Tech, Now + Beyond

I want to be a freelance journalist, but am I ready to be overworked and underpaid?

Being underpaid is a kick in the teeth.

My lecturers from the University of Westminster, London reminded me every week that there are two options when you’re looking for a job: you can either work for an organization in a full-time position or be a freelancer.

However, it was clear to me that the former trumped the latter.

Some lecturers had worked for national and international newspapers and magazines. Some had dabbled in broadcast media and presented on television and radio. One lecturer even worked on Fleet Street. Their career paths differed, but they shared one common experience:

Their struggles as a freelance journalist.

This came as a surprise to me and my peers. We had created an ideal about being a freelancer: no ties to a particular media organization, having the freedom to write about chosen topics and being well-paid.

Oh, how naive we were.

A loud sigh escaped from my lips because the reality was nothing less than undesirable. Lack of commissions. An unsteady income. To top it off, the likely chance of being taken advantage of.

While the UK and US Freelance statistics state otherwise and the fact freelancing is now seen as a highly attractive and lucrative career option by 87% of students with first or second class degrees, the bubble had finally burst.

I was more afraid than ever about the prospect of being a freelance journalist. Why? What had changed during the three years of my degree?

It was the realization that things may not turn out they way I had planned. It was the fear of not achieving my career goals and aspirations.

Forbes reported that being underpaid is worse than not being paid at all and I couldn’t agree any more. Because you know what you’re getting yourself into when you volunteer for free.

I understand freelance does not pay hundreds and thousands. That is not what I want because money is not everything. I do not want to work for money because it is not the most important factor of being a professional journalist. But, money does pay for rent, bills, and food. Things needed to survive if you want to live in London, New York or any other metropolitan city in the world.

Being underpaid is a kick in the teeth. It undermines the value of your time and effort spent on the task and creates personal and financial insecurity.

This rational fear can also be in connection with the fear of being taken for granted. I am a generous person. If someone asks for help, I will and this may be a problem if I become a freelancer.

From personal experience, it is difficult to reject a commission, even if you’re busy or if you’re uninterested. This may be because you want the exposure and the opportunity to showcase your talent.

However, if you accept every commission, you will become overworked and possibly taken advantage of.

Feeling under-appreciated is possibly one of the worst feelings in the world, particularly if you’re passionate about your work and profession.

I do not want to live in fear of the future. But still, questions whirl inside my head. What if I do not have a full-time job? Will I have enough work to do? How much will I earn? Will I have a steady income and be able to pay for rent and bills? 

But I don’t have the answers; not yet, at least.

As aspiring journalists, writers, designers, and illustrators we should not be afraid of the uncertain future of freelance. 

We should embrace the risks and run with it.