Archive for January, 2010


Fortune-telling

What we have witnessed during the past year is not a collapse of the journalism industry but of advertising. All ad-driven industries are struggling under the burden of this recession, but as the economy improves so will advertising and journalism.

This was the perspective of Charlotte Hall, editor of the Orlando Sentinel, last week at a forum at the University of Central Florida on the future of journalism.

“When you know the future will you let me know so I can know what to do?” a freelancer friend asked me just before I headed over to the forum.

I still can’t divine the future, but Hall’s perspective is perhaps the most heartening I’ve heard in a while. During the past year fast-moving technology collided against the worst recession in a generation, she said, but the worst is over now.

An assortment of print, TV and online journalists spoke during the afternoon-long forum, and their perspectives were interesting and far-ranging, appropriate for an industry in chaos. The truth is no one knows the future of journalism. Is the worst really over? I believe the economy has reached bottom and has only to climb back from here. But the journalism industry still is at the beginning of its digital revolution. It will be two years before we can see how The New York Times’ plan to charge some online readers will play out. Nonetheless I was happy to hear Hall’s perspective.

Other speakers stressed the importance of developing an array of skills in photography, video and more. Be ready for anything, they said, and I felt they said this because they couldn’t precisely say what to be ready for. Develop an entrepreneurial spirit, they said, and I felt they said this because secretly they hoped someone among the journalism students they were addressing finally would develop the new model we all have been searching for.

Hopefully the worst is over, though. What do you think?

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Want to improve your resume?

Apply for a journalism award or fellowship. Most are open to freelancers. For listings check the back of Quill, SPJ’s bimonthly magazine for members.

The NIHCM Foundation offers annual Health Care Journalism Awards for Print Journalism (in two categories: general circulation and trade publications) and for Television and Radio Journalism.

Briefly:

  • Print Journalism Awards recognize reporting and writing on the financing and delivery of health care and the impact of health care policy.

o   Two categories: general circulation and trade publications.

  • Television and Radio Journalism Award recognizes excellence in reporting on health care issues and policy.

All three awards include a $10,000 prize. Postmark deadline for entry is February 26, 2010. See http://www.nihcm.org/awards for more information and entry forms.

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Adding to your bag of tricks

Freelancers today need to do more than simply write, argues Jason Fry in this post Neither a Veal Calf Nor a One-Trick Pony Be . Freelancing has always been a kind of composite career, and this offers good advice for people who are freelancing or thinking about it.

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Reminder

For those of us who file quarterly, taxes are due today. Happy New Year!

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Looking for a job?

After analyzing trends on its own job board www.mediabistro.com has released its first ever Media Jobs Report. Some findings:

  • As if you didn’t already know, employers are hiring for fewer positions. In 2007 the job board’s top 10 posters accounted for 19 percent of all postings. Two years later those same employers accounted for 8 percent of postings.
  • Some categories gained ground in 2009. They were public relations, marketing and new media. The categories that fared the worst were television, teaching and magazine publishing, advertising and graphic design.
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The dilemma of Demand Studios

By Amy Green

Perhaps you’ve noticed advertising for Demand Studios on the Society of Professional Journalists’ Web site or in Quill, SPJ’s bimonthly magazine for members. Maybe you noticed Demand Studios at SPJ’s convention last August in Indianapolis.

Demand Studios is the creative arm of Demand Media, an up-start Web enterprise that has undertaken the Herculean task of providing answers to every question any Web user might ask. The start-up uses a mathematical algorithm drawing from Web data rather than editors to anticipate these questions, generating some 4,000 articles and videos a day with titles such as “How To Draw a Greek Helmet” or “Dog Whistle Training Techniques.” WIRED magazine published a thorough article on Demand last fall.

Already the start-up is among the largest suppliers of content to YouTube, where its 200,000 videos comprise more than twice the content of CBS, The Associated Press, Al Jazeera English, Universal Music Group, CollegeHumor and Soulja Boy combined. Demand also posts content to 45 other sites, includingeHow.com and Livestrong.com, which attract more traffic than ESPN, NBC Universal and Time Warner’s online properties (excluding AOL) combined. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently commissioned Demand to produce travel articles that ran online and in print.

To pen and shoot this massive volume of material Demand has reached out to freelance journalists during a time when the recession and fast-moving technology have left our industry in chaos. The catch? The pay. The average Demand writer earns just $15 for articles that top out at a few hundred words, and filmmakers generally earn $20 a clip. Other freelancers copyedit for $2.50 an article, fact-check for $1 an article, transcribe for $1 or $2 a video or offer themselves up as experts to be quoted for free.

I don’t have to tell you how terrible these rates are for freelancers, and understandably some of you have complained about the advertising, reasoning the relationship supports an enterprise that is unhealthy for quality journalism and undermines SPJ’s reputation among freelancers. So I’d like to clarify precisely what is SPJ’s relationship with Demand, and that is Demand is an advertiser for SPJ and nothing more, infusing SPJ with revenue during a time when revenue of course is down. SPJ does not endorse Demand’s business model in any way.

