What is the future for freelance journalists?
Dr Margaret Simons, the chair of the Public Interest Journalism Foundation and director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism at the University of Melbourne, recently gave the keynote address to the Walkley Foundation’s freelance conference in Melbourne.
You can watch her talk here.
Her points included:
• Much good work is being done by freelancers, and there seems to be a growth in niche freelancing, including in the areas of science, NGO policy, and government policy. Freelancing is booming both in participation and quality.
• Trade publishing is a growth area for the future.
• Trade skills, including being able to ask the tough questions, find out things, and write to newsroom standards, would remain vital for freelancers. Multimedia skills are increasingly important.
• The definition of who is a journalist is changing. Many people who don’t define themselves as journalists commit acts of journalism.
• Engaging in social media is a must for freelancers. It is no longer an option. “When you approach someone for an interview these days the first thing they do is google you.”
• Increasingly the most successful freelancers are brands are to themselves.
• We are constantly at risk of under-estimating the change we’re living through. It is not only changing our ideas about journalism but about who is “the public”.
• As mass media declines, niche markets and audiences will rise. Small niche markets expect interaction and “something they can’t get anywhere else.” In future it will be possible for journalists to make a modest living from a community of 10,000, whether we’re talking subscriptions or advertising supported. The key thing is the intensity of the relationship with that audience – a once week bulletin won’t be enough. You could do it in higher education now – there is an audience there of 30,000- 40,000 and you could probably make a living because that’s an audience worth advertising to.
• In the future a career path for journalists will be to find or assemble an audience around an issue or interest, for example a locality. “Local journalism will become increasingly important, especially in regional areas where mainstream media has dropped the ball.”
• Boundaries that have defined where journalism is done and by whom are changing. For example, shield laws in the US have been extended to NGOs such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch. Rather than thinking about journalistic independence (no-one is independent of everything, anyway), we should be thinking about journalistic integrity. Then we can be more open minded about who we align ourselves with and where we publish.
• The media will increasingly be relying upon freelancers. If you’ve got the trade skills and a good story, the future is very bright but it’s vital to stay ahead of the curve. Opinion, however, is cheap and it’s very hard to make money from opinion unless you have some special claim to expertise. The core trade skill of the journalist is finding things out and that’s where money will be made.
• One of the things that freelancers might do as part of their portfolio is to do some training and teaching, to help upskill writers. There is a gap in the market for that, you could do it almost exclusively online.