I led a discussion on sustainable freelancing on January 8, 2010 at the Journalism That Matters Conference at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington.
The topic of discussion focussed on the questionw; 'how does a freelancer earn a regular income?' and 'how does a freelancer find mentoring and develop their craft in a decentralized newsroom.' The session was attended by about a half-dozen people including freelance journalists, citizen journalists, bloggers, veteran journalists and editors. The main concern was finding meaningful, regular work which provided enough income which paid enough to sustain a decent standard of living for the journalist.
Everyone agreed that freelance journalists do not get paid enough. Editors said they wished that they could pay freelancers more. We all came to the conclusion that our discussion highlighted a serious problem. With the collapse of the traditional advertising-based business model, news outlets have slashed their budgets for freelancers. At the same time many new graduates and veteran journalists who have lost their jobs are turning to freelance reporting.
We did not see a solution in sight without the emergence of a new business model for the journalism industry. Editors said they were aware that news outlets could no longer hold freelancers accountable in the way they previously had. Freelancers said they were being forced to seek sources of funding from non-traditional organizations in the form of grants, donations and sponsorships. Everyone agreed that this was a temporary solution to the situation. We also concluded that complete transparency is required under such circumstance, i.e. freelancers must inform editors and the public of their funding sources in order to reveal any possible influence that it may have on their reporting.