling full-time opportunities.
It’s also a win for my employer, the Daily Herald. They don’t have to pay me benefits. They still get an important beat covered by a seasoned reporter. And, in an odd side benefit for us both, I suddenly have a bit more freedom to pursue stories I’m interested in because I can avoid the daily pressure of having to find something, anything, to fill a paper with fewer reporters.
More killer, less filler.
If you believe ZipRecruiter, the average part-time journalist salary in the United States is $34,500. Adjusting for inflation, that’s almost what I made as a full-time journalist my first year on the job. You’ll never get rich being a part-time journalist. All full-time journalists figured that out a long time ago. But there are other riches to mine.
Part-time reporting allows me to keep my journalism flame burning while also thriving in a full-time position with a bit more upward mobility these days. If you’re feeling stuck, the best path forward might be to get out — at least part of the time.
- James Fuller is a senior writer at the Daily Herald and the Adviser/Business Manager for the Courier student newspaper at the College of DuPage. He also serves on the boards of the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association and the Illinois Community College Journalism Association.