At the end of a year serving as chair of the Society of Professional Journalists Freelance Community I’m excited to return to the role I filled in SPJ previously: coordinating the Community’s efforts to provide resources to help independent reporters, editors and producers succeed in today’s journalism industry. I believe independent journalists can play a bigger role in the industry in the future, but only if we find ways to succeed as business people and step out of journalism’s margins, into the center of the news and information publishing world.
To be sure, some freelancers have made their way onto some journalism outlets’ “contributing” editor or writer lists and into six-figure careers as independent journalists. In my mind, however, there is no question that freelancers, as a group, operate in the margins of the news business.
The vast majority of us struggle to make our place in an industry that has eliminated thousands of jobs, laid us off and used our new status as independent, unaffiliated workers to pay less for the same work we did as employees. Editors, publishers and producers cannibalize our pitches and stories, make us chase after our money (sometimes even to the courtroom), subject us to sexual harassment just as they do staff writers, send us on hazardous assignments without offering protections they provide to staff workers and, all too often, ignore our emails and phone calls seeking answers to simple questions about our work for them.
Finding our way out of the margins won’t be easy. It will require recognition by major industry stakeholders that we serve an increasing share of publishers’ needs for the high-quality content they previously paid staff workers to produce – even though acknowledging this reality will mean they have to pay us higher fees.
I believe the SPJ Freelance Community has a role to play, as we continue to build a set of resources to help independent journalists thrive.
The Freelance Community’s reach has grown this year, with membership in our Facebook group nearing 900 and our Twitter feed @SPJFreelance topping 2,300 followers. We’ve redesigned our hub on SPJ.org, updated our Freelancer Directory to make it more current, offered training and networking sessions at Excellence in Journalism 2017 and online, and provided opportunities for freelance journalists to discuss the most important issues we face in our businesses.
I’m pleased to have been part of that effort and look forward to helping SPJ expand the tools and resources it offers freelance journalists in 2018. I’m learning not to be “in charge” as our new chair, Hilary Niles, takes on her new role with gusto – and far more organization that I could ever bring to a volunteer position. I’ll have to work hard not to let my volunteer activities swallow up my retirement, as happened in 2017. And, I’ll have to figure out – as other independent journalists do – how to get enough assignments to keep my freelance business afloat in the limited number of hours each week that I choose to work.
Meanwhile, I’m so happy to have a new platform for my blog – at least for the posts I write about journalism and the news business. I hope to post here more often, and – maybe – to make this platform my business home on the web.
Wish me luck!
[An earlier version of this post was published on the Independent Journalist blog in the SPJ blog network.]