Archive for February, 2006

PR prof pushing use of freelancers

Check this out folks: One PR prof is pushing PR agencies to turn to freelancers for better quality writing. He maintains that there’s a good story in most clients just waiting to be uncovered. A bit a hidden treasure if you will. But a lot of the crappy press releases that get mass manufactured by agency staff don’t make it past the trash can (virtual or physical) because they’re so poorly written and uncompelling.

I, for one, like his lovely compliment of freelancers:

Freelance writers, photojournalists and editors are hungry, highly professional, versatile, keen to forge lasting relationships, creative, competitive and damned good at their craft – otherwise they don’t survive.

With the vast benefits to be gained through using reputable and seasoned freelancers, the fact that the public relations industry, which prides itself on creativity in most other spheres, seems mired in the old mindset of carpet-bombing newspapers, magazines, radio, TV and the internet with tons of trashcan fodder doesn’t make sound sense.

I would only add one thing to this: make sure you pay what this skill is worth! No exploitation allowed!

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Disappointing news from U.S. Supreme Court

Just receive from Marc Goodman, executive director at the Student Law Press Center: He reports that the U.S. Supreme Court has announced this morning that it will not hear a case that questioned the authority of administrators at an Illinois university to censor a student newspaper that published articles critical of the school.

The Court’s ruling lets stand a June 2005 decision by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that could open the door to providing university administrators with authority to censor school-sponsored speech by public college students and faculty, including speech in some student newspapers, at schools in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

The appeals court ruled that the Supreme Court’s 1988 decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which has been used to restrict the First Amendment rights of elementary and high school students and teachers, applied to colleges and universities as well. The appeals court decision was in stark contrast to over three decades of law that has provided strong free speech protection to college student journalists and protected them from censorship by school officials unhappy with what student media published.

By refusing to hear the case, the Court lets stand the extension to colleges of a censorship standard it created to oversee speech by students as young as five years old. The 7th Circuit’s decision is only binding in three states and is in direct conflict with decisions of other state and federal courts around the country.

Today’s ruling disappointed student press advocates.

“The appeals court decision last year turned on its head the traditional belief that a university is a ‘marketplace of ideas’ where speech from all sides is not only tolerated, but encouraged. We hoped that the Supreme Court would step in to reaffirm that important principle,” said Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. “We are very disappointed that the Court left that issue to be decided another day.”

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News from across the Pond

Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone
Freelance broadcast journalist Kevin Sites became a lightning rod for controversy back in November 2004 when he captured footage of a U.S. marine shooting an Iraqi inside a mosque in Falluja.

Now he’s taken his experience and has turned it into a “solo journalist” project atYahoo.

The Guardian had this report on Sites reporting on The Hot Zone.

Now Sites and his team produce Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone, a year-long odyssey to try and cover every conflict in the world. Each week the website carries a mixture of video, photography and text to tell the stories inside war-ravaged or politically disputed areas. Almost halfway through the project now, he has covered Somalia, Iran, Lebanon, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.

Although Sites operates as a “sojo” – solo journalist – there are three more team members based in Yahoo’s media HQ in Los Angeles, who help edit and choose material. The group operates independently, picking their own assignments and publishing their own material. It is certainly a new kind of project, and from a new kind of media organisation. The free-ranging concept appealed because it contrasted so sharply with the mindset which dominates American network news.

“We feel that foreign coverage is incredibly important,” he says. “Americans, especially, are uninformed about these things – but that’s the challenge. The conventional wisdom in the US media is that people aren’t interested in foreign news.”

The failures of ‘calendar journalism’
Columnist Brenda Powers offers this mea culpa on the media neglect in the wake of the 25th anniversary of Ireland’s Stardust disco tragedy.

Excerpts from The Sunday Times piece:

In the mid-1980s I was not long out of college, a young freelance journalist working for the Irish Press. Unlike the other newspapers, the Press paid a shift rate for “markings”, single assignments such as protest marches or council meetings. The one marking you didn’t want was the Stardust Relatives Committee meetings.

…Being marked down to cover the Stardust Relatives Committee was a real drag, though. It meant getting a couple of buses to chilly, grey halls in bleak landscapes on the northside. It meant sitting in the cold for hours listening to the same angry, sad, defeated people endlessly pursuing their hopeless cause.

You’d trudge back to Burgh Quay, write up the committee’s latest demands and know that, at best, your piece would end up as a couple of paragraphs on the bottom of a left-hand page.


