Tag Archives: money

Journalism: a trade, not a profession

Star responds to my enquiry about her media recession with an interesting viewpoint from the US. 

She says: 

I am seeing the profession of writing–and I do consider it a profession–being downgraded by digitization and outsourcing.

I’d disagree, in as much as I consider writing for the media or marketing (which is what we’re largely talking about here) a trade, rather than a profession.

What’s the difference? 

Well, you don’t (or shouldn’t) need a degree to practise a trade. Training, yes. Maybe vocational qualifications or some kind, especially if you’re operating heavy machinery or working with volatile chemicals. 

But journalism – or any kind of paid-for writing – doesn’t need even that. It certainly doesn’t need “professionalisation” in the sense of a university path towards qualification. (Especially given the poor match between what universities teach on journalism degrees and the requirements of the media industry.)

Why do many in the media talk about it as a profession? Mainly to try to shore up the crumbling walls of their career.

If you can professionalise a trade that is otherwise easy to enter, you can, with luck, stop people entering it. Following the law of supply and demand, fewer people in any line of work should mean higher pay for them. 

Unfortunately for this argument in the UK (and I assume in the US), a BA is now a de facto minimum standard of educational aspiration for non-underclass young people. 

This means a BA becomes much less useful as a professional filter. If around half your education leavers have one, it’s difficult to see how elitist it can be. And without elitism, it’s difficult to exclude new entrants to professions and so keep incomes up.

Oddly enough, journalism is seen as an easier degree option than, say, biochemistry, so that’ll push up student numbers. And it’s seen (rightly or wrongly) as a vocational degree that will be helpful in getting employment, which is why I suspect it’s taken the place of media studies as the soft degree of choice for some students.

The result? No real benefit for “professional” journalism in terms of keeping incomes up. But a massive downside in terms of student debt racked up by young people taking a journalism BA, with low prospects for a high income to compensate for it. 

Star underlines the horror of all this in her comment. She says: 

Writing is now “repurposing” (changing the words in someone else’s work to make it “original”) or else pulling 400 words out of your brain as authoritative. It’s educated typing, I guess. I saw an ad for 1000 articles–hey, a thousand bucks! Who could even type that much–that’s 5 novels’ worth.

Writing, and hence journalism, is valued less and less – by both the people who publish it and by those who consume it. Unlike plumbing, say, it’s a trade that people seem to be able to live without. 

Simply calling writing a profession won’t prevent it from being undermined and undervalued. At least calling it a trade makes it a bit easier to deal with psychologically.

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How to write a good brief for People Per Hour

People_Per_HourI’ve written before about online creative freelance marketplace People Per Hour

I noted that one key problem with the site is the hopelessly inadequate briefs supplied by potential employers.

So, if anyone reading this is thinking about trying to source freelance writing using the site, here’s how to prepare your brief.

It’s clear about what it wants, about how much effort will be required, and about how the budget tallies with the proposal. It’s also literate.

So, come on potential freelance employers, it’s not that hard.

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Why free is not just about the money

Very interesting piece by Stan Schroeder on Mashable on the different implications of free online content.

  • “Free” is not just about price – it’s also about simplicity and ease of use. 
  • Some content will be difficult to charge anything for. Unfortunately for journalists, it’s news.
  • Forcing charges down people’s throats is a bad way to go. So that broadband tax to pay for content is a bit of a loser.

For once this is a piece whose author really seems to understand the nuances of online monetarisation. Well worth a read…

[HT: HyperwriterUK]

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Can a donation model fund web content?

Media owners and publishers are, to say the least, anxious about the financial viability of journalism, given the web’s capacity for undermining the usual business model for content (buying stuff) by, basically, giving it away free.

The UK government is even thinking about annexing part of the BBC licence fee to support regional news on commercial broadcasters.

Last month saw a high-level newspaper industry meeting in Chicago to address the issue. It was a get-together that seemed to underline how clueless they really are about how to tackle the problem, according to the usual cloud of not-really-journalist-bloggers who comment on these things and are parasitic on the real thing.

But we’re not interested in problems today on Freelance Unbound. Oh no. We’re interested in solutions.

