Self-Marketing for Freelance Journalists: How Independent Are Media Professionals?

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How independent can and must journalism be? A question that divides the mind - as the discussion below shows.

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Here writes for you:


Simone Janson Simone JansonSimone Janson is publisherConsultant and head of the Institute's job pictures Yourweb.


90 minutes are short

90 minutes can be damn short. Especially when dealing with a controversial topic like “Journalism and Web 2.0”. In a short time, unfortunately, many aspects can only be touched upon in an overview. It is also difficult to estimate the level of knowledge of the audience.

At the Medienforum Mittweida I gave a lecture on self-marketing for freelance journalists - with a controversial discussion. Because the changes that the media are currently going through due to the Internet urgently need to be discussed in all their consequences. And one of the biggest problems here - not only for the media but also for society as a whole, if one wants to understand journalism as a democratic corrective, is: How is journalistic content financed on the Internet?

"No" to paid content

Anyway, not about paid content. At least not in the opinion of the participants. Thus, in a small survey in the room: No one, indeed none of those present was willing to pay for journalistic content on the Internet. At the same time, however, some defend vehemment against advertising, which could jeopardize journalistic independence. To be honest, this discrepancy made me speechless - after all, the hall was full of media students, so budding media makers, so people who later want to earn money with a media profession.

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But that shows perhaps a basic problem of this debate, of the media industry, perhaps even of society as a whole: people like to use the Internet because the content is simple, cheap and free. One participant even admitted that he went to the store for advice, but then bought something online. As far as ok, many do the same, in some cases I do too - although the advice in the store doesn't have to be better, on the contrary, but I'll tell the story next week ...

Too short

What I find but difficult is that then is not further thought: The free offers on the Internet are by no means pure idealism for free. As a rule, there is always an interest: Either someone acts as a thinker and / or it goes, if also hidden, but somehow for money.

And: Who wants to do journalist as a profession, must also get money somewhere. Or you run it as a hobby. Maybe that was the biggest misunderstanding at the event: one or the other just keeps believing that they will eventually find a well-paid job in the traditional media, or thinks the Internet is just a side effect. That the Internet is about to fundamentally change our media landscape (see point 2 of my slide lecture on the media revolution), seems to many not quite arrived.

The allegation made during the lecture: "Every farmer can blog there" fits this attitude very precisely. Apparently, some students were concerned about the loss of the supposedly objective quality journalism.

Basic to the function of the Web 2.0

I actually thought it was a truism that even traditional media are anything but objective and that today transparency is becoming more and more important - I just have to take a look at the blog of Richard Gutjahr, also a speaker at the media forum.

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However, the lack of objectivity discussed here has nothing to do with the influence of advertising customers: it is more a question of personal and honest opinions becoming more and more important. Even if one or the other now accuses me of avoiding the question.

Blogging for customer acquisition

Because after my lecture I gave a video interview on self-marketing for free journalists. It deals with the question of why self-marketing is becoming increasingly important for journalists in Web 2.0 and what increasing dangers this can pose for independent reporting. A point to be discussed urgently!

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Social media as a strategy, not as a hobby

Actually, I thought that it was long old that blogs are a good means of acquisition. Because I actually get regular inquiries from editors via my blog to write for them. However, it is usually more specialist media or smaller media that inquire with me in search of specialized topics (some training, recruiting, personnel search, business start-up) because they have googled me accordingly.

Of course, the blog has to be easy to find in the search engines, ie there has to be an appropriate amount of text, with the appropriate keywords and constantly updated, and you have to be well connected with other media and blogs. Blogging in a vacuum does not bring much and it takes time, unfortunately, until the blog is ready.

Finance models or journalism as a hobby?

But why all the effort? As I attempted to make it clear at the beginning of the event, we are in a fundamental change in the provision of information and communication, so that in many cases the well-paid journalist job can be broken. Already, I have established colleagues and colleagues at regional newspapers, but also over regional media, which generate comparatively little.

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Instead, especially young people should use the Internet to develop their own business ideas - otherwise there are, so my fear, soon only hobby journalists. Simply because you have to earn your money elsewhere. By the way, s0 of some publishers like Jakob Augstein on Friday has already propagated this way.

Business Journalism

For this I have a few own experiences, which can be regarded as suggestions. However, one must also discuss them because of their weaknesses - and this, as the further course of the lecture has shown, seems to have arrived at the majority of participants.

Jeff Jarvis, an American journalist and blogger, propagates entrepreneurial journalism, for example in an interview with Ulrike Langer. This is also welcome in the media - in my opinion, because it sounds nicely optimistic, but at the same time is comfortable for the media companies seems: If the employees and especially the outdoors are self-responsible, the media companies need not worry anymore.

Editor vs. Management or the end of division

Jarvis is also talking about what I see as the point of the whole discussion: so far there has been a division in the media, which at first glance seems quite logical: on the one hand the advertising departments, the management, which provided for the financing , On the other hand, the editorial department, which should not be influenced by financial uncertainties in its independence - that could, as Jarvis so beautifully says, pollute the journalism. So at least the ideal.

At the same time, however, this liberation of financial necessity also means that journalists are held in a kind of financial dependency. Since they have not learned to deal with economic constraints, they often prefer to pursue idealist ideals, for example, in fees and salary negotiations , Entrepreneurial thinking? Wrong!

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Journalists - dependent and alien?

But that also means that journalists, I think, often have no idea how their bosses or clients actually make the money. The suspicion that this is not always fair, that advertising always means influencing, is due to various personal experiences, stories from colleagues or blog posts such as that of my colleague Matthias Spielkamp, ​​who announces: “All media, including the self-proclaimed quality media, from 'FAZ' to 'Süddeutsche Newspaper 'to the public service broadcasters, their newspapers and programs are subsidized by the PR departments of Daimler and Siemens. ”

Another example, admittedly not from the media but from Deutsche Telekom, also shows how much manipulated and tricked on the Internet (after all, the first commentary with journalists). But quality media also feign opinions about their work - such as the Süddeutschewho has bought blogger reviews through Trigami.

And suddenly you have to earn money freely ...

That may go well with the journalistic purity law as long as you are permanently employed and have nothing to do with such practices. This becomes problematic when journalists, as is happening more and more frequently today, are suddenly released. When they (have to) leave the “custody” of the editorial offices and suddenly face unknown challenges as a lone fighter.

Then you suddenly see that with the entrepreneurial thinking is not so easy, because no one has ever explained how this actually works. By the way, for the big media companies, this situation is very convenient because they have an ever-expanding pool of volunteers.

And from a legal point of view, you are only privileged to be a freelancer for a certain type of creative activity. Anyone who engages in more entrepreneurial activity, for example, independently selling advertising on his blog, must register a business, become a mandatory member of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce and also pay trade tax from an annual profit of EUR 24.500. This can even affect membership in the artists' social security fund.

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Overcharged in the shark tank

This can also be liberating for the individual journalist - and for me it is, otherwise I would not have rejected several fixed jobs; but it also leads to the fact that you suddenly have to deal with questions with which you as a journalist usually has nothing to do: For example, if someone wants to switch comparatively much money advertising on their own blog, but only gradually and very hidden in this case, proves how dishonest the whole offer is and what technical details (in this case, search engine optimization) are involved - so that one then rejects it.

But then you have to deal with people trained in sales, brand insurance agents who are relatively good at gossiping something. With the boldness of such people it took my shoes off; I have already started to write down these and other experiences with the advertising market in my series “Earn money with blogging” and I will continue to do so.

Talk about advertising

In such situations, freelance journalists who are on the Internet with their own medium, be prepared. And that's why you have to discuss and inform about the topic of advertising and the ability to buy online.

Jeff Jarvis, for example, explained in the interview that he had already passed through all the terms of the online marketing with his students - already alone, so that one knows what it is, if such inquiries as mentioned above come. Quite useful, but in Germany obviously no self-evident:

Topic with the potential for misunderstanding: Generalizing and prejudices do not get you any further

However, this topic seems to lead to some misunderstandings. A factual discussion and information is now made more difficult if the possibility of earning money from advertising is generally demonized from the outset. For some, the blog is too full of advertising and therefore not reader-friendly, while subtle forms of advertising are again too discreet for some, so that the reader could be fooled. What can I say? Unfortunately, you can't please everyone ...

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To be clear: I understand all the criticisms, I have a lot of sympathy for idealistic ideas. However, you can only discuss the topic if you have informed yourself about what I think is best about your own experience. That is why advertising for me and critical distance are in no way mutually exclusive, as it is in that Article is aptly called by Mr. Israel.

Other industries, other views

Media people should be more self-critical, I learned in another event of the media forum “Campaigns and Destinies”. ME would also have to take more account of what's going on in other industries and that other people tick differently.

If you want to get companies to advertise, you have to offer them something. That means he also has to understand why it is interesting for companies to advertise at all. That doesn't mean that you do everything the company wants at all costs (unfortunately that's probably done too often in the media), but that you at least negotiate. An absolute anti-posture is therefore a hindrance.

Advertising as a quality criterion?

By the way: There are also readers who see advertising on the blog as a quality feature because it is based on a recognizable business model - and who do not understand such discussions at all. I was surprised myself because, as a journalist, I was and was actually afraid of journalistic credibility - but I am surprised to find that very few people share these fears.

As a result, I can truthfully answer "No" to the question of whether there would have been a drop in visitor traffic due to over-advertising on my site.

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Alternatives to advertising financing?

Of course there are also alternatives to advertising financing. Ulrike Langer diligently put them together. If readers do not want to pay for the content (some want it, even voluntarily, but this can also lead to dependencies again), but at the same time make advertising unreliable, there is actually only one direction: governmental support. But there are also numerous critics who fear that the media will become dependent on the state.

I have more personal reasons to argue against government funding, whether it is Hartz IV, an unconditional basic income or government subsidies. This is my purely subjective opinion, others may see it differently: I would like to make money with my own work and not let it endure somehow from the state.

Where do you travel?

But I am not prepared to throw all the moral concerns and journalistic principles out of the way in order to make money at all costs.

In the next few years, it must be shown whether the media is developing more and more away from the fourth force as an interest-driven PR machinery, as I fear, or whether we are able to develop viable independent financing models.

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  1. Peter Hogenkamp

    Why did I get that as a pingback today?

    That with advertising vs. Paid (both unthinkable!) Is a bit frightening. I recently heard a new story from the Swiss journalism school MAZ: Even today, budding young journalists still want to work primarily in print - although most of them no longer read the paid newspaper. Hmm ...

    Greetings and see you soon

    • Simone Janson

      Hello Peter, thanks for the comment, I am honored that you, as a NZ manager, are taking the time to do so! As for the ping: I updated to WP 3.4 and suddenly the thing is pinging like crazy. I don't know, sometimes WP does strange things ...
      As far as the young journalists are concerned, at least since I started a mediaProfessor talking about the fact that he does not know what he should teach his students, it might be time to think about the contents of the journalist training. That you also have to earn money somehow does not seem like that.


  2. proagil

    Medienforum Mittweida - self-marketing for freelance journalists in ...

  3. Simone Janson

    Addendum to my talk at # mf2010 m. lots of information & links + comment on article v. @TinoIsrael - discussion welcome!

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