I spent much of this year dealing with two issues that I haven’t talked much about here until now.
One was the quiet end of my work at The Parallax after the sole sponsor of that information-security site, the security-software vendor Avast, ended this relationship in January. I knew that was a risk factor going in–as I admitted in last December’s year-in-review post–but I also thought The Parallax would find new sponsors quickly enough. Unfortunately, that has yet to happen.
The other was the shrinking of my role at Yahoo Finance. Starting in the spring, I went from regularly writing six or more posts a month to just two or one… the most recent being in October.
Why that’s happened isn’t totally clear to me, but I know that the folks at Yahoo Finance have increasingly emphasized live video coverage from their NYC studios while leaning more on such other Verizon Media properties as Engadget for tech coverage. Meanwhile, my own story pitches this year didn’t feature any topics quite as captivating as self-driving Cadillacs or giant rocket launches.
Whatever the causes, seeing a high-paying gig expire and a high-profile gig diminish–after USA Today cut my column back to a twice-monthly frequency–made this my first year of full-time freelancing without real anchor clients. Meaning, I’ve started most months of the year without being able to count on the same set of companies for the majority of my income. And then I took too long to work the problem instead of hoping that my batting average at Yahoo would improve.
In that context, it ranks as a minor miracle that my income for 2019 only fell by about 15 percent compared to 2018.
I made up the difference by writing for a batch of new places–the Columbia Journalism Review, Fast Company, TechCrunch, The Atlantic, and Tom’s Guide–and becoming more of a regular at some of these new clients as well as some older ones, in particular Fast Company and the trade publication FierceVideo.
Among all those stories that ran in all of those places, these stand out months later:
- I observed the made-up holiday of “Data Privacy Day” in the Washington Post by suggesting ways that tech firms could demonstrate actual concern about our privacy. Eleven months later, they don’t seem to have taken my advice.
- I wrote an explainer for FierceVideo of PBS’s digital strategy–read, why you couldn’t get local PBS stations on any streaming services–that led to me getting a heads-up about that overdue online debut that I wrote up at USA Today. This is why it’s good to write for trade pubs: They can help you build sources for later on.
- A year after the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 net-neutrality rules officially vanished, I looked in vain at telecom investment trends and some of the small Internet providers named earlier as net-neutrality victims for proof that deleting these regulations had boosted broadband buildout.
- In my debut at TechCrunch, I documented how long each of the four nationwide wireless carriers keeps records of your location as determined by cell-site records–as well as the lack of a business rationale for retaining this data for as long as five years. This TC post is paywalled, but I later revisited some of this reporting for a December USA Today column on location privacy.
- My experience loaning my iPad to my kid without a real kid’s mode to limit her access led me to write an overdue rant for Yahoo Finance about Apple’s unhelpfulness to parents who don’t want to buy a new tablet for every member of their family.
- I revisited a staple of my tech-policy coverage from five years ago, transparency reports that inventory how tech firms respond to government demands for data, to unpack the tech industry’s partial retreat from this concept. This ran at The Atlantic, a place where I’ve long wanted to get a byline, after a prolonged round of rejections from other places. Lesson re-learned: Stubbornness helps.
- Of all the debunking of 5G hype I did this year, I may have most enjoyed poking holes in the announcement by AT&T and the Washington Post about a vaporous 5G-for-journalism venture.
I also launched a Patreon page that’s contributed a modest amount of income and might do more were I less apathetic about promoting it. And I had more of my travel this year covered by conference organizers in return for my moderating panels at their events; see after the jump for a map of where I flew for work in 2019.
The series of sponsored (read: well-compensated) feature-length explainers about 5G that I did for Ars Technica in December have me ending 2019 in better shape than I’d thought possible a few months earlier. I can also feel a grim sort of pride at remaining in this profession at all after a brutal decade for the journalism industry.
But I know what I need to do in 2020: Find more ways to make money that don’t rest on the brittle business of online programmatic advertising.