By coincidence, two supposed solutions have been sent to me within the space of days.

The first comes via the always interesting Editor and Publisher journal. The author, Steve Outing, accepts that micropayments, as lambasted convincingly here by web pundit Clay Shirky, are a non-starter.

Instead, he is very taken with a donation model being touted by a California start-up called, slightly unappealingly, Kachingle.

Outing’s article is actually way too wordy. So I’ll precis the idea here:

  • Readers who want to pay for web content as a matter of principle, but don’t want to use micropayments for individual slices of content, can pay a monthly subscription (in this case to Kachingle).
  • Publishers can sign up to the scheme and put a “medallion”, or button, on their site.
  • While they’re happily surfing the web, readers click on the Kachingle medallion for each site they enjoy visiting.
  • At the end of the month, a subscriber’s reading habits are analysed and each site they visit gets a share of the monthly subscription. The share is based on the proportion of visits each site gets.

It’s quite a neat model. The metric used (site visits) means large sites with lots of content actually do worse than, say, a blog like this. But this could be adjusted for by having a sign-up medallion on different sections of a bigger site, for example.

But will it work?

Tellingly, Kachingle isn’t actually up and running yet – it’s just a beautiful Silicon Valley idea.

Nor is it unique. Within days of receiving the link to the Kachingle story (Hat tip: Jessica), I got a notification that some company called Contenture (what’s with these ghastly names?) had started to follow me on Twitter.

Like Kachingle, Contenture also lets readers sign up and donate money to be spread around the sites they nominate and visit. The main difference is that it seems to actually be up and running (I know this because I registered. This ought to mean that eager readers who have paid their $5.99 monthly sub will be filling my bank account with cash. Except the Javascript won’t work on WordPress. Curses.)

The key question, of course, is just how eager readers will be to fork over their cash.

One problem is that, as yet, I can’t see that any sites I know are registered with one of these providers. It’s all very well signing up and handing over my cash, but unless I can see it going to sites I actually visit, it seems a bit of a waste.

And just how altruistic are web users? The one-off donation to keep a favourite site going through a crisis is one thing, but regular monthly payments are another. I can only assume the rate is set low enough so that people may sign up and not really notice the financial drain.

Yes, there are some good things about the idea.

The automatic way it parcels out your cash to the sites you visit according to how much you use them is clever, and avoids you worrying about paying for stuff you don’t read.

And the one-off, one-click mechanism is a hell of a lot simpler than clicking a payment link on every piece of content or web site you visit, or subscribing individually to endless blogs or newspaper sites.

But really, for the life of me I can’t see that this will be anything other than a gimmick.

Remember the kids who wouldn’t pay for Facebook even though they live on it? People think most content is free. And if it isn’t, they won’t, as a rule, use it.

Over at Editor and Publisher, Steve Outing loves the idea – he thinks it’s the model we’ve all been waiting for:

I think that if Google used this same model […] its size and power could in time get Internet users paying billions of dollars for online content.

I’m not so sure. If a media presence as big and ubiquitous as Google got involved then, yes, a whole chunk of the web could become part of a donation scheme. Something like the donation medallion mechanism could be included in Google’s statistics function, for example.

But it’s the consumers who are the sticking point. At some point you have to prise the money out of their clenched hands. How would that happen?

Could the government’s slightly desperate plan to, essentially, skim money from the taxpayer’s often grudging support for the BBC point the way?

Some kind of centralised taxation redistributed according to reader usage might be possible I guess. But would you be happy to get a deduction from your wages to fund web publishing?

And what about people who don’t use the web for news or content, but for email and shopping? Or who use mainly the BBC, which we paid for anyway? Or who don’t actually use the web at all?

It’s a bit of a minefield. And it just doesn’t get over the core problem – that there is an almost unlimited supply of journalism content vying for a finite amount of reader time, let alone money.

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One journalist understands the new media reality

To celebrate a tiny milestone in the progress of Freelance Unbound – the 100th post – here’s an item by a journalist who has gone over to the dark side and set up a site whose purpose is – gasp! – to make money from web media.

Julia Scott left a newspaper job to set up a personal finance blog, and in the process learned some hard truths about the business of journalism.

