4 sustainability tips media outlets can learn from freelancers

Jan 26, 2024 in Media Sustainability
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Few topics in media today are more predictable than layoffs. It’s almost formulaic: A financier acquires a news organization and tries to fix a broken business model, but falls short. Then, the editorial staff gets the short end of the stick. 

This reality large publishers face is one that freelancers have dealt with throughout their careers. They must learn how to thrive – and not just survive – in a field of economic uncertainty. 

Here are some lessons from freelance reporters:

It’s about the talent

Large news organizations often have a plethora of resources, from newsgathering teams and producers, to editors, legal counsel and more. However, what consumers are increasingly drawn to is the individual talent in the newsroom – journalists they feel they can trust and who hold values in line with their own.

Freelance journalist Jason Diamond, who writes largely about culture, believes readers seek out his work, no matter where he publishes, because of the reputation he has built for himself. “I’m finding that people are reading a Jason Diamond story because it’s a Jason Diamond story,” he told me.

Publishers could see more success if they use their resources to empower skilled journalists and foster new talent, rather than trying to find people who can fit into an ever evolving editorial strategy. 

“Individual journalists – especially freelance journalists – bring something unique to the table and that resonates with viewers. In my experience that’s why they turn to me,” said Julia Melim, a Brazilian freelance lifestyle journalist.

Learn from influencers

More often than not, social media influencers haven’t received the editorial training that professional journalists have. Yet, consumers are looking to influencers more and more for their news. This holds especially true among young people who use apps like TikTok and Instagram.

Influencers can come across as relatable and accessible. According to a study from The Reuters Institute and The University of Oxford, 55% of people who use TikTok for news and 52% of people who use Instagram for news turn to influencers for it. This is well above the 33% on TikTok and 42% on Instagram, respectively, who visit mainstream media for news on the platforms. 

“For me, [social media engagement] it’s everything. That’s just the kind of person I am and I want that to show as I take readers along,” said Diamond. “I think engagement shows consumers who you are and helps them understand what they’ll get by reading your work.”

Engagement doesn’t have to be relegated only to social media, either. Publishers should empower journalists to be more active members of their local communities, too. This can entail attending more events in the community while on the job or perhaps working out of a local coffee shop some days rather than in the newsroom.

Invest in journalists

Recognize that journalism is a public service at its core. By investing in journalists you’re building trust with your audience. Offering sustainable pay and longer-term contracts benefit both the journalists themselves and the communities they serve. 

The high turnover many newsrooms today experience negatively impacts readers’ trust, said Diamond: “People just don’t trust journalists anymore and part of that is because they’re just shuffled in and out of these jobs so much.”

This is a disservice to readers; like any relationship, building trust isn’t done overnight.

“[Journalists are] not given time to mature or become a voice that someone becomes comfortable with,” added Diamond.

Turn to humans – not AI

News consumers want someone delivering the news with whom they can engage on their medium of choice. “We need writers who are willing to be like ‘I am real, I am here, and I will be here for you,’” urged Diamond.

Amid the leaps taken by AI in the past year, it may be tempting to turn toward that technology to build trust with readers. But it falls short. Having humans deliver the news is still more effective when it comes to building trust. One recent study found that 59% of consumers preferred news content made by humans with little to no AI support. 

Successful journalism builds strong relationships with sources and consumers. This requires a human connection, said Melim: “Part of telling a story is the human element that you can only get from connecting with someone and that’s something AI just cannot replicate.”

Photo by Kristin Wilson on Unsplash.