The Freelance Life: Pushing a Rock Uphill, But the Slope Seems To Be Ever Shallower

As a 20-year veteran of freelance writing, my return to nearly full-time work as a reporter comes at a time when online writing has never been paid at a better rate. In 2001, I made much more per word, but it was largely for print. As online advertising revenue continues to grow and specialized publications hire more staff, especially in tech and business, this seems to be putting pressure on publications to pay more. For myself, I need to write about 250 articles in 2015 to support my family as part of how I make a living (or fewer articles and more other work). It's a challenge because of the overhead of pitching, but I'm happy with what I do and optimistic about the future. I explain this at great length in this post.

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The Latest in Glenn Writing & Podcasting

My latest batch of articles from all over:

  • An Internet of Treacherous Things (MIT Technology Review, January 13). The "Internet of Things" (IoT) will grow from about 5 billion devices today to 50 billion in five years. But with the security evidenced by the largest deployed home Internet devices today, broadband gateways and routers, are we ready to keep the IoT from betraying us?

  • How “Gangnam Style” broke YouTube’s counter (Economist, December 10). Google said it ran out of numbers to count Psy's video. It had to re-engineer things to account for more than 2,147,483,647 plays.

  • Marriott plans to block personal wifi hotspots (Boing Boing, December 31). The hotel chain files an FCC petition to let it control unlicensed wireless around its facilities, and faces opposition from Google, Microsoft, and citizens.

  • How and why you should use a VPN to protect your data's final mile (Macworld, January 16). The easy options for single-click VPN-for-hire to protect all your data on a Mac or iOS device.

  • AT&T Offers Rollover Data While Defending Throttling (TidBITS, January 12). A new data rollover plan is limited, but could save some users some money, but AT&T keeps trying to pretend that "unlimited" use means something other than its intended original definition.

  • The Software and Services Apple Needs to Fix (this blog, January 7). One of the most popular entries ever on this blog, I describe a litany of problems that feel ignored or unfixed in iOS and OS X. Over 300 comments chime in with new or long-running problems.

I also did podcast-related things

  • Dr. Katie Mack Explains the Universe (live event, Ada's Books, January 13). I interviewed Katie Mack, an astrophysicist, about how everything works. (You can listen directly in the post below or download the episode.)
  • Marriott, Wi-Fi, & the FCC (Packet Pushers, January 16). We talked at some length and somewhat technically about why hotels want to jam Wi-Fi.

The Latest Articles (Dec. 12, 2014)

My recent articles include:

Three Serious Weekend Stories: Encryption's Ease, Apps' Ecosystems, Patreon's Abusers

For the holiday weekend, I wrote three rather serious stories that may be of interest.

In the Economist, you'll find my feature at the start of the Science and Technology section in print (read online). I noticed a trend that was accelerating: it's easier than ever for people with no interest in tweaking configuration settings or installing special software to have robust encryption for messaging, email, and elsewhere — so good, in fact, that governments are now complaining. My editors agreed, and "Cryptography for dummies" is the result. Governments can still obtain what they need, but not "wholesale": they can't vacuum up all our data and sift it. They'll have to use better police work, and our privacy will be better protected.

At Six Colors, Jason Snell's Apple-focused site, I wrote about the tradeoffs between Web apps and native apps. The difference isn't so much the coding for a lot of apps, which are often thin wrappers around the equivalent of web sites; rather, it's often about the payment, notification, and offline storage offered in an app ecosystem.

And on this very blog, I explained the trouble Patreon is having with settling a policy about users of its subscription-style crowdfunding site that supports creators in the regular production of work. Patreon's policies and enforcement have allowed a literal national socialist and many harassers and abusers to stay onboard. Should Patreon be more determined in kicking out people who, not on Patreon's site, engage in behavior that violates its terms of service?


The Latest Articles and Podcasts

As usual, I've been a busy boy, especially regarding podcasts. I have three podcasts I want to launch, and when the The Magazine finishes its run in three weeks, I'll be gearing up to work on all of those. In the meantime, I'm recording all over and filing articles like mad, too. (I've got three more articles queued up that should run later this week at Macworld, the Economist, and Six Colors.)

