So you want my arts job: Freelance arts writer and editor

Doug Wallen's ability to write across multiple forms allows him the freedom to be published in many outlets.

Doug Wallen is a freelance writer and editor based in Beechworth, Victoria. He writes regularly for The Big Issue, The Australian, Broadsheet, The Guardian and beyond. He served as Music Editor of The Big Issue for five years and has hosted the weekly radio show Waste the Alphabet since 2017, in addition to booking live music in Beechworth. Before moving to Australia, Doug worked as an editor at several community newspapers in Philadelphia and freelanced for major publications around the USA.

How would you describe what you do?

I’m lucky enough to write about things I enjoy: music, books, cocktails and food. That might mean reviewing an album or interviewing a chef, depending on the day. My outlets range from magazines and newspapers to websites and streaming platforms, and I moonlight as an editor, subeditor and copywriter. I also write band bios, do some freelance PR, book a lot of gigs, and host a weekly radio show. Again, pretty lucky.

How did you get started in your career?

I took a journalism class in high school, which meant writing and editing for the school newspaper. Then I started my own zine, interviewing a lot of my favourite bands as a teenager. (Think Almost Famous.) I did the zine for seven years, while also editing the arts section of my uni newspaper and interning at an alternative-weekly newspaper in Philadelphia. Soon I was getting paid to write about music. And I’ve just never stopped.

What’s an average day or week like?

There’s a lot of juggling, but each day is built around deadlines. I research, conduct and transcribe interviews; I write reviews; I organise and promote gigs; I source songs for radio; and I do a lot of varied copywriting. It’s always changing, which I appreciate.

What’s the most common misconception about being an arts writer?

People often assume that I’m a musician or a fiction writer (frustrated or otherwise). Other people see me as purely a critic, whereas I see myself just as much as an advocate. It goes back to why I started my zine: to spread the word about the things I love.

If you were interviewing someone to take over your job, what skills & qualities would you look for?

Compartmentalising is a must, since you’re constantly swinging between modes and roles. Also attention to detail and the ability to write clean copy. Meeting deadlines is crucial: you can’t be late (very often) or you’ll find yourself without work. But most important is a real passion for what you’re doing, day in and day out.

What’s the best thing happening in arts journalism at the moment?

We’re hearing from more diverse voices than ever before, which is essential. And critics’ traditional roles as cultural gatekeepers continues to be diminished, which is quite freeing. 

Thuy On is Reviews Editor of ArtsHub and an arts journalist, critic and poet who’s written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Age/SMH and Australian Book Review. She was the books editor of The Big issue for 8 years. Her first book, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was published by University of Western Australia Press (UWAP). Her next collection, Decadence, was published in July 2022, also by UWAP. Twitter: @thuy_on