The 2021 career reset (or, when to cast aside the journalism career)

Three funny things are haunting me as 2020 comes to a merciful conclusion …

First, with the most relevant part in bold:

By far the month’s most disturbing event occurs on July 15 when Twitter, responding to a cyberattack, temporarily suspends many verified blue-check accounts. Within minutes emergency rooms in Washington and New York are overwhelmed by media thought leaders whose brains are literally exploding from the pressure of unreleased insights.

Dave Barry, from his year in review

Second, a scene from When Harry Met Sally that I referenced in my remembrance of my dear stepmom, Meg Gunn Dure.

SALLY: The story of my life isn’t even going to get us out of Chicago. I mean, nothing’s happened to me yet. That’s why I’m going to New York.

HARRY: So something can happen to you?

SALLY: Yes.

HARRY: Like what?

SALLY: Like I’m going to go to journalism school and become a reporter.

HARRY: So you can write about things that happen to other people.

Third, Cowboy Mouth, wrapping up a typical show with a typical rendition of Jenny Says that turns into an exorcism:

Turn that smart phone off, dude. Stop recording life. Start living life.

See the 6:10 mark, but watch the whole thing. You’re on vacation, and it’s a great way to kick 2020’s ass out the door.

Make it four: I just read the autobiography of Monty Python’s Eric Idle, and I marveled at all the accounts of time spent with friends.

This post was going to be an elegy for my journalism career, highlighted by the lack of pay. I started in 1991, making $10 an hour, nearly $20 in 2020 money, which wasn’t bad for someone paying about $400/month in rent with no student debt and no car payments. By the time I left USA TODAY in 2010, I was making nearly $60,000. Had I stayed and not been laid off, I’d be making maybe $75,000 now.

Instead, I’ve written six books. I’ve lost money on four of them. On the others, the amount of money I’ve made works out to maybe $2/hour. I’ve had a book signing to which one person showed up, and I wrote a short book that one person has read. (And not purchased, though I did make about 17 cents through Kindle Unlimited.)

Plenty of people say they’ve read my books. Plenty of people told Wilt Chamberlain they were in Madison Square Garden the night he scored 100 points, which would be impressive if that game hadn’t taken place in Hershey, Pa. 

I did take a steady freelance gig a year or two ago that was technically part-time employment, and I was making …

Ten bucks an hour.

Then I was basically laid off.

But this career was never about the money. I’ve known that all along. When I went to a job interview the summer after graduation, the managing editor and editor of the papers in Wilmington, N.C., asked why I wanted to go into journalism, and I started by saying, “Well, it’s not the money.” They laughed and hired me.

Of the two short books I’ve cranked out this year, one was mere self-indulgence, scraping together remnants of my long-abandoned MMA book into a memoir intertwined with MMA history that the fans already know. The other was a neat little history project that I started while quarantining after contracting COVID-19.

The money these days isn’t in writing, anyway. It’s at YouTube. Seriously.

Sure, not everyone pulls in the eight-figure annual windfall of the top 10, but six figures are pretty common. I ran the numbers on some of the people I watch and found this:

  • Music critic: $641 per video on YouTube, $6,922 per video on Patreon. Figure about 20 videos per year, and that’s $150k. He also has a podcast.
  • Music producer/analyst: $840 per video on YouTube. He does about 80 videos a year, so that’s $67,200, though he says some of them are “demonitized” because YouTube enforces the music industry’s ass-backwards approach to “fair use” and takes away his money for using, say, a seven-second snippet of music. He makes more of his money on books, anyway.
  • Australian comedian: $5,500 per video, about 90 this year, so … holy crap, $495,000??!!!
  • Canadian comedian: $32,490 on one video. Close to $14,000 on another. More typically around $1,500, with about 80 videos a year. She had a very good year. She’s also getting sponsorships. Safe to say she’s over $150,000 for the year, though she recognizes this year was a bit of a blip because she had a fantastic idea and ran with it.

Part 1 (17 million views) is highly recommended, and the rest of the series is pretty good.

For sake of comparison, let’s look at blogging, where I thought in 2010 that I might make a bit of money on the side: 

  • WordPress WordAds: I get about 40 cents per 1,000 ad impressions. That means my top post at Ranting Soccer Dad got about $5. When I had my medal projections at my old blog, I could make $100 for a couple hundred hours of work. 
  • Medium: If you can figure out a pattern let me know. I got $1.09 on a post with 19 views and an average reading time of 2:39. I got $2.38 on a post with 1,400 views and an average reading time of 4:23. I know people can make money on Medium, and I’m hoping to turn X-temporaneous into a publication of some import, but I need writers to do that. (Hint hint.)