Recent articles:

Recent podcast appearances:

  • Random Trek, "Collective" from Voyager, back in August. This is Scott McNulty's bold project to randomly go through every episode across all Star Trek series and movies.
  • The Incomparable has split up its radio-play specials into bite-sized servings as The Incomparable Radio Theater! Listen to me as Nicola Tesla, with as good a Serbian accent as I can muster, in Two-Fisted Tales of Tesla (show episodes 0.2 and 0.5). You can also hear me with an exceptionally plummy accident in 0.1 as a character in The Fog.
  • Jason Snell and Dan Moren had Jacqui Cheng and me as guests on Clockwise episode 63 (Nov. 20). It's a strict 30-minute format. In a separately available bonus question, I explain the joys of the Bed Buddy.
  • Jason and I recorded a new episode of The Periodicalist, my irregular show about the future of publishing. In "Episode IV: A New Beginning," we talk about how a company with all the advantages of IDG fell into the innovator's dilemma, me shutting down The Magazine, and Jason booting up several new efforts in his new career.
  • On the Incomparable's main podcast, I appear in episode 220, "Authentic Cop Mustache," discussing webcomics; and episode 221, "Do the Hand-Wavy Thing," rounding  up the recent Doctor Who season. Listen to the extra for episode 221, "Gerbils and Tamagotchis."
  • I appeared on MedaTwits, a PBS videocast/podcast, on Nov. 14 to talk about new models for long-form journalism.

Mediatwits: Long-Form Journalism

I appear on today's Mediatwits, speaking from my experience at The Magazine. The show's description:


Long-form journalism is seeing something of a resurgence on the web. While many people believe digital media has pushed people toward short, bite-sized listicles, deeper stories continue to resonate when they hit the right audience. Plus, online publications such as Atavist, The Verge and even BuzzFeed regularly publish long-form pieces.

Have Red Pen, Will Travel: Hanging up My Shingle

My labor of love for the last two years, The Magazine, will finish up with its last regular issue on December 18. It's possible we'll do special issues or other work in the future, but we'll end subscriptions then. I'll be resuming my full-time freelance career, and have been ramping up where and how much I write already.

But I'm also considering part-time or full-time editorial jobs that would allow me to stay in Seattle, or editorial consulting work on setting up platforms or production flows. I'd love to bring my experience in podcast hosting and production, electronic periodical publishing, print publishing, and managing app development to a site or publication that's trying to chart a course forward in all those directions.

I've been writing professionally since 1994, starting with trade publications, and, by 1998, contributing to mainstream news and business print and online periodicals, like the New York Times, Wired, Business 2.0 (columnist), Popular Science, and the Seattle Times (columnist).

Since 2005, I've written regularly for the Economist, contributing heavily in the last four years. Since 2010, I've written 350 online items for the Economist, mostly for its Babbage blog (now retired and archived) about the intersection of technology and science with culture. I have also contributed business and arts stories. I appear regularly in its Technology Quarterly section (in print and online), had my story featured on the American edition's cover in March 2013, and twice had my stories on the cover of the Technology Quarterly section. (Some links to articles are at the end of this post.) With the shift away from blogs at the Economist, I now contribute regularly to the online sections for Business & Finance and Science & Technology.

I've also had long-time homes at Boing Boing and Macworld. I regularly write both news and long features for Boing Boing, while I've contributed reviews and features for nearly 15 years to Macworld. I recently signed up to write a weekly security and privacy column for Macworld about issues of interest to Mac and iOS users. For nearly 20 years, I've written and contributed to TidBITS; I wrote the code for their content-management system and consulted deeply on the launch and first year of their user-supported journalism subscriptions.

At The Magazine, I started as executive editor just after its October 2012 launch, and bought the publication from its founder, Marco Arment. I've produced every issue since #3, meeting an every-other-week production schedule as a staff of one with contract help for over two years. We'll finish out with #58. I've edited over 200 features, most of them long-form, and many of them reported, working closely with writers, photographers, and artists.

