Life in Portland as a Freelance Writer

Tyler HurstBlog

Last year, for the first time in my professional life, I wrote a steady stream of mostly weed-related articles for Willamette Week, a locally-owned alternative weekly. This is a different audience than what I’ve experienced thus far, having spent most of my time writing for niche audiences and techie, early adopter types. It went…poorly.

1. The first Burnside26 story
In late May, my building management created a marketing video featuring a clichéd hipster couple enjoying their demo apartment and neighborhood. It was passed around on Facebook, and comment after comment tore apart anyone who’d live in the building, assuming we were all baristas living on trust fund dollars. A few days later, after a dinner with my wife and in-laws, I came home to a KATU news reporter interviewing people walking past my building on the sidewalk, asking them how much they hated the video, the building I lived in, and what they thought about the people who lived there.
I got pissed and hurt, so I wrote an angry letter that was published by Willamette Week (I submitted it, no one had to persuade me).
It spawned over 1000 comments and 2200 words of insults directly specifically at me. For this, I was paid $20.

2. The Burnside26 cover story
Immediately after, I was given a chance to write a “real” article, with help from WW’s staff, and have my story and the initial reader reaction as part of a housing package that would be featured on the front page. The top news reporter penned an article talking about housing and why building up is good, I added on to my original piece.
This story spawned four death threats, prompted one person to throw a burrito at a building employee, convinced people to take pictures of Nissan Cubes and post them to FB (we drive a Cube, but they didn’t find ours), a Reddit confrontation where three people using four accounts threatened to hurt people during a pickup basketball game I’d just started going to (I quit going), and a Twitter impersonator account (from Portland City Council candidate Chloe Eudaly’s FB group) that would take my quotes out of context and re-post them while tagging every local media organization.

Writing a cover story is usually a cherished accomplishment for any writer, but especially a freelancer. I see it as one of the worst things I’ve ever done.
For this, I was paid less than $200.

3. The cyclists
In early September, while waiting in a long line of traffic during rush hour behind a cyclist who couldn’t be bothered to not hold up traffic a block from a much quieter street, I tweeted that it should be legal to run over cyclists (I was kidding, what kind of fucking person would be serious about that AND publish it? C’mon…). My impersonator (pretty sure it was Kelly Wallace, but I can’t prove that), whose account Twitter wouldn’t deactivate, texted that tweet to local cycling advocate Jonathan Maus. Maus sat on it until Tuesday when he re-tweeted and framed it as a direct threat to his audience of 20k+ extremist cyclists.

His intention, as he would explain later, was to teach a “public figure” like me a lesson (in Portland, public figures are people who publish anything online and are then slandered/libeled/attacked because it’s harder for a “public figure” to prove damages).

My Twitter replies were hit with hundreds of angry messages. I was sent pictures of dead kids. The group emailed all my clients, asking me to be fired. Wanting this to be over, I agreed to a public meeting with Maus and a WW editor. At the coffee shop, my Twitter impersonator Wendy Dyer (who read this original post and then gloated about her role in it) and another random person both tweeted out pictures of me yelling at Maus (I wanted him to admit he had thrown me to the wolves, he insisted he was a journalist and my Twitter stream was newsworthy), which led to more death threats and public ridicule.

Mr. Bike Portland also shared our conversation with the Portland Mercury — Ian Karmel had already taken shots at me from Los Angeles while writing his Everything As Fuck column — and talked about our confrontation on Twitter. To his credit, he did ask people to stand down, though as a fucking idiot he didn’t realize his 20k zealot followers would ignore him.
After this, I shut down my FB and Twitter accounts for a month, locked down every blog post except the ingrown toenails ones (people were still sending me pictures of dead kids and harassing the shit out of me) and took down every video, picture, or article I could.
For this, I was paid $0.

4. Girl Scout Cookies
Then last week, I wrote about cookies and weed and still managed to get called an asshole, but at least no one threatened my life or “career.”

In case you’re curious, I earned $4600 writing for Willamette Week last year.

Tyler HurstLife in Portland as a Freelance Writer