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The Featured Five: Ode to the Freelance Writer

Uninsured. No steady income. The (measly) paycheck always arriving one day after it’s needed. The life of a freelance writer, particularly one who toils for alternative-weekly papers, is rarely romantic. The hours are erratic, work is not promised. Think of freelance writers as the adjunct professors of the journalism world.

But just like part-time profs, “contributors” are essential, even if they’re often treated as outsiders. They’ve always played crucial roles at alt-weeklies, particularly the arts and entertainment sections, which have only expanded in this era of shrinking staffs.

So this week’s Featured Five is dedicated to that most unusual creature—the underpaid, underappreciated, overcaffeinated, hipster/genius: the alt-weekly contributor. As far as we can tell from bios and mastheads, freelancers penned all of the following stories. 

Let’s start in the renowned fashion capital Kansas City, Missouri. Well, at least Kansas City comes across as New York, London or Paris in Tyler Schneider’s vivid feature story “One Fashion Designer’s Elaborate, Creative Path through KC Fashion Week.” The piece, published in The Pitch, follows a young, up-and-coming designer as she rushes to finish her “most ambitious collection yet,” Schneider writes, in time for Fashion Week. The event is two weeks away … two days away … it’s the day of the show! Somehow Schneider makes this relatively frivolous challenge feel like the most important thing in the world. His story reads like a thriller. Does the protagonist crush it at Fashion Week or end up crying on one of her model’s skinny shoulders? Read this wonderful piece, which is replete with runway photos, to find out.

Down in the Southwest, Phoenix New Times contributor Chris Coplan brings us the story of local radio DJ Dubs White. In “Dubs White Is Signing Off at KWSS,” Coplan explains that after four years of spinning tunes, interviewing bands and uplifting the local scene, White—who one drummer says is “the polar opposite of a dick”—is moving on. In the touching story, Coplan reminds us of the importance of local music and the value of vinyl records. It’s a fitting tribute to White, who clearly championed the arts in Arizona.

Continuing westward, we wind up in California’s Coachella Valley, where Matt King of the Independent presents us, appropriately, with another music-related story. In “Overflow of Life,” King previews Australian indie-rock trio Middle Kids’ performance at Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. Fortunately for readers, he eschews the formulaic concert preview and gets a little more personal and in-depth with lead singer Hannah Joy, who shares her thoughts on returning to live music after the pandemic and how the band made use of the downtime. You don’t have to be a Southern Californian to appreciate this piece about an interesting band preparing to play an interesting venue.

City Holds a Reflection and Healing Memorial for Albuquerque Indian School,” by Jonathan Sims of The Paper, takes us back to the arid Southwest and delivers a decidedly darker tone. The story is set at a memorial service, held on an appropriately rainy day, and focuses on the city’s attempts to make amends for its treatment of Native Americans, particularly as it pertains to Indian boarding schools, where many students simply disappeared. Sims is a Native American, and his story includes positive and conciliatory quotes from the mayor and tribal members. But it’s clear from his newsy piece that, while this ceremony was a well-meaning first step, it is going to take more than words to heal centuries of trauma.

Our final destination is Boston. In Beantown, Harvard student and Dig contributor Juliet Isselbacher reports on a subject The News Station has been out in front of: drug decriminalization. Isselbacher’s “A Major Leap for Law Enforcement on the Decriminalization Front” reveals that a nonprofit group of police, prosecutors, judges and other criminal-justice professionals recently endorsed the deprioritization of drug offenses in Massachusetts in a letter to municipal leaders. “As current and former law enforcement, we know firsthand that justice resources are limited and need to be prioritized toward the greatest threats of public safety,” the letter read, in part, reports Isselbacher. “Arresting someone for drug possession not only fails to make our communities safer, it also criminalizes people at the expense of helping them.” The letter also recommended that cities statewide deprioritize laws prohibiting the cultivation, transportation and exchange of psychedelic plants.

Amen! And a hearty “thank you” to all alt-weekly contributors!

Matthew O’Brien is a writer, editor and teacher who lived in Las Vegas for 20 years and is currently based in San Salvador, El Salvador. His latest book, Dark Days, Bright Nights: Surviving the Las Vegas Storm Drains, documents those who lived in Vegas’ underground flood channels. His full bio is here.

Matthew O’Brien is a writer, editor and teacher who lived in Las Vegas for 20 years and is currently based in San Salvador, El Salvador. His latest book, Dark Days, Bright Nights: Surviving the Las Vegas Storm Drains, documents those who lived in Vegas’ underground flood channels. His full bio is here.

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