I took my first photograph when I was three and wrote my first story when I was four. I was not a prodigy — I was an only child. You learn to entertain yourself. Now 49, I still find pleasure in storytelling. I’m endlessly curious. Type A all the way. I like solving problems. It’s what I do.
When I was 14, newly employed by the Mobile County News, my biggest challenge was finagling my way into the boys’ locker room to get stats from the football coach. As a journalism student at The University of Alabama, I juggled 18-hour semesters while stringing photos for The Crimson White and Mobile Bay Monthly, working full-time at Books-A-Million, and running the campus photo lab. At 26, when I became editor of The Northport Gazette, I learned to function on two hours’ sleep, three pots of coffee, a styrofoam carton of cold Chinese food, and a driving desire to serve my community.
Four years later, in July 2002, I learned to let go. I took an ethical stance that cost my job. My world crashed. But when the tears dried, I realized something — I was still a writer. I would always be a writer. I founded Cloudybright Communications and never looked back.
I discovered a pleasure like no other while working for some of the best editors in the nation. I was privileged — and remain so — to work for publications like Christian Science Monitor, TIME Magazine, and Washington Post. I lived out of a suitcase. I spent so many nights away from home, I kept a Post-It note by the phone to remind me of where I was. My dog, Cowboy, rode shotgun on every trip. It was a good life. A happy life.
It was also unsustainable. The economic crash of 2009 took my carefree freelance days with it.
When I was offered a position in April 2011 with a fourth-generation, family-owned daily newspaper in Mississippi, I jumped at the chance to reacquaint myself with community journalism and immerse myself in a part of the South that had long fascinated me. Gradually, my dog and I made a new life in Columbus, Mississippi, where I worked as news editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
Now the journey has come full-circle as I return to my freelance career. And 34 years after my first byline, it’s still a rush. I have been blessed to spend my life doing what I love. I could not ask for more.
Wondering if I will write or shoot for you? All you have to do is ask.
I noticed you are a journalist, and so I nosily read your bio. Like you I freelanced for many years until 2011, when I finally threw my hands up at the recession and got a job at the NPR station in Orlando.
I just got an offer on a book, and my daughter was born a year ago, and so I’m curious about freelancing again. How has it been going for you?
I’m hearing pay rates still are pretty poor. But I’m wondering whether people like you and me got out of it during the recession, and so now editors are experiencing a shortage of writers.
You can email me back at email@example.com.
Also, the Everglades’ headwaters begin with the Kissimmee River in Central Florida, not far from Lakeland …
Thanks so much for your comment. I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to get back with you.
The recession was indeed a hard time for journalists of all stripes. About the same time you were joining NPR, I was taking a staff position at The Commercial Dispatch. You do what you have to do to survive.
I’m finding the waters much more amenable to freelancers these days. Now that the recession has eased, wallets seem to be opening again, and some of the previous pay rates seen during the “glory days” are returning. I’m hearing reports of writers earning $1 to $2 a word again, and — as unfortunate as it is to say this — there are more freelance opportunities available because so many staffers have been let go.
I don’t know that there will ever be a shortage of writers. The downside of social media and new technology is that more people than ever are writing and shooting pictures. So at this point, it becomes a matter of differentiating yourself from your competitors by going deeper and maintaining the high standards that have sustained you throughout your career.
I would hesitate to tell anyone they should leave the steady comfort of a staff job, but the short answer to your question is that from my side of the South, things seem much better, and I have no shortage of work.
And by the way, congratulations on the new baby and the book deal. That’s spectacular!
I wish you the best of luck, and if I can ever help you, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Carmen—was hoping to see the article you might have written after our discussion in Bay St Louis last week
I work for a TV company, Darlow Smithson Productions, in London and we are interested in using one of your photos of the Smithville tornado aftermath in 2011 for a programme we are making for Nat Geo.
Please can you contact me via my email below to discuss.
Please contact me re our using your photo of the Smithville tornado 2011 in a documentary series we are making for Nat Geo about natural and man-made disasters.