17 February 2012
It's well known and well documented that the media
landscape, that forms such an important part of our job in PR, is
irrevocably changing. In fact, in many ways, that change has
already happened. The number of media sites and trade publications
has drastically reduced, and those which are still going are
massively reducing the number of staff journalists they
The natural career progression for many journalists who (either
through their own choice or otherwise) decide to leave the
"comfort" of the newsroom floor is to make the leap into the
unknown world of freelance journalism.
In good times the life of a freelance journalist is seemingly
one of all pros, and no cons. Flexible working, the ability to
drive your own schedule, no news editor to contend with or office
politics to negotiate. Perhaps most importantly, there is the
chance to make a bit more money (which is surely no bad thing). A
freelancer with solid reputation and good contacts can open a world
of opportunities writing for in-house corporate mags, copywriting
for PR agencies or producing marketing collateral, and all this is
in addition to the bread and butter work of producing copy for the
press (sometimes producing copy for their old employers at a far
higher pro rata rate than if they were still a full time employee
of said publication).
But these aren't good times… and the freelance world is tougher
and more competitive than ever before.
So it's perhaps not surprising then that a new trend for
"performance related" commissions is increasingly becoming popular
amongst editors. Traditionally when commissioned by an editor to
produce an article, a freelancer is paid by the word or
alternatively a flat rate is agreed in advance. Under a
performance-related option the amount a freelancer gets paid is in
direct correlation to the number of hits the final article gets on
the publications website.
It's a simple risk and reward scheme - if the journalist writes
great copy that's engaging and interesting to the audience then
they get paid more, if the article doesn't cut the mustard and
nobody reads it then they get paid less, or potentially nothing. On
the face of it, this is the epitome of a perfect, meritocratic
system - the best rise to the top and are rewarded for it. Indeed
in the PR world, we've been held to account by payment by results
systems for years - offering to waive percentage chunks of fee if
agreed metrics fail to be hit.
But the internet's a funny old thing and should a journalist's
quality and his or her output really be measured by a metric with
as many nuances as simple page impressions?
Tony Hallett has
sat on both sides of the fence during his career. Firstly, as a
founding editor of tech site Silicon.com, he worked daily
with staff writers as well as guest writers, freelance journalists
and bloggers and more latterly as an entrepreneur at his own
Content. I caught up with Tony to get his thoughts on whether
payment by results really stacks up.
"This has been going on for a little while now and it's not that
straightforwardly bad or good. In one respect, publications have
always chased eyeballs, going back decades.
"One outlet (I won't name) has a deal with some bloggers who end
up extremely well paid for their efforts. The editor over there
calls the contract (as there usually has to be a contract): 'The
best deal in blogging'."
I asked Tony whether there was a chance journalists would go
off-piste in the pursuit of 'eyeball-grabbing' copy / headlines
which get plenty of hits, but at the cost of quality
"When a writer (usually freelance, as you pick up on) has a deal
where they are rewarded by traffic, they don't usually have licence
to write about naked robots using P2P on iPads. Their beat is often
niche and doesn't overlap other writers'."
So what about the cons? What happens when this model doesn't
"Other places will have experimented with the performance-based
approach and ultimately pissed-off writers (especially if they try
to map to staff editors who don't write much), organisations they
cover and ultimately - if all that happens - advertisers."
"In the end, it's all about HOW it's done, not naturally a bad
thing. I can see it happening more and more."
PR, , journalism, Media, freelance | 2 comments
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