by Jason Preston on August 5, 2009

How much money you can make is determined by how much money you’ll make a publication. At the obvious end of the spectrum, posting an exclusive article from Malcolm Gladwell is virtually guaranteed to draw an audience of millions and discussion all over the internet. That’s why the New Yorker pays him a bunch of money.

On the other end of the spectrum is, for argument, me (Jason Preston). I write OK, but my built in audience is much smaller than most, if not all, publications that aren’t just single-person blogs. If I do any writing for them, they’re doing me a favor because they’re enlarging my audience and my reputation.

Every time that happens, I get a little bit closer to Gladwell.

As the number of journalists working freelance continues to grow, the rules of the freelance game are going to start changing. Getting paid will no longer be a given; you’ll be paid according to your ability to hold people’s eyeballs to a screen.

Welcome to attention-driven media.

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The link economy — Eat Sleep Publish
08.07.09 at 11:59 am


1 Sara 08.05.09 at 5:24 pm

Interesting opinion, Jason, but if trends continue, I have to disagree. Even as more freelance journalists flood the market, less are getting out there into the community and actually pitching stories. As newspapers and Web sites struggle to pump out the amount of stories they once produced, I believe the most current trends/up-to-date analyzations of politics/breaking news as it happens will determine who gets paid and who doesn’t. I suppose you could argue that such stories will be the attention grabbers, but not necessarily if we are still focused on doing our job–telling the stories important to democracy and our community.

2 Peter Chee 08.05.09 at 10:41 pm

Seems like we are already there… with the Seattle PI reader blogs, they are already getting people to post free content and they aren’t getting paid at all.

I still prefer to read material from credible people and sources. There’s so much noise in the stream right now, even if it’s being filtered by others…

I hope that the freelancers can get paid as I’m tried of sifting through crap.

3 Jason Preston 08.06.09 at 11:30 am

Sara – It’s true that current, political analysis and other relevant stories will drive a lot of traffic (and therefore revenue), but for the most part, does it matter who writes them?

How do you defend your freelance paycheck when someone else, who is also a good writer, is willing to do it for the exposure, and the publication gets as much benefit either way?

Peter – what makes you think that unpaid freelance writing would be crap? It’d have to be good to make the cut, unless it is self-published…

4 Sara 08.06.09 at 2:25 pm

I know Web sites that offer nothing to negligible pay for their freelancers, and to be blunt, they get what they pay for (check out some of the Travel Web sites around). Sure, those folks are writing for the exposure–but is it quality writing? Not so much.

If a news site wants quality journalism from a trained journalist whom they can depend on for accuracy, content and speed, they’ll admit we’re worth a few dollars. The sites I freelance for do just that.

5 Benjamin Lukoff 08.06.09 at 10:01 pm

I still don’t understand writing for free for for-profit sites. Exposure only goes so far, and when everyone’s doing it, well, it doesn’t go far at all. If you’re going to write for free, why not do it for yourself or for charity?

6 Jason Preston 08.07.09 at 1:11 pm

Benjamin – It’ll be different for every person, and it’s not that freelance work will go unpaid forever, just that it’ll become harder and harder to ask for money when you’re an unknown.

So, doing free work will become the means to doing paid work.

Sara – Yes, I don’t think we’re there now, nor do I think it will apply evenly to all fields (if you need specialized knowledge to do the work, it’ll be easier to charge for it), but it’s a trend line that I see. Time will prove me right or wrong 😉

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