As part of The Magazine, I planned and executed the successful crowdfunding of a hardcover anthology, with 1,200 advance buyers before the book hit the press. I hired designers, and carried out every stage of production: funding, accounting, programming a user reward management system, creating and releasing digital rewards, working with the printer, and managing the logistics of shipping books to 50 states and dozens of countries.

I'm also a long-time podcaster, with my first series in 2006 (about Wi-Fi). I'm a regular guest on the sci-fi/fantasy podcast, The Incomparable, and just concluded a nearly two-year run of The New Disruptors, a podcast about creative people using new tools to connect with audiences and own their work from conception to distribution.

I can write, edit words and audio, interview, design, and manage. I believe I'm good to work with, and I can provide references from people I've worked for as well as people who have worked with me. I love collaboration.

Some of the clips of the last couple of years that I'm most proud of:

Recent Articles

I've been writing quite a bit more these days in addition to writing more blog entries in a few weeks than I probably have in years. Here are a few of my recent articles:

When bigger isn't better: New technologies threaten DigitalGlobe's commercial satellite-imagery business (Economist, November 3)

Ghosts in the machine language: The latest high-profile hacks result from benign neglect, and won't be the last (Economist, October 24)

Bribing the users: Apple Pay may not be as successful as Starbucks in changing America's payment habits (Economist, October 21)

FCC fines Marriott $600,000 for jamming hotel Wi-Fi (Boing Boing, October 3)

Security cruft means every exploit lives forever (Boing Boing, September 25)

Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and… Google Fiber? (Six Colors, October)

A week of Apple Pay: Chips, PINs, and… signatures? (Six Colors, October)

Continuity and Spotlight highlight the need to closely examine where our data goes (Macworld, October 23)

How Newsstand failed The Magazine, and what Apple should do (Macworld, October 30)

Transmit for iOS 8 Provides File Transfer Everywhere (TidBITS, October 15)

Untangling the Amazon/Hachette Dispute (TidBITS, August 11)



Character Assassination (Update: Fanboy Accusation?)

Update, Nov. 14: John Cook, the Intercept's editor in chief, will be leaving First Look to return to Gawker. No surprise there.

Update: I received a response from John Cook, Ryan Tate's boss. Added at the bottom. I appreciate he took the time to reply in the middle of turmoil there, and just days before he announced his own departure (see above).

Update: This evening, some tech industry friends explained that I was missing the basis of what I saw from Ryan Tate as an attack on my ethics and approach to life. He was being a jerk of a different color.

Apparently, he thinks I am an Apple fanboy and, three years ago, I followed Apple PR's lead in trying to "suppress" discussion of Tim Cook's sexual orientation and, today, given "approval" from Apple through the publication of Cook's essay in which he says to the world that he's gay, I felt I had permission to discussion.

That's all kinds of garbage, but a different kind. It's still nursing a grudge, unprofessional, and an unethical misuse of partial quotations of the comment from which he quoted. But in that view, he's not maligning my basic nature and accusing me of shoving people into the closet and homophobic. It's also punching down: I'm a freelancer working my ass off; he has a highly compensated job at one of the biggest news startups in America, The Intercept. His position gives him visibility, and I certainly can't believe that other people who aren't into the tech industry read his messages to me as about fanboyism.

I write critically about Apple. I have a long, well-documented history of public critique alongside positive reviews, most recently a piece in the Economist in which I expressed doubt about whether Apple train its customers to use Apple Pay in large enough numbers. My editor subtitled it, "Apple Pay may not be as successful as Starbucks in changing America's payment habits." I don't defend the company; I'm a reporter, not a lapdog. In fact, I've only written a handful of business articles about Apple in the last two years, as I focused on The Magazine, my own publication.

To those of you following David Carr's link, in which he inexplicably tells me how I should behave and that I've lost my marbles, welcome! I have other things of interest to read here.

Below is my original post and the letter I sent to Ryan's editor.

After spending weeks writing about, talking about, and supporting people the victims of harassment around women working in games development and journalism, I wake up this morning to find that Tim Cook has publicly declared his sexual orientation. I sobbed. I tweeted. This is such a milestone for a spectrum of sexuality and gender around the world. And then a former Gawker employee, now at The Intercept, pulled a couple of lines out of context in a comment I made on a Boing Boing article about a Gawker story three years ago.

