LET’S KEEP JOURNALISTS HIRED AND STOP THE PRACTICE
OF REPLACING THEM WITH FREELANCE BLOGGERS
Would Watergate ever been uncovered without reporters on the case? On April 30, 1973, with the Watergate scandal growing, Carl Bernstein, second from left, and Bob Woodward discussed the next day's coverage with Katharine Graham, publisher of The Washington Post; Benjamin C. Bradlee, executive editor, right; and Howard Simons, managing editor.
Did you happen to catch this story in last Thursday’s LA Times by Tech Writer Alex Pham. If not, you can read it here.
I don’t like using this word…but I need to for I hate this story for several reasons, but mostly, because I support the journalism profession and its hiring of skilled, trained reporters to present the news in publications. I do not support the practice of hiring people like me to write features on a daily basis for established news organizations, thus replacing reporters.
Mind you, please note that I do not hold anything against Demand Media nor USA Today for crafting such a deal-it is a groundbreaking agreement. But, what gets my goat is the practice of using freelancers to write for a news publication, thus causing the elimination of positions for staff reporters/writers.
The article pointed out that they will use an ‘army’ of 7,000 freelancers to produce content that is of the highest “search interest” of Internet users. Basically, Demand Media has aggregating software that can tell its bevy of content producers what topic is trending the highest at any second of the day. After they know what’s of high interest, they assign a freelancer the task of producing a video or writing a post about that topic – and pay them a lousy 20 bucks. Can you imagine…for a mere $20 you too can have a byline in USA Today. This practice makes me want to puke.
Shame on you USA Today for selling out. You’ve now muddied your waters – you are going for the quick buck and ruining your journalistic/ethical integrity by doing so.
I know I may be a bit harsh in my opinion. But, someone has to speak out. I do understand today’s economy and how hard it is for newspapers to stay afloat. I know that those still on staff at USA Today have had to take unpaid furloughs. I know times are tough. And I know that Demand Studios is not providing hard news, but fluffy features for the Travel section. I know that USA Today executives just want more people to click on their site and stay there for as long as possible. I get it. I get that the pub is desperate for money.
First its the Travel Section, the what's next? The Front Page?
But, this practice smacks of the same sad principle that TV fell into when they invested in reality programming. Reality shows are among the cheapest to produce and sadly, those more sensational, usually get high ratings. Some cable networks rely solely on this practice. They only air outrageous reality shows and thus call themselves a network – but are they? The audience is well aware of what’s going on. And USA Today, the audience will be well aware of your new Travel Section. We know when people are not being transparent. We’re pretty savvy web surfers now and we can smell out a rat.
The saddest thing to me is that I know that the other publications like The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Times – are keeping an eye on this experiment. And sure enough, once the numbers are worked out – they might jump on this bandwagon too if this practice proves profitable.
When that day happens, I will no longer subscribe to a newspaper. If I want to learn about “great travel tips” I’ll find it on my own. For I don’t want to read the work of any freelancer like me in a top newspaper. I deserve to write a blog, but I do not deserve to ever consider myself a true newspaper journalist. I am not qualified. I know my place and I wish others would respect and honor the work of true journalists/reporters as well, especially its own profession.
That’s my two cents on the matter. What is your opinion? Do tell.