How do freelance journalists make a living?


Following a number of conversations in the last few weeks, a rather bleak picture appears to be emerging for freelance journalists writing about technology in the UK.

The following is a summation of the consensus that appears to be emerging about the marketplace.

– dwindling editorial commissioning budgets coupled with reduced editorial pagination

As print advertising expenditure contracts ever further, editorial space reduces accordingly. With less editorial space to fill, freelance budgets reduce too.

– low payment for editorial writing

Any freelance journalist who can command UKP300 per thousand words is doing well. Rates at the nationals are very low. As one journalist told me, you do it because of the cache and it looks good on the CV – but you certainly don’t do it for the money.

Even the most prolific of freelances would need to be generating at least 7 or 8 one thousand word articles each and every month to earn the average wage. A casual survey reveals that only handful of journalists are in this league.

So how do you make a living as a freelance journalist? There a number of answers:

– have a spouse or partner who has a proper job earning proper money
– have alternative sources of income: this ranges from PR ghost writing (it pays better than real journalism) to in one case, part time gardening.

All of the above has knock on implications for traditional media relations. Freelancers are clearly only interested in talking to companies or attending press meetings if they feel they are going to get a paid commission out of it. In the US, the concept of the “background” briefing is far more prevalent ie meetings to gain information that won’t necessarily result in immediate coverage. It is a harder thing to push here – not just with freelancers, but staff journalists too who equally have to justify their time in terms of output.

Of course, it isn’t all doom and gloom. ZDNet for example appears to expanding with more staff journalists and rising freelance budgets – but I suspect this is a bright exception in a murky pool.

As reported previously, the job of PR in the tech sector can only get tougher. As will freelance journalism.

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