And in Oregon, the pay scales for those other writing opportunities are dismal at best. According to Mediabistro.com, in 2007, New York’s city magazine, New York, paid freelancers $1.50 per word; Philadelphia offered $1 to $2; Los Angeles magazine paid $1 a word, as did Portland in Portland, Maine. Even New Jersey Monthly and 5280, Denver’s city magazine, coughed up about 75 cents per word. At Portland Monthly, the rate ranges from 50 cents to $1, depending on experience (still hardly enough to secure you a down payment on that NoPo home). Maybe cost of living accounts for the differences between Portland and New York or Los Angeles—but Denver? Portland, Maine?
At weeklies, rates are even lower—Willamette Week and SoCal’s Inland Empire Weekly pay between 10 and 30 cents a word. At those rates, you’d have to pen roughly six stories this size (about 1,200 words) to cover the average $790 rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Portland.
Of course, I know that writers’ rates have always been low, probably because with so many aspiring wordsmiths, there’s always some poor Palahniuk wannabe willing to work for pennies. And in these hard economic times—when publications are feeling the pinch of fewer advertising dollars—the situation isn’t likely to improve much.
Truth be told, local journalism pays poorly everywhere. But places like New York City and Los Angeles have other writing industries (like film and publishing houses) with deeper pockets for writers. Which is why Portland, with its proximity to Los Angeles, 15-odd film festivals, and growing number of successful animation firms like Laika/House, ought to consider embracing screenwriting as a potential moneymaker.
Or, perhaps, Portland writers should establish a sort of writers’ union like the one screenwriters have. Sounds preposterous, I know, but consider that the Writers Guild of America mandates a $109,783 minimum payment for a high-budget script; even a low-budget film (under $5 million) will net you $58,477. Suddenly a Portland writers’ union doesn’t seem like a half-bad idea. Hell, I’d even volunteer to help lead the campaign. After my check for this piece arrives, of course.