Every time I opened Twitter last spring, I was met with bad news from people who worked in the media industry. Editors were being let go, publications froze their freelance budgets, and some I loved reading even closed.
I was finishing up the last semester of my undergraduate degree at The New School virtually. When I was supposed to be applying for gigs and sending pitches, COVID-19 sent the media industry into chaos. Cold-pitching seemed hopeless then, so I decided to focus on part-time work I had at Narratively and The Mighty. I moved from New York City to the Boston area to be with family when my university shut down, so I at least had a place to stay.
Getting through my final semester was difficult, and the emotional toll of living through a pandemic and questioning the future of the journalism industry did not help.
I live with the autoimmune disease vasculitis, and I am still trying to cope with a traumatic brain injury that I received from a violent random assault in the fall of 2019. This means that I only have a certain amount of energy to work every week without making myself sick, and issues from my TBI makes it hard for me to focus.
After I graduated in May, I told myself that I had to get back into pitching articles. I researched story ideas, contacted potential sources for articles and wrote pitches, just to receive many noes or nonresponses. This is the norm for the industry, even in non-pandemic times, but I felt like I was not putting in enough effort, both in how often I pitched and the story ideas that I came up with.
The summer brought some success, but I internalized every rejection and nonresponse. Due to my doomscrolling — a term coined by fellow Canadian journalist Karen K. Ho to describe the act of scrolling through bad news and information on Twitter — it was obvious that I was not the only freelancer that felt this way. I also was not the only 2020 graduate who did not have the financial security of a full-time job.
I needed a community of freelancers who were experiencing the same, I realized, so I sent out a tweet with a Google Form in August asking if people wanted to join a group where we could discuss our story ideas, give feedback on pitches and talk about the industry. I deleted my tweet in a day because I got so many responses.
While this group has been helpful in terms of getting feedback on article ideas and pitches, it has been a savior to my mental health as a freelancer. Even after I get rejections or nonresponses to pitches, it helps to know that my freelancer colleagues think that my story ideas are at least decent, and that helps push me to keep pitching. I had and still have two rules for the group: Be nice and don’t steal pitches. There have not been any incidents of people in my group stealing pitches from each other, which is a relief, because this industry is already difficult to manage as is.
I know most people in the media industry are struggling right now — freelancers and people with staff jobs alike. But, people in more stable positions in the industry need to do a better job of letting younger writers know that we deserve a place in journalism, even if a story is not a perfect fit. While I understand editors are busy, a simple “no” to a pitch with a brief reason why is more helpful than one might think. It helps me when I brainstorm what might be a good fit for an editor in the future.
There is not a perfect solution for helping freelance journalists and writers find their place and earn enough income in media, but I have appreciated the editors who have taken the extra step of having office hours to discuss pitches or who have approached me with commissions. It makes my job just a little bit easier in the face of industry-induced burnout and self-doubt.