Writing about the experience on Journalism 2.0, most tellingly she says:

Independent journalists (the fancy term is news entrepreneur), must think as businessmen. My readers don’t pay me so my business side dictates they are no longer my primary focus.

This doesn’t mean she discounts her readers – without them she has no site. But it does mean accepting the commercial reality of her publishing model.

It’s a lesson that a lot of old-style journalists actively resist learning. But if there’s to be any future in digital journalism, we have to set aside our repugnance for grubby commerce.

But at least someone out there seems to be getting it.

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Journalism is saved! By law!

Press Gazette reports on the Government’s determination to “sustain local journalism”. It’s all part of the government’s glorious five-year plan to secure Britain’s place at the forefront of the global digital economy – otherwise known as the Digital Britain report.

Apparently, earnest culture secretary Andy Burnham said: “Citizens need content produced to high journalistic standards. The internet in my view will not replace that.”

So, just how does the Government plan to facilitate this? (Given the inevitable structural change that is reshaping media away from what are seen as “high journalistic standards”.)

“Lots of this does not need legislation but it’s likely that some of the proposals will.”

Oh, great. The Government will just pass a law that says local news media will not die. Maybe there will be a rule that requires us to buy a local newspaper every week. Luckily they’ll be able to track our purchases using our new ID cards to make sure we comply.

Perhaps it’s more likely that the government will simply pour some of our taxes into publishing local newspapers. (Just for the record though – that won’t necessarily make us read them. Take note, social engineers.)

Frankly, I think the Government, and its Opposition, have done quite enough to boost journalism over the past few weeks.

Seriously – just put your feet up and leave us alone for a bit…

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Ways to survive the media recession, part 5

Part 1;   Part 2;   Part 3;   Part 4;   Part 5;

At last, the end of the journey and a handy summary

But first, Recovering Journalist Mark Potts has a very good post on Life After Journalism that is really worth reading. 

A former 20-year journalist (hmm – like me), Mark Potts is now “an entrepreneur and consultant”. That means he managed to escape the media implosion – but still uses the range of journalistic skills he’s acquired in his new career. It’s a good post with some useful advice.

So, now – your eight-point summary.

1) Assess your existing skills

Think laterally – writers can sub, designers can do production, print specialists can move online and old journalists can teach. Also think about how your skills can work in related-but-different fields, such as corporate writing.          

2) Learn new skills

Build on your existing skills using a host of free web-based information, trial period software downloads and software training sites such as Lynda.com. Focus especially on web analytics and SEO for the web. Hobby-type skills can also come in useful – such as film-making, running workshops etc.                

3) Update your CV (resumé)

Create different CV/resumes that focus on different skillsets or media sectors. That way you can tailor your pitch more specifically to different clients.

4) Draw up a plan

Be organised and keep track of all your work hustling progress, day by day. 

5) Talk to your friends

Mates look after mates, so always ask people you know in the business if they are aware of opportunities. 

6) Contact others

Keep regular tabs on a range of job pages online – and even in print. Obviously follow Guardian.co.ukJournalism.co.uk and Gorkana. It helps to use social media too. I just got Twittered by a new site called Sourcethatjob.com – it doesn’t have much in the way of journalism jobs, but it could be worth watching as it may grow. Students may be interested to see it has a few intern-type posts (ie no pay, but experience).  FleetStreetBlues has a nice post collating media job sites here.

7) Advertise yourself

Build up a presence online – blog, use Twitter, join something like LinkedIn maybe. Certainly use Facebook if you’re not an old crock like me. Think about a £50 freelance listing on Journalism.co.uk, or even join a professional media organisation such as the CiB

8) Using freelance online marketplaces 

There are pros and cons to marketplaces like People Per Hour. I discuss them in more detail here. It’s worth investigating for students I think. 

9) Should you work for free?

Sometimes – pro bono work can get you experience, exposure and contacts. Just make sure you do unpaid work for people who wouldn’t pay you anyway.

And that about wraps it up. Remember, it may seem grim, but there is work out there – you just need to dig a bit to find it. Good luck!

Part 1;   Part 2;   Part 3;   Part 4;   Part 5;

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