The perils of freelancing in digital journalism

Today, we live in an era with very little limitation.

Today, we live in an era with very little limitation. Thanks to the rise of online news websites, we have instant access to 24 hours news, instant access to different cultures, different opinions, and different perspectives. This is, undeniably, a good thing for most of the population—globalization at its best so to speak.

For journalists worldwide, however, the rise of digital journalism, news reports and feature pieces in the form of online blogs, Twitter and Facebook accounts, Tumblr and WordPress , has wreaked havoc on one’s ability to find work, get paid or even just stand out in an industry that expands almost every minute.

Felix Salmon hit the nail on the head with this a couple of weeks ago. Discussing the correspondence between a freelance journalist, Nate Thayer, and The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan, Salmon highlighted the difficulties that now face any journalist looking a) to get their work published and b) to be paid an adequate sum of money for that work.

As Salmon pointed out, The Atlantic was more than willing to publish Thayer’s work but, and of course there was a but, for free. This is one of the most significant problems all freelance journalists now face in this digital age.

With so many bloggers looking for a break nowadays, publications can get away with not paying contributors. There is always someone out there who will do the job for free. 

As a budding journalist myself I find this highly frustrating. Writing for several start up online magazines and blogs, I understand that some of the newer publications simply don’t have the budget to pay writers yet to hear that an established publication such as The Atlantic are unwilling to pay online contributors is, simply put, quite depressing.

Yet for me the rise of digital journalism hasn’t just signalled an end to being adequately paid or even paid at all (although admittedly this development has worried me). No, what irks me the most is the apparent focus on quantity over quality.

With the dawn of social media sites, everyone has a voice and everyone has a platform on which to vocalize their opinions. Where once an outstanding journalist would have their pick of publications to work for, nowadays standing out and finding anyone willing to hire you is nearly impossible.

Is this conducive to quality work? With so much focus on how much experience someone has and what they have done, in-depth analysis and quality news reporting takes second priority.

With so many people out there willing to work for free, established publications have become lazy. Rather than pay someone for in-depth analysis, they seem to place more priority on getting what they need for free yet I just don’t see how this can encourage ground-breaking news stories or quality work.

Long gone are the days when journalism was an elite industry where only the best of the best got their opinion heard. Is this a good thing though?

Whilst we would instinctively argue that these developments are positive, one argument put forward is that with ever more news outlets and opinions, people are beginning to tune out. In other words, do we have too many voices and opinions nowadays? One has only to go on Twitter to see what I mean. With millions of users vocalizing their viewpoints, whom do you go to for factually correct news updates and analysis?

Of course some could say that I am merely grumbling but quite honestly I do think digital journalism has created problems for the industry and freelance journalists.

How do freelance journalists overcome these problems? Well I’ll let you know when I’ve figured it out!

What do you think of the digital journalism industry? Is it an industry still worth going into, or have the concerns put you off the idea? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.