“We are treating them as any vendor who wants to buy ad space on SPJ’s Web site, who wants to sponsor an exhibit at the convention or who wants to buy memberships for their employees,” SPJ President Kevin Smith wrote me in an e-mail about the matter. “We have never denied a media group the right to advertise based on their corporate philosophy. Rupert Murdoch is controversial and does things that violate our Code of Ethics, but we’d afford him the right to advertise and sponsorship, if he chose. In some ways, as a journalism group, we have to create an opportunity for free speech.”

This column is the product of a thoughtful conversation among SPJ’s freelance committee and the organization’s national leadership.

Today the journalism crisis has raised fundamental questions such as what is a journalist, and SPJ aims to be an organization for all journalists including citizen journalists who perhaps lack the training we traditionally receive in journalism schools. The frustration we feel for organizations such as Demand is natural, but really we feel frustrated with an emerging business model that has upended our industry but that is gaining ground. Remember, we are journalists who champion a free exchange of information and ideas. We feel frustrated we no longer hold a monopoly on this.

Whether to embrace Demand is a personal decision on your part akin to embracing, or not, Geico, another SPJ advertiser. If you are a seasoned journalist then I believe, in fact, that you should not work with Demand. I believe the model is unhealthy for quality journalism and takes advantage of struggling journalists. I believe journalists who work for such low rates only depress rates for everyone. Web start-ups offer these rates because they can. People do it. The marketplace supports it. So don’t do it. But perhaps you disagree. Perhaps you feel an enterprise such as this represents the future, and that by turning out a high volume of work you can make the model pay. Perhaps you are a citizen journalist, and the pleasure of seeing your work in print is payment enough.

While Demand might not offer high rates, the start-up does offer reliability, Jeremy Reed, Demand’s senior vice president of content, told me during a phone interview. Demand freelancers can bank on steady pay checks, which in itself is valuable.

“For us it was the principles of SPJ,” said Reed, a former freelance writer himself who was at SPJ’s convention in Indianapolis. “The people that are attracted to that society and career are exactly the type of writer and copy editor that we wanted to attract.”

No matter how you feel about Demand remember that SPJ offers many valuable resources for freelancers, including a lively committee of knowledgeable freelancers and an online database where freelancers can show off our work for editors. Also remember it’s possible this trend eventually will exhaust itself as unsustainable. I mean, how long can a business survive without appropriately compensating the people who drive it?

___

Amy Green is chairwoman of SPJ’s freelance committee. She is a journalist in Orlando, Fla., whose stories have appeared in PEOPLE, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor and many other publications. She specializes in faith, the environment and social issues. Visit her Web site at www.amybgreen.com.

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New committee member!

I am very pleased to introduce Lydia Breen, a freelance writer-filmmaker who covers the environment and artists-activists. She has written for Newsweek, E/ the Environmental Magazine, Grit Magazine, Sojourners, National Catholic Reporter, the Boston Phoenix, the Louisiana Weekly and others. Find her blog Cafe Libre at www.lydiabreen.com.

Welcome, Lydia! Please e-mail her to welcome her, or perhaps to share an idea, concern or question.

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Please don’t write for free

Before Christmas I received an e-mail from the founder of an upstart Web site inviting me to write for the site. The site will feature user-generated content, the message said, but unlike other sites it will compensate journalists.

I could see right through this. Initially I ignored the e-mail, but in the end my frustration got the better of me. My response was sincere and blunt.

“I receive messages such as this quite a bit, and they are both dispiriting and insulting,” I wrote. “I wish you all would stop sending them. I am a seasoned journalist who does not work for little or nothing. You should target the hobbyist citizen journalists you are seeking.”

Today’s Los Angeles Times article on freelance writing reminded me of the episode.

If you write as a hobby then perhaps the pleasure of seeing your work in print is payment enough, and I understand that. I don’t mean to discourage anyone from the fundamental activity of writing, which of course bears significant value by itself. But if you are a seasoned journalist, then please do not write for free.

I understand the temptation. Times are tough, and you’d rather do something than nothing. You feel you shouldn’t turn down any work, no matter the fee. You want to build a platform toward landing another job, book deal, etc.

You are worth more than that. Take another look at your resume and clips. You will see.

The pleasure unique to freelancing is our complete freedom to choose how we make our living. We can do anything we want. We are our own bosses. We don’t have to do anything, and work is out there that pays appropriately. It’s true we now must work harder at finding it. But it is out there. Perhaps you supplement lower-paying journalism assignments with some sort of nonjournalism enterprise. Think creatively. Look for the money!

Journalists who accept work for low rates only drive down rates for everyone. Editors pay these rates because they can. The marketplace supports it. People do it.

So don’t do it. What would happen if we all demanded 50 cents to $1 a word for every assignment we encounter, if all of us refused to write for anything less? After all, even that is not a huge amount but actually quite reasonable.

- Amy Green, SPJ’s freelance committee chairwoman

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Taking the freelance plunge

It’s the start of a new year, and many journalists may have put ‘look into freelancing’ on their goals list. This post from Harvard Business Review, Is Freelancing Right for You?, asks many of the questions you need to answer before taking the plunge. Pay special attention to the part about asking what the market wants, rather than what you want.

Happy new year, and happy thinking.

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