While nearly everyone has discussed the shrinking newsroom and the impact it has on local communities, what hasn’t garnered attention is the shrinking newsroom’s impact on freelancers, particularly international freelancers.
As the New York Times’ Bill Keller notes, those who cover international issues without the security of a news outlet often face far greater danger than the average journalist.
“Without even offering a contract or a formal assignment, which at least implies some responsibility, news organizations ask independent reporters to pitch completed stories or photos after the rental cars have been paid for, after the work has been done — after the risks have been taken,” he writes.
And those risks haven’t always been worth it. The “digital era” that the industry is currently basking in allows instantaneous communication and almost unfettered access to all part of the worlds. But with that, comes an issue of quantity over quality.
Take for example Assad’s chemical attack in August. Keller writes that while “the outside world learned almost instantaneously of the horrific August chemical attack in Syria, the flood of social media was contaminated by misinformation (some of it deliberate) and filled with contradictions — enough to let the regime and its supporters blame the massacre on the rebels with an almost straight face.”
So why the digital era is great (or at least better than when print was the reigning source) for readers to obtain news about nearly every country in the world, its advantages can also be its faults. More so, the quality of news isn’t always worth the trouble freelancers sometimes have to go through to get it.
But that’s not to say readers don’t know of the dangers journalists go through. News of Richard Engel’s disappearance coupled with Daniel Pearl’s murder, both of who were employed by a major news outlet, show that much attention is given to journalists in dangerous countries. Yet, rarely is there news or a conversation on the dangers encountered by the often faceless freelancers who are killed, kidnapped or harmed while on duty. They’re often forgotten about.
Keller’s piece, besides pointing out the dangers employing freelancers over regular staff members, reminds us all of a growing issue in the industry — that cost cutting can ruin lives just as much as it can ruin livelihoods.