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Letter to What Medium Was

Getting a foot in the door of journalism has been a grind for me.

Since a young age, I knew that there was no version of my grown-up life that didn’t involve writing. Whether I was an author, a firefighter, a college professor, or sold hot dogs at baseball games, writing was simply part of me.

I didn’t know I wanted to be a journalist until I got out of college. I had a music blog where I’d post new songs and writer articles about a range of topics (most of which were ironically not about music). I started writing professionally in 2012 and decided to go to journalism grad school. Since graduating from USC, finding a position in a newsroom has been rough; a journey that has both grounded and ground me.

Over about seven years, I’ve applied to way more journalism jobs than I can count. I can’t remember how many interviews I had, yet more often than not, I’d make it to the second or final round of interviews and be told in professional and polite terms that I didn’t get it.

During that time, I freelanced, did Uber and Lyft. I was fortunate enough to be a high school English teacher, an adjunct and an assistant professor—all at relatively young ages. I’ve left jobs twice in order to focus on my freelancing to build up my resume. Though I stuck to it, I didn’t always feel the joy of stick-to-itiveness.

I felt trapped in a cycle of “you need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience.” I was overqualified for most journalism jobs I applied to without actually ever having had a journalism job before. Sticking to freelance in the meantime was my only option. Though the freedom that comes with freelancing is great, your income is inconsistent—one month I made more than $2,000, the very next month I made $0. You also can’t control if you get paid within two weeks or two months, and are competing in this attention economy with staff writers from bigger publications.

Though my friends and loved ones have commended me on staying dedicated towards my goal, I always feel weird about accepting it. Because I know all the times I felt a whole lot less like a hero on my own personal epic quest, and a whole lot more like a truck driver slowly hauling cargo from Miami to Seattle. This journey was taking away some of my love for writing and journalism seemed to be less and less in the cards for me.

But in 2018, I started writing on Medium and some of that love came back to me. It was great having a platform where you can write not only about timely and newsworthy things, but anything you wanted to—from covering issues in digital technology to writing film reviews to personal essays to niche stuff like anime.

As a full-time freelancer, it can suck when you pitch a story to a publication, the editor passes on it, and then you see staff writers across news media write about the same exact thing days later. With Medium, I could bypass much of that disappointment. Whenever editors would reject work that I thought was really good or important and timely, I’d just put it on Medium. Some of my most read pieces have been things that other places passed on, but found a home on Medium. And with its partnership program, my work made it to bigger platforms like OneZero, GEN, Level, etc.

The various Medium publications also paid better rates than a lot of the other, and at times, larger and more prestigious publications I’ve written for. All the editors I’ve worked for have been amazing—both helpful and timely in the editing process. I’ve gotten radio and podcast interviews based on articles I wrote on Medium. This platform has been a positive influence on my career trajectory, and I’m grateful for all the things it has done for me.

About two weeks I learned I got my first staff writing position. I was more relief than anything. It was somewhat bittersweet, as within the week, I also I saw the announcement about all the changes that would be happening at Medium, particularly the move away from publications.

Some of these changes I intuited—the business model for journalism was drastically disrupted due to the advent of social media. The trend seems to be hedge funds and tech billionaires swoop to buy publications, lay off much of the staff, switch emphasis to multi-media, opinion journalism and more national news coverage. These folks who accustomed to making billions see modest profit (and sometimes losses) and scramble things once more before selling the publication or closing it. And with folks trying to move to subscription models like Substack, there are other challenging implications on the horizon (though I won’t get into that here).

The average journalist (especially those who aren’t already well established, don’t come from wealthy families or have spouses that can foot the critical mass of living expenses) know the tenuous ground they walk upon. But seeing the flurry of Medium writers and editors tweet about accepting the buyout made me sad. I read about the union dispute as well, and I’m sure that there are plenty of internal machinations those of us who don’t work at Medium aren’t privy to. But I’m sad that many of the publications I’ve grown to enjoy and appreciate—ones that kept me going and helped me out on my long road to journalism—are going to be disbanded.

I hope all the folks leaving Medium will find great positions elsewhere.

Crossing my fingers and toes for you.

Joshua Adams is a staff writer at Colorlines.com from Chicago. UVA & USC. Taught media and communication at DePaul & Salem State. Twitter: @journojoshua

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