Dynamist Blog

Free Agents Have Job Security

As journalists all over the place face layoffs, Cathy Seipp explains the advantages of diversifying your employer portfolio:

But I've always felt more job security as a freelance writer than I did as a newspaper staffer. And even [Barbara] Ehrenreich admitted at the PBS press conference that as a freelance writer, she's probably better off now than most of the traditional media types in the audience.

I know how she felt. If I were to lose one of my regular gigs, for instance, I'd be unhappy; but unlike the laid-off staffer, my income wouldn't suddenly plummet to zero. In a world of constant corporate downsizing, anyone who doesn't realize this is sadly out of date.

Several years ago, as it happens, a veteran editor doing some consulting work at a local mid-sized newspaper offered me a staff job. Knowing the paper's legendary cheapness, I explained that I doubted they'd be able to come up with as much money I made freelancing - and it would have to be a LOT more for me to even bother thinking about it.

"Why would it have to be MORE," he asked, sounding genuinely shocked. "What about the SECURITY?"

Now I was shocked. This guy had been in the business half-a-century, witnessing God knows how many tanking media enterprises and in-with-the-new, out-with-the-old staff reorganizations, and he still could use the words "security" and "newspapers" in the same sentence without laughing?

I guess so. But as I explained, he'd have to count me out of that particular deadpan club.

The job market is tough on people who've relied on their employer's brands for security. Tom Peters gets mocked a lot for his rhetorical excesses, but he got this one very right: "We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You." If you're indistinguishable from every other potential employee, why should I hire you? And if I do hire you, why should I pay more than the bare minimum? On the flip side, if you've got a desirable brand, why should you stay in a lousy job situation, especially when the bosses are encouraging "voluntary" departures?

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