The recession is starting to get painful
I know that there are some people out there who don’t think that we’re in a recession. Some of those same people believe that a 700 billion dollar bailout of the financial caretakers who made bad bets with our money is a good idea. What I know is that my 401k is down 18% over the past year and it wasn’t due to me taking a whole bunch of chances. I chose the most conservative portfolio my company offered. I know that my company’s stock value, despite the company making its financial projections, is down by half. There haven’t been any layoffs in the past year, but hiring at the company has become anemic. They aren’t replacing the people who leave unless the absolutely have to.
As a person who posts job openings across the writing industry on my site, I know that it is getting harder for me to find good jobs to post. Â I know that at least one writing career path, newspaper reporting, is experiencing a record number of layoffs. Take all that together and we’ve got trouble. If you don’t want to call it a recession, or a “slowdown”, feel free to call it “that lack of jobs thing” or something else that makes you comfortable.
Whatever the case, it is time to look at where the jobs are and where they aren’t, at least from what I have observed so far. Let me clarify that I base my opinion on three things: articles I am reading, trends I have observed as someone who posts jobs, and conversations I have had with other writers. This is not a newspaper report, it is my view of the situation. Call me a pundit, if you will.
Newspapers are doing badly
Newspapers, of course, are the hardest hit employers of writers. Their industry-wide payrolls were declining even before the general economy went into the tank. Newspaper circulations have been down for years. People don’t read the newspapers as much as they used to, and when they do, they generally read them online where revenue is tough to come by. Poor circulation reduces both newsstand income and advertising revenue. Now that the economy is bad, advertising income is dropping even more sharply as companies cut their advertising budgets. In the United States, the election season is helping offset some of those losses, but after the first weekend in November, that income will dry up. This is a terrible time to be looking for a newspaper job, there’s no way around that. Other media outlets such as television and radio stations are also feeling the pinch, but to a lesser extent. Their markets aren’t on the ropes the way the newspaper market is, but they are experiencing the same downturn in advertising as the newspaper industry is.
Copywriting isn’t too strong either
The copywriting industry is experiencing the slowdown as well. When companies cut their advertising budgets, it hits the people who create the advertising. There are some layoffs and a significant reduction in hiring. I’ve noticed a definite drop in the number of positions being advertised in this field. The only area that seems unaffected so far is direct mail, which still seems to advertise for writers at about the same clip as they have for the past three or four years.
Technical writing is still holding up
Technical writing and information development positions have stayed relatively stable so far. While there are technology companies that have had to cut their budgets over the past year, I am still seeing plenty of new positions opening up and no reports of layoffs. If the recession gets worse, which I suspect it will, then you can expect that this field will dry up too. Most companies view documentation as a “nice to have” rather than a “must have”, so if the cuts start to get severe, you’ll see this job market go down as well. For now though, it is healthy.
Proofreaders and editors have their own problems
Proofreaders and editors are facing hiring slowdowns as well. Magazines have been failing frequently over the past year, due in equal parts to reductions in advertising and increases in both paper costs and mailing costs. On the plus side, many of them are converting to web publications, but that generally means lower paying jobs for writer, proofreaders and editors alike. Medical and legal proofreaders are still getting steady work because neither of these areas has been hit by the recession yet and there is no major expectation that they will be hit.
There are some bright spots
If you are looking for some bright spots, resume writing is always a good place to find work during a recession. More and more people need good resumes as they look for work and if you know how to write resumes, you can be very helpful either as a freelancer or working for an employment agency.
In general, because it is such a low-paying industry, finding work writing for web sites isn’t difficult if you know what you are doing, it just doesn’t pay very well. Freelance copywriting is also still providing steady work as companies look to bypass agencies or internal writers and find lower-priced options for their copywriting needs. In general, freelancers tend to do well during a recession because many companies need things done but don’t want to hire someone permanently or go through a high-priced agency. The down side is that as people lose their jobs, more and more of them turn to freelancing so you competition increases.
Bad but not terrible, yet
So far, most of the writing fields are feeling the slowdown, but only newspaper writers are at a crisis point. The next year may lead to more widespread problems. The economy isn’t going to magically turn around any time soon. Next time, I’ll discuss some strategies for surviving as a writer in a down economy.