Monday, March 16, 2009

The sad state of affairs

Many of my friends back home, especially those who studied journalism with me, often ask me why I’m first and foremost a teacher and not plying my intended trade full-time. What they don’t realise is that being a foreign journalist in Vietnam is far from lucrative and, unless you’re an editor (possibly deputy-editor), you’re probably in need of an alternative source of income. Nowhere in the world is the industry a well-paid one. Rewarding? One of the most. Able to retire at the age of forty? Erm…think again.

You can’t really work as a “part-time” or freelance newspaper journo in Vietnam, and full-time pays an obscenely small amount, so your options are limited to online media, magazines and the occasional guidebook, as there is no domestic English radio station. The infrastructure and support for English freelance journalists is non-existent; no development training programmes, fellowships or anything of that sort, so you’re flying solo here.

Thus, for example’s sake, let’s say you work for magazines – and trust me the plural is necessary as just working for one will see you sleeping in the gutter begging for banh mi crumbs in no time. This is unfortunately out of most editors’ hands as English magazines are usually distributed freely to businesses, hotels and restaurants around the country, relying heavily on advertising and publicity (I know this last part is by no means a localised feature of the magazine media industry). The publications in Vietnam include The Word, AsiaLife (previously Saigon InsideOut), East & West, Pathfinder, The Guide, and some English in-flight magazines like Heritage, the majority of whom I’ve worked with at some time or another.

Payment is either per word, per published page or per article. An average magazine per-word story pays between 500 Vietnam Dong (VND) and VND2000 per published word (note, it might get edited to shit and shreds). An average per-page story gets you VND300 000 to VND500 000 and a 2000-word feature article between VND700 000 and VND2 million. Okay, so US$1 is about VND17 000 (or R10.50 for the Saffas). The majority of magazines work on the per-word basis, so let’s make our calculations according to this payment method.

For me, writing a thousand word article normally requires approximately 3-4 hours of research and 3-4 hours of drafting, writing and editing. So that equals about 6-8 hours of work for an average of VND1 million (or about $60). This doesn’t even include my own travel, accommodation and food/drink expenses when I’m writing restaurant reviews or need to travel out of town - I'm not a fan of chequebook journalism. Some publications do make allowances up to a certain (pitiful) amount for these expenses, but by no means all of them.

Let’s put this in perspective. I teach on average about 24 hours a week. Add about 6 hours of preparation time and that makes a total of about 30 hours a week. To make writing articles what I make teaching in a week, I’d have to churn out ten 1000-word articles a week, which equates to between 60 and 80 hours of work a week.

Now, I don’t know about the rest of you and call me lazy, but I’m not so sure I’m willing to spend two-thirds of my 120 hours a week working as I need at least 40 hours of sleep in order not to maim or kill anyone with my violent whirlwind of bad moods caused by sleep deprivation. It is a truly sad state of affairs. I’m not asking for millions – well actually I am if you’re counting in VN Dong – just enough to get by! Thus, my heartfelt plea to those paying the salaries in the media industry in Vietnam: Pay us more and don’t mess with my sleep, trust me, it doesn’t pay.


Ches said...

Hey Dude,

Followed your blog thru Brazen, tried to read most of it to see if you have any places you'd recommend visiting. I travel to Vietnam in April/May this year. Hanoi, Halong, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, HCMC, and the Delta seem to be on the cards!

Appreciate any travel tips if you have.

A Saffa in there's a sight! Ha ha...



henno said...

April/May, you say? You can leave the hoody and scarf at home, that's for sure 'cause you'll be sweating like a pedo in a playpen!

Oh, and don't worry about all those malaria/cholera/ebola etc shots, unless you planning on playing hopscotch on rusty nails in a stangant pool of water somewhere. We do have a bit of a Dengue Fever problem though, dunno if you can get something for that.

Sounds like you got most places covered then - make some time for Phu Quoc Island and possible Mui Ne for some beach living if you can. If you wanna cool down a bit, head up to Dalat in the Highlands.

Give us a shout if you got any more questions.

Louisa said...

Good luck with the teaching and the writing. Hopefully the coffee's not too bad there - might help with the crankiness? ;-)

Thanks for the tip about the good news, I'll go check it out.

henno said...

Cheers Louisa, yeah the coffee here is absolutely awesome. Don't know when last I made a coffee post so I'll definitely post more about it. I pick up an iced coffee off the street every morning for about 25 cents (South African). Yum...

Ches said...

Thanks Henno.

Had malaria thrice now...always makes a good travel story catching a local illness.

Have packed some boardies and some deo.