What the MSN Movies Massacre Teaches Us about Film Writing

Sections: Movies

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MSNLet’s revisit the events of two days ago, or as I like to call it “the MSN Movies Massacre,” when MSN Movies’ editor Kent Laird sent a mass email to its considerable roster of freelance editors and writers that as of October 1st, the site’s freelance budget would be eliminated.

Three things about this event struck me with the force of an aluminum bat to the head:

1.) The folks who were laid off–including Glenn Kenny, James Rocchi, Kate Erbland–are definitely not scrubs. They had turned writing about movies into a career, so this news serves as a wake-up call for anyone who has similar aspirations. I know it did for me. I’m still leasing, to use Kenny’s term, an apartment on “Digital Grub Street.” I would love to make the amount I get writing about movies that I do for trade magazines. In fact, I’d be thrilled with half of that.

I’m not sure if that’s a realistic expectation anymore.

2.) MSN is not in the print business. It’s not surprising when The Village Voice cuts its editorial staff to ribbons, but a digital company with deep pockets doing that?

3.) As Sam Adams touches upon in his excellent report for Indiewire, the decimation of MSN Movies serves as a cold reminder of how unstable freelance writing is. When a writer focuses on one area of expertise–film or knitting or whatever–things get even more rickety because he or she further limits their market. That makes recouping your losses that much harder.

Being a freelance writer means your career is a house of cards set up on a subway platform. Anything can cause the delicate enterprise to falter. The MSN Movies debacle should serve as a wake-up call to any writer: do not get too comfortable, always look for other clients. At least Rocchi, Kenny, and company have allies who will spread their story. Others, including myself, may not be that lucky.


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