Much of the discussion about which way the journalism industry is doing suggests that freelancing will increase while staff jobs decline (see for example here and Paulussen 2012) but Felix Salmon at Reuters has just written an interesting piece suggesting most online content will be written by staff writers not freelances because online journalist is just too fast and frequent to make sense as a freelance business. His piece was inspired by Nate Thayer who complained recently about being asked to write for a major US magazine for free (for the exposure). The key paragraphs are here:
The exchange has particular added poignancy because it’s not so many years since the Atlantic offered Thayer $125,000 to write six articles a year for the magazine. How can the Atlantic have fallen so far, so fast — to go from offering Thayer $21,000 per article a few years ago, to offering precisely zero now? The simple answer is just the size of the content hole: the Atlantic magazine only comes out ten times per year, which means it publishes roughly as many articles in one year as the Atlantic’s digital operations publish in a week. When the volume of pieces being published goes up by a factor of 50, the amount paid per piece is going to have to go down.But there’s something bigger going on at the Atlantic, too. Cohn told me the Atlantic now employs some 50 journalists, just on the digital side of things: that’s more than the Atlantic magazine ever employed, and it’s emblematic of a deep difference between print journalism and digital journalism. In print magazines, the process of reporting and editing and drafting and rewriting and art directing and so on takes months: it’s a major operation. The journalist — the person doing most of the writing — often never even sees the magazine’s offices, where a large amount of work goes into putting the actual product together.The job putting a website together, by contrast, is much faster and more integrated. Distinctions blur: if you work for theatlantic.com, you’re not going to find yourself in a narrow job like photo editor, or assignment editor, or stylist. Everybody does everything — including writing, and once you start working there, you realize pretty quickly that things go much more easily and much more quickly when pieces are entirely produced in-house than when you outsource the writing part to a freelancer. At a high-velocity shop like Atlantic Digital, freelancers just slow things down — as well as producing all manner of back-end headaches surrounding invoicing and the like.
Paulussen, S. (2012). Technology and the Transformation of News Work: Are Labor Conditions in (Online) Journalism Changing? In E. Siapera & A. Veglis (Eds.), The handbook of global online journalism. Chichester: John Wiley