2019 in review: rerouting through adversity

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.

2019 calendarThe 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 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.

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Weekly output: IoT security, Facebook privacy pop-up, L0pht hacker testimony, Tech Night Owl

This edition of my weekly recap features a new client: The Parallax, the security-news site founded in 2015 by former C|Net writer Seth Rosenblatt. At least two friends had suggested earlier that I look into writing there, but that didn’t happen until I spotted Seth at the Google I/O press lounge earlier this month and introduced myself. If you were going to ask about the absence of another client in this post: Yahoo Finance hasn’t forgotten about me, I haven’t forgotten about them, and I’ve got three posts in the works there this coming week. Hint: One involves a hydrogen-fueled car.

5/22/2018: IoT regulation is coming, regardless of what Washington does, The Parallax

I wrote up the panel I moderated at RightsCon two weeks ago–which required me to record the whole thing on my phone and then spend an hour and change transcribing everything. On the upside, having to set aside my phone to capture the audio meant I couldn’t be distracted by the Twitter backchannel during the panel.

5/24/2018: Don’t ignore this alert from Facebook. It’s your chance to quickly curb what it knows, USA Today

I filed a cheat sheet on the privacy-settings pop-up you may have already seen. I got my version of this interruption Friday; mine did not advise me to check the info in my profile, maybe because I don’t have anything there advertising my political or religious leanings.

5/24/2018: 20 years on, L0pht hackers return to D.C. with dire warnings, The Parallax

The lede for this popped into my head not long after arriving at the Rayburn House Office Building for this panel Tuesday afternoon and noticing that the name tags in front of the room featured the hacker handles of the four speakers instead of their given names: Kingpin (Joe Grand), Mudge (Peiter Zatko), Weld Pond (Chris Wysopal), and Space Rogue (Cris Thomas). At one point, Zatko complained about companies that try to win over customers by stapling on “flashy security products” like anti-malware utilities; as the Parallax is sponsored by the anti-malware vendor Avast, I made sure to include that line, and it went into the post intact.

5/26/2018: May 26, 2017 — Rob Pegoraro and Ben Williams, Tech Night Owl

I showed up on Gene Steinberg’s podcast to talk about my at-the-time incomplete iMac drive transplant (by the time he rang me on Skype, I hadn’t finished disassembling the old drive, which is an anxious point at which to have to set aside the work), the weird case of an Amazon Echo capturing and sending a recording of people’s in-home banter, and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation.