Home / General / Disqualification? Plus Some Random Thoughts on the Freelance Market…

Disqualification? Plus Some Random Thoughts on the Freelance Market…


My latest at 1945 looks at the 14th amendment issue:

But much of this amounts to debating how many election lawyers can dance on the head of a pin… a bespoke effort to strip Donald Trump’s ballot eligibility in some states but not in others doesn’t simply explore uncharted waters; it dives deeply and irreversibly into those waters. 

Now for a word on how the freelance columnist market has shifted over the past year… you may wonder how I, a specialist in national security issues, can find so much time to write on topics (including the legal difficulties of Donald J. Trump) which sit at the most distant borders of my academic expertise. Part of the answer to that question is that I’m a Knight of the Old Blogosphere who still holds to ancient ideals of being able to write on any damn thing I want as long as someone will read it. A little bit of the answer is that I desperately enjoy tweaking the readership at 1945, even though I never, ever read the comments. But I think perhaps the biggest part of the answer can be illustrated by the following thought experiment.

Let us imagine a writer (we’ll call this fictional person who has absolutely no real life parallel “Bert Fraley”). Bert has modest but real academic credentials, a job at a decent enough land grant university, a modest social media following, and some history of success at mid-level freelance opinion writing. Bert’s major qualification in this last area isn’t that he’s particularly smart, insightful, or incisive, at least compared to his peers. Rather, his most important asset is that he can turn in clean copy on time on a relatively wide range of subjects that a particular subset of magazine editors find useful to publish from time to time. These editors appreciate that they might not get a lot of home runs from Bert, but they’ll reliably get a fair number of walks and singles which they can use to fill their digital space and their social media feeds. They appreciate that Bert is unlikely to submit plagiarized material, both because he has no history of doing so and because he would suffer significant and real consequences for doing so at his day job. In other words, Bert is safe and is unlikely to embarrass the publication in any kind of significant way. His credentials and his existing catalogue of work make him at least somewhat attractive to editors who sometimes find themselves overwhelmed by the need to publish new material.

All that was fine and well for Bert leading into this last year. At the beginning of this last year, however, a big change upset the freelance world. ChatGPT opened up the possibility that just about anyone could submit clean copy, on time, on a wide range of different subjects. At first blush this doesn’t sound so great for Bert; like much of humanity, automation now appeared to be coming for his job. As it happens, however, the problem turned out to manifest much differently than you might have expected. Reputable editors absolutely do not want to publish something by ChatGPT; what would the point of opinion journalism be if just anyone could do it? Editors were also absolutely inundated by pitches that smelled very much like ChatGPT, often from folks who had plausible claims to expertise but no clear record of success. Ironically, the automation that could have put Bert out of one of his jobs has made him more valuable, because apart from Bert’s other modest qualifications he is a real, live human being with a heart, a brain, and two hands capable of typing (Ed: We’re getting meta here but let’s recollect that Bert is in fact not a real human being but rather the figment of our collective imagination). You pay for an article from Bert, and it’s extremely likely that you’re getting something that was produced by a human as opposed to an AI. This is super-important to a lot of editors, and so Bert’s skills remain in demand even for subjects at the edges of his expertise.

This is the reality we now live in, and it’s not so bad for Bert. Instead of columns produced by an autonomous language model, he offers hand-crafted artisanal small batch hipster articles about national security or whatever else might be going on. The impact of social and technological change is, well, unpredictable.

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