Credit: Courtesy EJC. Adam Thomas, director, EJC
Freelancers play an essential role in the journalism ecosystem, making the media stronger and the stories we read more diverse. The effects of the covid-19 crisis have added to the numbers of freelance journalists in Europe, whilst making the financial situation for all freelance journalists more precarious.
Without action, we may lose vital talent and experience from our industry. However, if we support the freelance community, we have an opportunity to not just strengthen the ecosystem, but to reinvent aspects of it along the lines of “entrepreneurial” journalism, thus bringing more independence and flexibility to all journalists.
This is the objective of the Freelance Journalism Assembly: to serve as a meeting point where freelancers based in Europe will gather and work together to find alternatives to the challenges they are facing and to strengthen the resilience of the community as a whole.
Last year, we reached out to the freelance community and asked them to share their concerns. Economic sustainability was, unsurprisingly, the biggest. Freelance journalists have inconsistent income but very consistent bills. This drives some professionals into having higher levels of anxiety, which for some ends up resulting in burnout and depression.
Freelancers shared with us a common feeling of loneliness and isolation. Working alone, from home, and without a team of colleagues makes the need to create new connections more urgent. Many freelancers who participated in our survey mentioned they feel the need to be more strongly connected in the international environment they operate in, not just with peers but also with publishers.
Finally, there is a critical need among freelancers to improve their entrepreneurial skills to find new niches and work opportunities; and their ability for personal branding and self-promotion, which can help increase their sources of revenue. However, it was mentioned that freelancers rarely have access to this type of training and networking opportunities.
We tried to address all these challenges through the main sections of the Assembly’s training programme, which includes a series of free learning sessions, tools and networking activities on well-being, personal branding and finances, and pitching and negotiation.
The impact of the pandemic
Through our grants programme, the covid-19 support fund, our social media and contacts, the EJC gathered a lot of direct feedback from the freelance journalists in our network. They confirmed that the pandemic has only heightened the current challenges, bringing with it a sudden loss of income, new obstacles to travelling and reporting and an unknown professional and personal environment.
An example, the Deutscher Journalisten-Verband (DJV) from Germany recently published the results of its survey regarding the situation of freelancers after the pandemic. They found out that the monthly average revenue dropped from 2,470 euros to just 780 euros per month since the corona crisis. Around 43 per cent of freelancers have seen a decrease in their fees of up to 1,000 euros a month.
The financial impact that covid-19 has on the news industry and media organisations is also affecting the commissioning process, and the fee scales publishers are able to offer. According to the DJV survey, a third of the freelancers have reported that there are no new assignments at all.
This means that probably there will be an exacerbation of the current issues regarding the low wages and the unstable working conditions.
On the other hand, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in the context of the covid- 19 freelancers are risking lives and livelihoods. They lack official credentials that prove they are journalists, making the reporting process impossible. This adds up to the limited access to the vital personal protective equipment needed to cover covid-19 safely.
The crisis provides opportunities too. The industry has needed to reconsider its relationships with audiences, the skills of journalists, and the role of traditional reporting beats. While covid-19 is deeply challenging, it is essential that we also think about how we can evolve.
The Assembly offers journalists the opportunity to acquire practical skills and build connections through online training delivered by experts, one-one-one mentorship activities, virtual unconferences, and a major event in 2021.
The online training phase of the programme is entirely free of charge and will take place between June and October 2020. It consists of four tracks, each one covering one topic essential to freelance journalists: personal branding, personal finances, well-being, and pitching and negotiation. After signing up for the Assembly, freelance journalists can enrol for free in the different tracks and activities depending on their interests, needs and availability.
After the online programme, the community will gather in-person in 2021.
We are very proud to also include a complete programme on well-being for freelancers. We believe the members of the community need with urgency to learn skills and tools to cope with stress and pressure and to manage the situations that put at risk their immediate and long-term physical, mental and emotional health.
We expect a considerable increase in the number of freelancers due to the restructuring process of the news organisations triggered by the pandemic. Nevertheless, it is essential to mention that there is also a growth in independent journalistic products created by freelancers, especially concerning covid-19 reporting.
The current situation has forced news organisations and journalists to reinvent themselves and freelancers are not an exception. We know several cases of freelancers or collectives of freelancers that are creating new products.
This is why we think it is the right moment to launch the Assembly. We hope that new and experienced freelancers can learn how to identify new niches by honing their entrepreneurial skills. They will have the opportunity to acquire tools in order to create their personal brand and develop their audiences. The track about personal finances can help them better manage and increase their revenue streams. Freelance journalists will be able to learn new tools and practices to help them be more assertive regarding their personal well-being and face the concerns and stress generated by the pandemic.
Collaboration is the overarching topic of the Assembly, and in that spirit, the EJC is joining forces with other organisations that support freelancers across Europe to help us drive and strengthen this movement around freelance journalism.
The Deutscher Journalisten-Verband (DJV), Deutsche Journalistinnen- und Journalisten-Union (DJU), European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Freischreiber, Hostwriter, Journalism.co.uk, Neue Deutsche Medienmacher, N-OST, One World Media, Rory Peck Trust, Refugee Journalism Project, Society of Freelance Journalists, and Weltreporter.net are the first organisations to join the movement.
We believe that joining forces and working together is the first step to addressing the challenges of the community. For this reason, we want to extend an invitation to all the freelance journalists based in Europe to join the Assembly. Together we can support one another and change journalism for the better.
We caught up with Adam Thomas via email. His written answers have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity. Journalism.co.uk is one of the partners of the FJA project.
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