Defining the terms of employment

What happens to many journalists who are laid off? in many cases, they become “permalancers,” sometimes even for their previous employers. “Permalancer” (the noun) and “permalance” (the verb and adverb) are a conflation of “permanent” and “freelancer,” and that’s what those journalists are—they freelance full time at a single company.

While “permalancer” may have first appeared in the late 1990s, it has gained currency in the past year, appearing almost always in reference to journalists, authors, and others in the publishing or entertainment business. The online Urban Dictionary’s usage example keeps to that code: “I was hired for a freelance position at Condé Nast; then, instead of hiring me full time, they kept me on permalance.”

One might ask, “What’s the difference between a ‘permalancer’ and an outsourcer?” The outsourcer (let’s pretend it’s a real word) works for a company that contracts to work for another company, and the workers rarely toil in the contracting company’s offices. “Permalancers,” though, often work in the employer’s office and have desks, company e-mail, and telephone extensions. Besides, “outsourcing” has a negative ring to it, while “permalancing” has a hip irony, tinged with nostalgia for the benefits those jobs once carried.

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Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at The New York Times, where she worked for 25 years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl.