What are the worst things about being a marine journalist?

July 4, 2024

Being a marine writer is brilliant. I’m always learning about a topic I love, I get to meet interesting people and (sometimes) visit bucket-list destinations. But, like with any career, there are downsides too. So, for those of you wanting to know about both the highs and lows of this profession, here are my least favourite things about being a freelance marine journalist

Rejection

Being a freelance writer means being resilient. There are so many reasons an editor will reject a pitch: it's not timely enough, it's not a topic their readers engage with, they don't have capacity (or budget) to commission new stories this week. The list goes on. This means that as a freelance marine journalist you have to get used to your pitches being rejected. It's all part of the process (we all go through it) but that doesn't mean it doesn't sting sometimes. When you really want to tell a story and can't find the right home for it, it can be really frustrating.

Being ghosted

Editors are incredibly busy and often don't have time to reply to your pitches at all. This is totally understandable given the vast numbers of emails they receive (I've heard many editors say that if they replied to all the emails they get, they'd never get anything else done). That said, it's still a challenging part of the job to deal with radio silence after you've sent a pitch. This is even more true when you think you had a great story that was a good fit for the publication and you're left wondering why they didn't go for it (when someone rejects a pitch, at least you can learn why it didn't work and improve next time).

Poor rates

Like many 'fun' careers, you don't go into freelance writing (or the conservation sector, for that matter) for the money. This isn't true across the board but many publications or organisations pay their writers poorly. To make it work, it helps to have a good savings buffer and clear boundaries on what your minimum rate is for an article. After all, we work to help us pay our bills. I'm thankfully at the stage now when I can (and do) turn down work that doesn't pay a fair fee.

Late payments

Ah yes, the bane of all freelancers' lives: late payments. We submit the work, the client is happy, we invoice, we wait and... nada. Late payments are so common and SO frustrating. Freelancing is challenging enough without having to chase up money that a client should have paid you. Enough already. There is no excuse. Clients: pay your freelancers on time (or, better yet, early!). Late payers: be assured we know who you are and we do share with our network to protect other people from your poor practices.

Climate anxiety

Writing about conservation means you'll often cover negative stories. Animals being killed by human activity, populations of endangered species depleting or even being hunted, the impacts of climate change and more. It can all get a little depressing! Like many others in the conservation sector, I can suffer from eco anxiety and wonder if I'm doing enough to prevent climate catastrophe. There are positive stories too and I try to hold onto hope but it's not always possible.

If you're thinking of becoming a marine journalist too, I hope this reality check doesn't put you off. We need lots of talented writers sharing the plight of our ocean and how to protect it. But do be aware of the lows as well as the highs so you can make an informed decision about whether this is the right career for you.