They slipped from the headlines because we all got bored with the story.

But now it’s 25 years later and the imperatives of “calendar journalism” require us to revisit these people. There are a couple of generations who never learnt the details of the Stardust disaster. We can watch and read and listen with our children or younger friends and say, “ I remember all that.” Imagine it, 48 young people, average age 19, burnt to death at a St Valentine’s disco.

Imagine the heartbreak in all those homes and the financial hardship in households where those youngsters’ wages helped make ends meet. Imagine that some of the fire doors were locked, and yet nobody went to prison.

Imagine that the owner of the Stardust got hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation, and yet the families of the dead and maimed had to fight tooth and nail to get a few miserable thousand each. Imagine that smart lawyers and cynical politicians bought them off so cheaply, knowing they were poor.

Editors, be gentle with us
British freelancer Susan Wallace reaches out to feature editors in the hopes they will “be gentle with me.” Here’s her piece from the Press Gazette.

The one thing we all want in our incestuous, merry-go-round uncommunicative communication culture, feature editors and fairy elephant freelances alike, is a brilliant article for the readers and a better future. The reward for good work should be more work, preferably grief-free — and I’ll sprinkle some magic glitter over that!

Kurt Schork Memorial Awards
The Institute for War and Peace Reporting announces the Kurt Schork Memorial Awards, honoring the contributions of freelance journalists covering foreign news and reporters from the developing world and countries in transition.

Two $5,000 prizes are awarded each year, one to a local reporter covering local stories in a developing country or nation in transition, and the other to a freelance journalist covering international news. The stories can focus on conflict, human-rights concerns, cross-border issues, or any other issue of controversy in a particular country or region. Nominees will be judged on the quality of writing and investigative effort, and on the level of courage and resourcefulness demonstrated in producing the stories.

Underwritten by the Kurt Schork Memorial Fund and Reuters, and administered by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, the prizes honour Kurt Schork, an American freelance journalist who was killed in Sierra Leone in May 2000 while on assignment for Reuters.

The application deadline for the 2006 awards is 1 June 2006

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WaPo and freelancers

Thought I’d share the lead item in today’s Romenesko. In my Quill columns I’ve preached about professionalism among the freelance ranks and I think this piece demonstrates that point.

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you — or as my father says, “Don’t sh&* where you eat.”

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Princeton bioethicist on Jill Carroll

An op-ed in today’s L A Times on why we haven’t discussed the demands of Jill Carroll’s kidnappers.

BUT IS THE RULE against dealing with kidnappers really absolute? Is it so black and white that we shouldn’t even bother to discuss it?

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Free access to articles online

Check out this free search engine when researching articles.

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Must-read essay in CJR

Journalism desperately needs a return to terrain, to the kind of firsthand, solitary discovery of local knowledge best associated with old-fashioned travel writing.
— Robert Kaplan, correspondent for Atlantic Monthly

Kaplan’s essay in CJR is inspiring. Take a moment to read when you can because I think he speaks largely to freelancers for whom solitary writing and reporting is fundamental to the gig.

Reporting, — one of history’s oldest professions, even as it has gone under different names — will survive and prosper, while “journalism” as a respected discipline threatens to dissolve into another branch of entertainment. How will good reporting survive? Individual men and women will slip away from the crowd — away from the panels and seminars, the courses and conferences, away from the writers’ hangouts and e-mails networks — to cultivate loneliness.

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Support for Jill Carroll

It has been five weeks since freelancer journalist Jill Carroll was abducted in Baghdad. Take a moment to read some of her fine writing about the Iraqi people.

Her abduction raises many questions about the risks an independent journalist faces when working in a hostile environment.

• Did she have security?
• Who paid for that security?
• What obligation does a news organization have to pay for a contractor?

Please share your experiences working as an indepedent in a hostile environment.

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Welcome to the Indie

Welcome to SPJ’s blog for freelancers. This space is designed to share news and information in a more timely fashion for the independent journalists or those aspiring to be independent journalists among SPJ’s rank and file.

We’re embracing modern technology here and so this space is designed to be an open source blog with many voices and contributions. I welcome the input and posts from writers, editors and photographers working in print, broadcast and online.

In this space you’ll find news about matters affecting freelancers, market information, tips and more. In fact, I don’t want to define this space too narrowly because I want it to be a living, breathing, fluid space designed to capture the voice and spirit of the many SPJ freelancers.

If you’re interested in posting, please send me an e-mail at wendyhoke(at)comast(dot)net.

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