It was an unprovoked attack, unprofessional in misusing my words, and deeply hurtful. Ryan Tate was nursing a grudge. Who knew? I wrote the following to John Cook, the editor in chief, of The Intercept. I'm sure he won't care, but I needed to say this.

Hi, John,

I'm a freelance reporter, and Ryan Tate is engaged this morning in character assassination against me on Twitter. Given that he identifies in his Twitter bio as working for the Intercept, and I assume you have a code of conduct about his behavior as all news organizations do for social media accounts, I'm bringing it to your attention.

While I was celebrating Tim Cook's brave move in becoming fully and publicly out, literally sobbing in my appreciation of what this means for a generation of kids and all future ones (of all orientations and genders and so forth), Ryan decided to wage a personal attack against by using a quotation from a 2011 comment of mine on Boing Boing out of context.

Ryan's tweets, in case he deletes them:

@GlennF "I doubt Tim Cook cares whether anyone knows to which gender he is attracted, nor whethe...  any of us care about it."

e.g. @glennf 2011 writes "I doubt... whether any of us care about it" today "wracked by sobs"

@GlennF @KuraFire "I doubt Tim Cook cares whether anyone knows to which gender he is attracted, nor whether knowing, whether any of us care

Read the comment he's linking from. I'm talking about whether Cook chose to out himself, or whether Gawker was selling him out for pageviews, when his sexuality is private. Ryan formerly worked at Gawker, and thus he must have a file of grudges to nurse from that time.

This is deeply offensive to me, as his attitude completely misrepresented me and my life's history. He doesn't know me, and he presumes to redeem the attempt to nonconsensually reveal Tim Cook's personal life in 2011 with my honest and emotional reaction at the value it has today.

There's a valid debate about outing; I had one this morning with Owen Thomas, also formerly at Valleywag, who says Ryan is a decent human being, a view echoed by several other of Ryan's former co-workers and current friends who we know in common.

But, given my lifelong support of LGBTQ rights, I am shocked by his behavior, and personally hurt. The line after the one he continues to quote to apparently "out" me in some fashion, he omits:

"It would be lovely if Tim Cook, gay or not, recorded an It Gets Better talk for Dan Savage’s fantastic project, or, I don’t know, gave $500 million to marriage equality and civil rights efforts for the BGLTetc communities."

I'd like to know whether you support this sort of behavior on the part of your staff. He has continued to tweet after this the same sort of childish, taunting responses.

Thank you for your time. This has been deeply upsetting. If I'd said something shameful in 2011, I'd be apologizing for it now. I did not.

—Glenn Fleishman

John Cook replied:

"In answer to your question: Yes, I do support Ryan’s behavior in this matter."


The State of Journalism Is Not a Country

Last night, my friend Brianna Wu and I spoke at length — 2 hours and 20 minutes — for a special episode of her co-hosted podcast series, Isometric. The show was started for her, Maddy Myers, Georgia Dow, and Steve Lubitz to talk about game playing. However, the timing when they launched a few months ago was such that they have spent more time than they've wanted talking about the place and representation of women in videogames, as developers, journalists, essayists, and characters.

Because she's outspoken, Brianna became the target of quite a bit of harassment after her game, Revolution 60, was released. It's gotten a quite positive reception and a critical one: people take it seriously, whatever elements they praise or dislike about it. But then, because of her outspoken behavior and her unwillingness to stand down when people are threatened, she became the target of a "doxxing" attack — where one's personal details, such as address, phone number, email, social security number, even passwords — are uncovered and published, and then a direct threat of violence and death for her and her husband. They called police and decided to leave their home for the time being.

A few days later, one of the chief proponents of the worldview represented by a leaderless movement called GamerGate — named by actor Adam Baldwin on Twitter as a label for baseless and disproven allegation of biased editorial policies and reviews at games journalism sites — asked her to be on his podcast. Milo Yiannopoulos is a far right-wing contributor to the extreme site Breitbart, and a few months ago was openly ridiculing gamers. But he sensed a shift in the air, as GamerGate is deeply reactionary and misogynistic, and has a lot in common with Tea Party politics and logic.

Brianna, having left her home and being asked to be on some major news stations and programs, wasn't able to schedule with Milo as quickly as he liked. He got ridiculous and unpleasant about it. And she discovered he had "redoxxed" one of the victims of vicious attacks, Zoe Quinn, by linking to nude photos of her that had been spread. She decided to not do the show.

But he had sent questions ahead to let her prepare, and Brianna and I decided we would do a podcast in which I asked those questions, and she answered them, as well as discussed whether the questions were ethically fair or represented factual statements.

The moment Brianna announced three days ago that we were going to record the podcast, my feed erupted. She had noted I was a journalist and I was going to ask her the tough questions; we had set the terms that, even though I was her friend, I could ask her anything, and she'd answer.

The eruption seemed to be over the definition of journalism and journalist, but I couldn't follow the often angry, often illogical statements and accusations. The GamerGaters said, "You can't be unbiased in talking to her. You're a journalist. You can't do this."

And I said, "Two friends can't discuss a topic with full disclosure?" The answer seemed to be no.

This may stem from confusion about what journalism is and how journalists work. We are not unbiased; we attempt to shelve any bias we may have in favor of an honest examination, but disclosure is the key. If we have a bias related to a story, we explain it to our editors, and our editors have a duty to choose how to present it to the audience, or to take us off the story. As a freelancer, I feel this keenly: I have a strong ethical duty to all the publications for which I write, and the one that I own and edit.

But my obligation to remain "free of bias" starts and ends with the particular articles I engage in. In the rest of my life, I need to uphold my own ethical standards, but I can express any views I choose on any matter. I can even be completely unfair (though that is not in my nature).

What I can't do is bring my bias to my work nor have any personal or financial connections that are related to my work. But I can be a journalist and talk to someone I know in an independent forum (her podcast, in fact) without violating any policies for any publications I work for, nor general ethics guidelines for reporters.

What may be difficult for people outside the news industry to grok is that I am not an employee of any organization, nor have been for nearly 20 years. All my writing is on contract, even if it's recurring. If I were on staff as an employee, or even on a full-time contract for a publication, I would operate under much stricter standards, because every action I took (almost like a politician) would be a reflection of the publication for which I was working. To interview Brianna when I was a publication staffer, I would certainly have to clear it with a boss, and I might be told not to do it, because it might give the appearance of the publication lending its name and reputation to the interview.

Being outside that structure, it's not an issue, so long as we disclose clearly all our entanglements, which we did. The first hour of the podcast is us talking about journalistic and business ethics, the issues about accusing people of false reporting, believing victims, and financial entanglements. Brianna contributed to my book Kickstarter last year and this year (about $30 each time); I gave $25 to her company's Kickstarter; I paid her money to reprint the essay she wrote for The Magazine, and then other fees for other writing early this year for our then-collection at Medium.

Money changing hands doesn't destroy our ability to have any conversation at all. If we hadn't mentioned it, it would be a breach of personal ethics to be sure, if we represented ourselves as not having any connection or entanglement. We weren't planning to mislead people, but thousands of tweets accused us ahead of the podcast of that behavior. When I engaged some people and explained, they backed down, and some apologized.

What it felt like in many people's (angry or otherwise) condemnation of our potential to record a podcast is that journalism was a place that, once departed to, one may never return as a civilian — a military service for life, or a religious order. Once I am a journalist (a Journalist!), I cannot engage in any conversation with someone who is newsworthy and whom I know. This is a misunderstanding of the difference between "straight news," the quasi-objective attempt to represent factually an account of what has or is occurring, and all other kinds of journalism and news and such, which encompasses opinion, analysis, and conversation.

It put me in mind of Hamlet, the way they seemed to think of Journalism as a far-off land:

Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,    
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will    
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

Journalism is a concept, not a place; a job, which someone may lay down; a set of mind that one participates in; an obligation to see the world as it is. We engaged in some form of journalism in that podcast, and I believe upheld all the principles which we both hold, as a reporter on my side and a businessperson on hers — and as friends and colleagues with enormous mutual respect.