I keep hearing that journalism is dead. I also keep hearing that we're nearly at full employment in America. 

But then, the New York Times wanted to recruit five college students and recent graduates to work as freelance contributors for a new email newsletter. And they wound up getting 20,000 applications.

Those numbers are staggering, and I can't help but do the math. It means each applicant has a .025 percent chance of being hired--roughly the same chance that any random U.S. high school football player has of one day playing in the NFL.

Also, if one Times editor were to spend three minutes reading each application--working straight through each week, without so much as a bathroom break--it would still take nearly six months to get through them all.

So, what's the job that prompted so many applicants, against such long odds? 

The Times says they want freelance writers for a new, every-other-week newsletter (sent digitally, I sure hope), called The Edit. The intended audience is "college students and those starting their careers," so they hope that also describes the writers. 

The idea, according to the application site, was that they'll "spotlight an essay by one of the contributors in each issue of the newsletter," and that each person will write for The Edit several times throughout the year."

Lindsey Underwood, the newsletter's editor, said that The Edit launched a few years ago, but readers sent feedback "saying they wanted to see more of their voices represented ... [so] we decided that we should relaunch The Edit and find a way to incorporate their perspectives."

Hence, the January call for applications, which made clear that "contributors will be paid" (not a foregone conclusion in this vocation), but didn't suggest how much. 

There are a bunch of other things that are up in the air about the positions now, including:

How long it will take to go through the applications... 

"All I can promise is that we'll be in touch as soon as we have news. That should be in the coming months, if not the coming weeks," Underwood said.

How many positions there actually are... 

"We initially planned to select five contributors. Because of the huge response we got, we are probably going to increase that number."

How often the writers will actually get to write... 

"That's a bit up in the air right now. There was so much excitement about the application that we're thinking about increasing the frequency of the newsletter."

None of that matters, really, for now. I think that in a job like this, the best ideas will probably reveal themselves up as they start working.

"Maybe we were being naïve, but we initially thought we might get a couple of hundred applications. But soon after the post went up, it went viral and the responses started pouring in. We were blown away by the excitement," Underwood said.

And as someone who's had a lot of positions in a lot of different industries--including writing for a living--I can understand the excitement for sure. It's the best job in the world, potentially, and a ticket to the greatest show on earth.

Published on: Mar 7, 2018
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