Freelancing: To pay or not to pay

There's light at the end of the tunnel. (RambergMediaImages/Flickr Creative Commons)

There’s light at the end of the tunnel. (RambergMediaImages/Flickr Creative Commons)

The topic of paid and unpaid freelance writing continues to develop Thursday. While someone accused Nate Thayer of plagiarizing the North Korea piece he wrote that set this all off, Ann Friedman at the Columbia Journalism Review broke down her freelancing philosophy.

Friedman pays her bills with a number of freelancing gigs, including two columns, and has created a paradigm that allows her to do unpaid and low-pay work that may benefit her in other ways. She separates her approach to doing free/low-pay work into four categories: to establish experience; because she was writing it anyway; to raise her profile; and to be part of a project she loves.

Unpaid work, she says, is a great way for some writers to make headway. It can even lead to some happy accidents, as it did for her when she started publishing some “silly, hand-drawn charts” for free, and it led to her getting a job to draw for a monthly magazine.

And then there’s Paul Carr, arguing for a sort of return to the high-flying days of Big Journali$m, when (apparently) a reporter could expense the purchase of a Mustang on assignment. Read the comments on this one — not everyone agrees with him — but it’s quite a defense of the value of in-depth, well-reported, and expensive stories.

Assignmint gives freelancers a managerial tool

Helps to not feel so small and alone as a freelancer at your computer. (Credit: kodomut/Flickr)

Jeff Koyen, a longtime journalist and programmer, has created a program for freelance journalists called Assignmint, which helps editors and freelancers manage all the managerial communication involved in the job, according to Pando Daily. The program provides a platform where freelancers can submit pitches and receive simple “yes” or “no” responses. Assignmint also organizes the freelancer’s deadlines and has a tool for transferring payment from the publication to the reporter once stories are done.

Assignmint may have to prove its worth to freelancers and editors alike. It’s not easy to make journalists shift their systems once they’ve become accustomed to email and other relatively recent modes of operation.

Assignmint is currently available in open bata and Koyen says it will remain in that form for another three months or so. Afterwards, he says, its aesthetics will be improved.

Data journalism jobs on the rise

As the Columbia Journalism Review reports, it behooves journalists to become literate in data coding, because that’s where jobs are opening up. It’s still a very small set of people who can combine the speed, ethics, understanding and fairness required of a journalist with the coding skills of a developer, says John Keefe, editor of data news at WNYC.

“[A]nybody who put any effort into being good at that and having those qualities is going to have a job probably before they can graduate,” Keefe told CJR.

Apparently, news sources as small as the Lansing State Journal and Vermont Public Radio are making space for data and design teams on their staffs. Publications can utilize coding-literate teams to produce graphics and surveys of demographics — census maps, for instance, in the case of WNYC’s coverage of Hurricane Irene, which brought them a record-setting amount of traffic.

Free tutorials like ones on Flowing Data and .net magazine teach journalists basic data coding skills that can help them become more employable, as outlets learn that the web offers them even more shots at being inventive and innovative and therefore more interesting to viewers.