By James A. Haught
Newspaper collapse is a sickening reality. More than half of U.S. newspaper jobs vanished rather quickly as advertising revenue eroded. Back in 2001, the industry employed 411,800, but by late 2016 the total had dropped to 173,700. Scores of papers died or went online-only.
My own paper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail, West Virginia’s largest, is in the same death spiral. It defaulted on our pension plan, letting the government take over. It ceased printing on Mondays. Its staff is shrinking. Now it can’t pay its debt load and filed for bankruptcy, awaiting a new owner to take over.
The human toll is grim. When I meet laid-off friends, we have hand-wringing sessions.
But there’s a hopeful alternative for writers: The Internet needs oceans of material, all of which must be produced by writers. Online jobs are available. If you have a compulsion to write, you can find a niche.
I’m well past retirement age, so I live on my newspaper pension and Social Security, while keeping my Gazette-Mail office and title. I’ve always freelanced, churning out books and magazine pieces, mostly in the skeptic-agnostic “freethought” category.
Now the United Coalition of Reason pays me $500 a month as its writer-in-residence. I provide two essays monthly for its online newsletter. In my new Internet journalist role, I reach thousands of readers in dozens of countries. It fills my unquenchable desire to save the world.
Whatever your writing specialty, many suitable websites exist, needing your output. While printed newspapers disintegrate, search until you find a cyber outlet that will provide at least some income. I realize that my $6,000 yearly pay cannot support a younger writer. It’s just supplemental. But many online jobs pay more. Various websites talk about Internet writer income above $100,000, or above $50,000.
The Internet, which is killing newspapers, has become the medium of mankind, the mother of all information realms. It is so gigantic we barely can grasp it. It has colossal power. Here’s an example:
Once upon a time, I briefly was press aide to Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia. Later, when the Bush-Cheney White House clamored to invade Iraq, Byrd waged a lonely fight against it. He gave fervent floor speeches saying (correctly) that no trustworthy evidence supported the Bush-Cheney claim that Iraq possessed horror weapons. But the Washington press corps ignored Byrd. Few heard his warnings.
However, the Internet took over. Some pacifists began emailing Byrd’s speeches to their friends, who forwarded them to other friends, etc., etc. Thus his talks reached thousands of Americans, then tens of thousands around the world. They were posted on websites for everyone to read. Byrd became an international hero for peace. He compiled his speeches into a book: “Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency.”
It showed the immense potential for words on the Internet. All of us writers have an opportunity to join the fray.
We who acquire paid online roles fit the words of Moliere:
“Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for the love of it. Then you do it for a few friends. And finally you do it for money.”
James Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail. He also is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine and writer-in-residence for the United Coalition of Reason. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.