Be forwarned, youngsters: the magazine industry has no room for you any more. Also, it can't find you! You're all out there working on the blogs and not learning how to do real journalism. Which makes you suck! "These people don't leave their fucking laptops," says elderly writer Gay Talese. "It used to be, you would go outside." My, how things change for the Gay. The Observer's attempt to capture the magazine freelancing zeitgeist in article form is written by former Gawker blogger Doree Shafrir, a fact which does not seem to register with the irony-proof older generation quoted therein. So the aspirational young magazine crowd either succeeds quickly or withers away into bitterness at the closed doors of the industry, while old veterans of top-tier magazines grow increasingly out of touch and bemoan every little change since their golden days. Isn't this how things have always been?
Mr. Taro Greenfeld continued: "As much as I can't stand these parochial notions of journalism school, there is something to be said for, like, reporting. There's something to be said for hanging around with people. ... Editors who are around my age say, 'We're just not finding those up-and-coming 20-something writers.' Those people used to be like a bedrock of magazines! ... Why aren't we better at producing young writers?"
That, of course, from an over-40 editor. The fact is that journalism is not rocket science, no matter what J-school brochures tell you. Most talented young writers, even if they have made their names as bloggers, can easily and quickly make the transition into magazines. Yes, the industry is changing—more slowly than newspapers, but faster than book publishing. Still, a solid gig at a prestigious magazine is the best job that anyone can possibly have in journalism. Yes, the starting pay for entry level positions sucks; Yes, it's a sickeningly connection-driven business that rewards rich kids who can afford to work for low pay. Those are institutional problems.
And yes, freelancing full time is a difficult hustle. But don't cry for those who actually have established freelance connections. The $2/ word rate that Shafrir cites sympathetically as the low end of the major magazine scale can, of course, fall much, much lower once you get out side of well known consumer titles, as most freelancers are forced to do. I started writing for 10 cents per word for an alt-weekly. Once you've reached the $2 a word mark, satisfaction is in order.
The real interesting time will come when magazines aren't like this. When employment is a meritocracy; when online and print writing are seamlessly integrated and equally respected; when young writers aren't arrogant and impatient, and old editors aren't out of touch. But magazine themselves aren't in real danger, as long as we need to read something while we poop.