Articles tagged with: freelance
I got published on TheAtlantic.com with what I’m calling “a thought piece on a campy vampire show.”
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I wanted to survive on freelancing, even if it meant only eating rice and hot sauce and creating a permanent ass imprint on my couch.
That’s when I became a sweatshop worker.
I was recently interviewed by Tanja Aitamurto, a journalist and researcher from Finland who’s studying Spot.Us as a case study in new forms of journalism. For those of you unfamiliar, Spot.Us is a journalism startup pioneering “community-funded reporting” in the Bay Area. Basically, freelance journalists (or the organization) will pitch stories on the Spot.Us website and tap the public as well as news organizations for micro-donations to fund projects and pay reporters. Raising money through donations from the public is also known as “crowd funding,” and Spot.Us is experimenting with the concept as one method to sustain quality journalism in the ever-changing media landscape we are watching unfold before our eyes.
Aitamurto is researching the way crowd funding and crowd sourcing change the journalistic process, and as both an intern and reporter for Spot.Us, I wanted to share my experience. First, I want to make one very important disclaimer: I’m a young reporter with little experience in the “traditional journalism” field. As such, I don’t have much to compare Spot.Us with. I also have a unique set of interests (i.e. getting my piece published in print because for some reason that still seems to matter in the job world) which a more established journalist may not worry about. I think the Spot.Us experience is different for each reporter, but here are the things I discovered along the way:
Spot.Us was built out of founder David Cohn‘s desire to pitch stories to the world and get the public more involved in journalism, rather than have the whole process occur behind closed doors between a reporter and editor. With this goal comes transparency, where every thing from pitching, to fundraising, to investigative research happens in public domain. Cohn often echoes the sentiment of David Weinberger when he says “transparency is the new objectivity,” helping news organizations gain trust and credibility in the “age of links.”
Transparency also leads to another one of Cohn’s motos: “journalism is a process, not a product.” While media outlets have traditionally tried to cram all relevant information into one finished piece, web technology like comments and blogging allow for continuous reporting that exposes facts and perspectives as they come to light, creating a more complete picture of a story than say one article with a limited word count can produce.
Another strength of the Spot.Us model is the potential for collaboration. Spot.Us strives to be a platform to connect reporters, news organizations and the public in a symbiotic relationship, where the community can help source information and fund stories they care about, the reporter can sift through facts and breaks down issues, and the news organization can score a quality investigative article with the help of public funds. While I didn’t witness a whole lot of collaboration with my story in particular, all one needs to do is look at the long list of donors and read the thread of comments on the investigation into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to see Spot.Us’ potential to galvanize the public around an issue of interest.
Personal Benefits for a Young Reporter
Some of you may be thinking that transparency and collaboration are all fine and dandy, but how does Spot.Us help freelancers in today’s tough economy? First, I think it’s easier to get an “in” with Spot.Us than with a traditional media outlet. While Spot.Us still has some editorial control about pitches they accept, the organization tries not to be exclusive and will take chances on good ideas, even if you’re young or your credentials are not entirely in line. Some may argue that this is a weakness, but it definitely helps young, ambitious reporters get a foot in the door, and through transparency, reporters will be held accountable.
The pay’s not bad either. If you can last the time it takes to fundraise, you will be rewarded with competitive freelance rates. I also didn’t have to go through the sometimes grueling pitching process! Cohn pretty much single-handedly promoted my story and used his connections to get it placed in a paper. I question whether I could have been published if I would have pitched the story on my own.
Room for Improvement
In the spirit of transparency, let me also share a few areas I think could use some improvement.
As it stands, fundraising through Spot.Us is usually a pretty slow process only suitable for long-term investigations rather than more “news worthy” issues. There are often many communities and nonprofit organizations interested in the issues at hand, but due to limited staffing, these groups are not always taken advantage of.
News organizations are also hesitant to make partnerships with Spot.Us, possibly out of discomfort with being transparent since they’ve historically been concerned about being “scooped” or beaten to a story by a competing news organization. I think other news outlets see Spot.Us as an unnecessary middle man between the reporter and editor without seeing the added value of transparency and collaboration that Spot.Us can create.
I think one of Spot.Us’ greatest challenges is its nonprofit status and subsequent lack of adequate staffing. While I think Cohn, with the help of Kara Andrade and others, has done an incredible job creating the organization from scratch, things like editorial oversight and fact-checking can be left up to “peer editors” or no one at all if a news organizations does not step in, which could compromise the accuracy of a story and the credibility of the organization.
Lastly, I think more emphasis needs to be placed on creating a more streamlined organizational structure through a defined business-development plan. It seems like stories are often tackled on a case-by-case basis in terms of fundraising, promotion, publication, and distribution rather than undergoing a consistent process from pitch to publication. I was initially wary about Spot.Us’ recent expansion to Los Angeles without all the organization ducks in a row; however, I think working with the USC Annenberg School of Journalism will be a great opportunity to bring more staff and student volunteers into the fold and hopefully help Spot.Us create a more sustainable structure the …
…is doing a week long blitz on how to “make it” as a freelance photographer. While its geared towards photogs who left their staff positions, its giving me grants to look up and ideas to pursue. Check it out now.
…is doing a week long blitz on how to “make it” as a freelance photographer. While its geared towards photogs who left their staff positions, its giving me grants to…