You get the picture. There’s no money in blogging on my own. The only way to make money as a freelancer is to keep hustling after any assignment you can find.

Don’t send money. Well, not a lot. You can always donate if you’re a fan of the tons of work I’ve done on the Club and League directories. But we’re not the type of people who blow our salaries and inheritances on $3 million houses, so we’re fine.

Let’s be clear — these have been my choices. I turned down a decent job with USA TODAY’s magazines. When I told the magazine department boss how much I made with USA TODAY proper, he assured me he was offering significantly more. After he finished laughing.

I’ve only applied for one full-time job that was a perfect fit for my experience — in fact, I knew I was better qualified than anyone they were going to get, and yet I knew I wasn’t going to get an interview because I wasn’t in the right clique and because the people doing the hiring are “woke” to the point of absurdity and also ageist. Jobs for “writer/editor” exist, but I haven’t been applying for them.

For the last decade, I’ve basically been a stay-at-home dad who writes.

That ends in 2021. 

I’ve planned for a while to start a consulting business. That’ll be launched in earnest in January at the virtual United Soccer Coaches convention. 

The other job is something I didn’t plan. In an effort to re-open schools after 10 months away, Fairfax County is hiring classroom monitors — people who can spend more time in proximity to students than teachers who have vulnerability that COVID-19 could exploit. I’ve already had COVID, and I’m confident in the schools’ safety efforts, so I applied. And was hired. 

So whenever schools finally open, I’ll be working in a physical non-home location for the first time since 2010.

That job will likely only last until June, when this school year ends and we wash our hands (literally) of the COVID academic year. By fall, we’d better have this thing under control. 

It’s also a good time to reset. 

But when I wrote the original draft of this post, I realized I wasn’t really planning to give anything up.

  • Writing for Soccer America? Nope, I’ll keep doing that.
  • Writing for The Guardian? I hope to do more of that.
  • Writing and recruiting for X-temporaneous? I might do less, but I’m not pressing “delete” on it.

With the latter, I’ve been taking cautious steps toward “news” journalism, in which I haven’t fared badly in previous forays. NPR picked up some my work on Millennials and small towns at OZY. A piece on Flat Earthers a few years ago did very well for The Guardian.

And yet there’s still “respectable” journalism to be done in sports. At the risk of seeming arrogant, I’m doing work other people can’t or won’t do because they’re afraid of biting hands that feed them or aren’t well-equipped to write about duplicity and scandal. Each year at the coaches’ convention, people always tell me how much they appreciate my work. It’s a shame that’ll be all-virtual this year, but I hear from people all the time, anyway.

So I’m not giving up any of these things. I’m also adding a consulting business. And a job. And I’m doing a big project for The Chronicle.

Then my goal is to have more “me” time.

That’s not really how time works, is it?

Perhaps, but a couple of things will be off the table.

First, no more books. Not this year. I’ve done a rough draft of a 24-page book to go with my consulting business, but that’s about it.

Second, significantly less time cataloging the decline of American democracy.

Go back to the first quote here from Dave Barry: “the pressure of unreleased insights.”

I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking it’s somehow my duty to share everything of importance that I read— maybe on Twitter, maybe on Facebook, maybe after cataloging everything in Diigo and writing blog posts that most undergrads would call “research papers.”

For what?

If I helped rally voters for the election, great. But I can’t pretend I have some sort of great influence on every topic.

I still won’t stop. I’ll still do the occasional Gen X-related post at X-temporaneous. I’ll occasionally round up a few things here at Mostly Modern Media. You’ll still see links on creativity at Before The Apocalypse, and I might turn all that into a book sometime in the future. I’ve just redesigned this blog to include widgets for my latest tweets and the latest links I’ve saved. At some point before I die, I want to take everything I’ve learned writing books, going to grad school and researching creativity to put together something of substance.

It’s just going to be a question of priority.

The laptop will be shut off at times. I’ll read more. I’ll figure out what I can do in the yard without triggering allergies or tearing my hair out. I’ll spend most time in the music room. When curling resumes, I’ll be making that trip around the Beltway more often. I might even get on the exercise bike every now and then. If that means fewer posts reminding people what fascist douchebags Donald Trump and his sycophants are, so be it.

So my new priorities will cut into my time recording life. They’ll add to my time living it.

Happy New Year.

One thought on “The 2021 career reset (or, when to cast aside the journalism career)

  1. You do you. I, too, hope to spend significantly less time in 2021 cataloging the decline of American democracy. I’ve already dialed the blogging back to almost zero, and if I could be sure that not being on Facebook wouldn’t hurt my job hunt (I use it for person-to-person connections, kind of like LinkedIn), I would get off it entirely. There’s actually a study now showing that people who get off Facebook are happier and healthier.

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