The long, slow grind of solo journalism

Former Cleveland Plain Dealer travel editor David Molyneaux is continuing his passion for writing about faraway places as a freelancer. With two failed Web ventures and other hit-or-miss experiences behind him in the last year, he remains generally optimistic that he’s on the right track to establishing a viable niche:

“It’s still not there. I’m still trying to make a dollar here, make a dollar there, sell a freelance story here, get on the phone, try to market — that hasn’t ended. Small time publishing, it has possibilities, but no guarantees.”

It’s a familar tale, and will continue to be oft-told in the coming years from others like him. Patience, persistence and taking the long view are vital ingredients to success in these ventures, and I admit there are times when they’re in short supply for me.

But I’ve got someone interested in talking with me about joining forces in a news site I’ve recently begun, from a marketing and monetizing standpoint. The editor of another blog covering the same sport has asked me to be a guest writer for his site. Barely two months after starting this blog, I’ve drawn some encouraging attention.

There are no guarantees, as Molyneaux pointed out, but his story is one that is important to keep in mind. He’s packed a lot into the last year, as I think I have done. There are times when, despite so much churning, one feels as though mere spinning in place is all that is accomplished.

I’ve learned to understand that this is a customary feeling to have. Great ideas don’t always yield desired results, but the key is not to dwell on them. In a large newsroom culture, the feeling of defeat deepened if a story idea fell flat. It could work against you in the eyes of superiors and when the time came for evaluations. Taking a risk that backfired could be a career-changer, and not in a good way.

The brave new world of solo journalism, despite the long hours and long odds of success, doesn’t punish its practitioners that way. That’s why I think so many of us soldier on, especially those of us who are newsroom refugees. The feeling of creative freedom can very well be fleeting if we can’t figure out a way to make a living from this.

But it’s absolutely worth it to find out.

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