Budding Writer, 1979: Fifteen dollars is fifteen dollars …

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Snowdrops emerge along a brick walk in Southbury, Connecticut, March 7, 2023. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

My journals from my first year as a freelance writer took a turned toward journalism — and cynicism — on this date 44 years ago:

A day with very little to comment on. Weather varied from a bright, sunny morning to a cloudy evening — but I didn’t have much time or opportunity to notice, driving hell-bent to Bath, N.H. to cover Town Meeting, then back to Bradford. A little awkward in the newspaper offices, but OK — and both Tom and Robert liked my article. So much, in fact, that I get to cover the Bath school board meeting tomorrow night! Oh, boy! Well, actually things aren’t that bad. Fifteen dollars is fifteen dollars.

Journal, Volume II
13 March, 1979

The newspaper I was stringing for was in Vermont, where today the minimum wage is a little over $13 per hour. The equivalent of $15 in 1979 is about $61.81 today. Stringer rates are intended to cover both time and expenses. They are rarely generous.

My 1979 assignment pay would have had to cover about 100 miles round trip to Bath via Bradford, at about 20 miles per gallon. (With gas at about $1 a gallon, that’s $5 right there). Drive time of about two hours, meeting time of two hours, writing time of an hour: The remaining $10 comes to about $2 per hour. That was less than the $2.90 minimum hourly wage at the time.

You can understand why I was less than enthusiastic about another long round trip to Bath for little more compensation than a bag boy would get.

Still, fifteen dollars is fifteen dollars …

Tune in tomorrow …

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