This article by Sile McArdle first appeared on Journalist.ie on 5 March, 2010. Reproduced with the author’s permission.
If you call a conference ‘New Ways to Make Journalism Pay’, be afraid. Be very afraid. Hearts will thump like puppies’ tails in heartfelt anticipation. Especially given that so many freelances openly admit they never quite mastered the ‘old’ ways of turning a hard career into hard currency.
To be fair, the London Freelance branch made a decent job of bringing in real people who’re making journalism work nowadays – and are prepared to divulge their secrets. As Press Gazette Editor Dominic Ponsford told the packed room at NUJ headquarters, railing against trends in journalism is like complaining about the weather.
Branding and confidence
This success principle came up repeatedly at the ‘New Ways’ conference. A major reason the Press Gazette survived bankruptcy, according to its current editor, is its quality brand. But within a brand, the services provided can differ appropriately. In Dominic Ponsford’s case, free online content gets to a large audience and the £90-a-year Press Gazette magazine is bought by a specific high-profile readership. Media commentator Granville Williams also pointed out that media stocks in the US have been rising, so there are crucial signs of investment in certain brands. . . generating much-needed confidence in the market.
Niches and micro-niches
If you have a niche audience that trusts you, then you have the chance to sell them other things. So says David Parkin, editor of TheBusinessDesk.com, a website posting business news for Yorkshire and the north of England. “If you can make it work in recessionary times, you can make it work any time,” says the former Yorkshire Post business editor. Daniel Johnston’s niche is much narrower – an information website to help unemployed people get back to work. It took him 18 months to start making a wage from micro-niche Indus Delta, but he’s well placed now. “I’ve created a monopoly in this sector. And how can you compete with free?”
Adding value and packages
All the main speakers cited fast turnaround of information as a huge selling point. But they stressed that this must be allied with the best advances in technology so that information reaches its intended audience (eg regular alerts by text and/or email). Angie Sammons, editor of online entertainment magazine Liverpool Confidential.com, says the e-magazine’s key is selling people packages and emailing them offers linked to shops and other websites. For instance, entrants who don’t win Confidential’s offbeat competitions get an email offering something else, she revealed. “It’s all about getting into people’s heads and finding out what they want.”
Funding and rewards
Press the ‘donate’ button now – that’s the option many Americans get on the website of their local radio station or newspaper. But, asked reader-funding specialist Ian Reeves, “Is it plausible to ask a diverse community to donate to something they might consider a common cause?” Almost a third of community radio stations seem to think it is, he explained.. As does the prestigious Miami Herald. Individual journalists have found self-funding tough going, though. