Why freelance journalists aren’t making any money

The days of freelance journalists making $500 per article are over, says the founder of Bleacher Report.

Bryan Goldberg, in a PandoDaily post from a few months back, explained the realities of publishing economics.

Unless a journalist’s personal brand is particularly large compared to the publisher in question, paying a premium price for an individual piece of content simply doesn’t make sense:

An individual piece of content is valuable when it helps its publisher get past that line. Because if the publisher is on the wrong side of the line, then they cannot build a sales team and earn premium CPM rates. And no publishing business can thrive on third party sales.


Unfortunately for Nate Thayer, The Atlantic already has a great brand, so he alone will not move mountains for them. For that reason, newer publications like PandoDaily, TheVerge, or Bleacher Report can get more mileage out of “big name” contributors who can do more to advance the brand.

But what about advertising dollars? Surely even a moderately well-known journalist with a good piece of content can bring in enough revenue to justify a decent paycheck, right? 

Probably not:

To bring this to life, let’s use an example… A very successful article will attract 100,000 readers. If there are two impressions per page and a $1.00 CPM, then that article will generate $200. For most blogs, those rates are a best-case scenario. It would be very difficult to make a living in such a manner.

But for a successful website that has crossed “the line” and employs a strong sales force, then those rates could be much higher. Let’s say $5 CPM’s: An article for such a site might be worth $1,000 if it attracts 100,000 readers.

Could a tyical rate of $500 per article work in such a scenario? Probably not. Because then the publisher has a “gross margin” of about 50 percent, which will likely not be enough to pay for the rest of the operation, starting with the salesperson who will take his or her commission right off the top.

There is one hope for journalists looking to make big paychecks, but they might not like it – sponsored content:

This is a great opportunity for writers to align their efforts with that of the advertisers in a very direct manner.

And while most writers must still understand that the publisher could just use some other writer instead of them to create the sponsored content, there is usually a fair middle ground. Most publishers pay more to create sponsored content, because it just seems reasonable when it contributes to a seven-figure check.

The pros and cons of having an opinion as a journalist

Politics: some / Politics: none. Two ways to excel in political journalism. Neither dominates.:

“None” journalists have certain advantages over their “some” colleagues, but the reverse is also true. If you want to appear equally sympathetic to all potential sources, politics: none is the way to go. If you want to avoid pissing off the maximum number of users, politics: none gets it done. (This has commercial implications. They are obvious.) But: if you’re persuaded that transparency is the better route to trust, politics: some is the better choice. And if you want to attract sources who themselves have a political commitment or have come to a conclusion about matters contested within the political community, being open about your politics can be an advantage. That is the lesson that Glenn Greenwald has been teaching the profession of journalism for the last week. Edward Snowden went to him because of his commitments. This has implications for reporters committed to the “no commitments” style.

The key is to not go too far in either direction.

Being detached and objective is fine, but you don’t want to be so removed from the reality of what you’re reporting on that you go into what Paul Krugman calls “shape of planet blogging” – being so committed to reporting both sides of a story that you’re willing to spread points of view that are wrong or outright lies.

On the other end of the spectrum, don’t be Fox News or MSNBC.

Journalists leaving media to work for start-ups

The Journalist’s New Escape Plan: Start-Ups:

Others, like former Wired editor Evan Hansen, who recently joined Ev Williams’ blogging start-up Medium as an editor, dismiss the idea that the switch has anything to do with job security. “This is not about finding a safe place to keep doing the same old same old, but about inventing something new and having a place at the table with tech innovators who have the capacity to actually build it,” he said.

And then there’s the money. While leaving a traditional newsroom for a younger tech company is still risky, there’s at least the promise of stock options and the lure of a grand exit, which are both exciting as well as rare opportunities in media, a field not known for its exorbitant salaries. In the not-so-distant past, a successful tenure as a reporter or editor could mean a corner office or a cushy columnist job at an elite publication — or perhaps an offer to “sell out” to a more lucrative job at a codependent PR firm. Today, it could very well mean a modest buyout as the company clears room for younger reporters with lower salaries.

I think that in the next five-to-ten years the news media is going to reach some kind of equilibrium, either through the use of paywalls or through better forms of advertising. What I’m hoping – for my own career’s sake – is that once that point is reached, sites will be able to slowly expand and we can go back to the days of stable careers at institutions that aren’t on the verge of failing.

Mostly because freelancing sounds incredibly stressful. 

You can’t make it as a freelance writer

As someone just getting his journalism career off the ground, this Medium post was a bit of a punch to the gut:

You almost certainly can’t make it as a freelance writer. I’m not trying to be a jerk. I’m saying: you almost certainly can’t make it as a freelance writer. I think the essential thing to understand is that the next level, the really lucrative stuff that you get after you “get your name out there,” doesn’t exist. The little publications can’t pay and the medium publications want to con you into thinking that publishing for them for next to nothing will get you a piece in one of the big ones and the big ones figure just giving you the platform is payment enough. You can’t live on publishing in the New York Times and The Atlantic three times a year. Look: a lot of the supposed freelance writers you know of either come from money or work as shills on the side. Everybody’s gotta eat, I’m not judging. But many or most freelance writers aren’t. Ask other writers, preferably after a couple drinks. They’ll tell you.

Bloomberg reporters allegedly used financial terminals to spy on Wall Street


Bloomberg reporters allegedly used financial terminals to spy on Wall Street | The Verge:

Bloomberg reporters have been keeping tabs on Wall Street using their company’s financial terminals, the New York Post reports. Bloomberg terminals, which cost $20,000 a year or more to lease, are a fixture in the banking world. But according to the Post, Goldman Sachs executives recently discovered that reporters could track when investors were logging into the terminals, as well as what they were doing — from looking at a wire story to using the messaging tool. In one case, a reporter apparently asked a Goldman Sachs executive whether a partner had left the bank, mentioning that he hadn’t been logging into his terminal

Talk about a breach of trust. It’ll be interesting if anything more comes of this – if the Bloomberg reporters only had the ability to see what apps traders were using, that’s one thing, but if they had access to any kind of private (which is apparently a loose term nowadays) correspondence this could turn into News International-sized scandal.

When Everyone is an Eye-Witness, What is a Journalist?

Mark Little at Storyful: 

The frenzied debate about Boston and social media seems to have missed the central point. The greatest threat to ‘True Journalism’ is not social media but an outmoded concept of breaking news.

The anonymous Twitter user rushing to name a suspect or the TV reporter breathlessly quoting unnamed sources are cut from the same cloth. This is ‘Me First’ journalism, powered by vanity and self-importance, and it is the greatest threat to ‘True Journalism’.

In the wake of the Boston marathon bombings, there’s been a lot of discussion surrounding the role of journalism. I even wrote on this very website last week about the danger behind the internet taking the law into their own hands. Little, CEO at Storyful, provides an insightful and measured discussion of the sensitive issues surrounding the journalistic endeavours of the last two weeks.

“Would You Tweet This Article if It Earned You Points?”

Would You Tweet This Article if It Earned You Points?:

Content, available in English, will initially be free. When readers log on to the site for the first time, they’ll receive a certain number of points—Chang calls them “karma points”—which will slowly be depleted as they click through articles. To restock on points and maintain access, they will have to share the site’s stories through social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. It’s a bit like multilevel marketing—the more readers spread articles, the greater their access. Those who bristle at being asked to share content can buy points; five points will cost 99¢. “I’m sort of riding off of a gaming model where, instead of pay to play, you can share to play,” Chang says.

Chang plans to pay contributors a competitive up-front fee but also give them a percentage of revenue generated by their articles. “We’ll know the click-through rates for every single article, so we can actually give you a cut for the advertising that goes through,” she says. “You won’t get paid once; you’ll get paid continuously.” Chang plans to bring in revenue by running the site as a data platform—a way of collecting reader data that can be shared with third parties—and deploying targeted advertising.

Take two things I hate: free-to-play gaming with in-app purchases/DLC and page view blogging that promotes eye-catching headlines and controversial stances. Mash them together. Congratulations, you have the first issue of Sasangge.

Gamification is a neat concept, but just because you can apply it to something doesn’t mean you should.

Al Jazeera America is coming and it is going to be big

It turns out that the $500 million that Al Jazeera spent to buy Al Gore’s Current TV cable network was only the first round of a huge investment on Al Jazeera’s part in an effort to bring Al Jazeera to America in a big way. As David Freedlander reports for the Daily Beast:  

Since launching its American outpost in January, the deep-pocketed network says it’s received 18,000 résumés for 170 open positions. By the time Al Jazeera America, as the new cable network will be called, launches in July, it will have 600 to 700 staffers on the editorial and technical side.


The new network will have nearly a dozen domestic bureaus and will rely on content from more than 70 overseas bureaus. The company is reported to be looking at prime New York real estate—in no less a bastion of American journalism than the former New York Times building—for its new headquarters. Executives at Al Jazeera say they are planning to compete with CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News on the belief that Americans crave substantive, deeply reported cable news, including foreign coverage.

 One of the concerns that industry veterans have brought up regarding such a massive hiring push is that having that many positions to fill is going to lead to weak hiring standards that hurt quality in the long run. Bob Wheelock, the executive producer in charge of bringing the network stateside, doesn’t think that this is an issue because of all the quality journalists out of a job due to the state of the news industry:

Among the résumés he’s seen, he said, “There are some first year out of [journalism] school or college and they just want a job.” But he added, “We have an awful lot who are 10 or 15 or 20 years in the business and are just fed up with where they work, or they left where they work, or where they work told them you aren’t needed here anymore because we closed down our Chicago bureau or we closed down our Rome bureau.”

A new format for The Russell Bulletin

It’s been only two weeks since I revamped The Russell Bulletin and I’m already looking at ways I can change the site to make it a better experience for readers. There are three big changes that are going to be rolled out over the next few days that I think people will love:

  • Ads are going away as of now. The site does not yet have sufficient traffic to interest quality ad networks like Fusion, The Syndicate, or The Deck just yet, so Adsense was my default option. I don’t know about most of you, but I hate the look of Google’s ads – I shouldn’t have put them up in the first place. With that said, I won’t rule out ads in the future, especially if given the opportunity to feature those from the aforementioned networks.
  • I’m going to be integrating Tinypass into the site sometime this weekend. I don’t think that we produce enough content at this point in time to justify having a full-on paywall – even a “leaky” one like The New York Times or The Dish – but I do like the idea of enabling our readers to support what we do in an inexpensive and unobtrusive manner. For now the only “perk” subscribers will get is the satisfaction derived from helping a team of young writers pay for books and ramen through our work on this site, but as time goes on I’d like to start including new features like subscriber-exclusive longform posts or a podcast like Shawn Blanc’s Shawn Today.
  • Starting tomorrow morning, there will be a post “stuck” to the top of the home page of The Russell Bulletin that will feature the top news of the day. Instead of doing individual posts throughout the day on the same story, we’ll simply update this sticky piece to reflect new developments. I think that this would go a long way towards making this site useful for readers who don’t feel like scanning through news sites every few hours, as The Brief and Evening Edition have done. To keep readers engaged after they’ve caught up on the day’s events, we’ll still have our wonderful linked-list posts right below the sticky piece.

I’d love to hear any thoughts on these changes via Twitter (@humblemacaroni or @russellbulletin) or email to kylerussell@russellbulletin.com.

Apple screwed, iPhone sales increasing by only 33 percent this year


Noel Randewich for Reuters, “Apple’s iPad to fall behind Android as tablet war grows”:

In the latest criticism from Wall Street, Jefferies analyst Peter Misek on Tuesday compared Apple to Blackberry saying the iPhone is now on the defensive against Samsung’s devices.

“Historically when handset makers fall out of favor (e.g., the Razr, Blackberry, HTC) they fall faster/further than expected,” Misek said.

Oh man, sounds like Apple’s fallen pretty far from its peak, huh?

Now, IDC says Apple may begin losing some its lead on tablets as well, though it remains the top seller among manufacturers.

Oh, so it’s still ahead, but shrinking.

Apple is expected to grow its revenue by $26 billion in its fiscal year ending in September, just over half of the $48 billion increase in revenue it saw the year before, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Wait, what?

Samsung is likely to sell 290 million smartphones this year, up 35 percent from 2012, according to Strategy Analytics. Apple’s smartphone sales are projected to reach 180 million this year, up 33 percent.

So the company that sells the two most popular smartphones in the world is going to sell 33% more phones this year, and it’s going the way of Blackberry? How does Peter Misek have a job as an analyst? Why doesn’t Noel Randewich point out how reality completely flies in the face of the subheading, “IPHONE COULD GO WAY OF BLACKBERRY?”

It’s as if the Wall Street Journal and Reuters are reporting on some bizarro-tech industry where Apple is one month of bad iPhone sales away from being where it was in 1997.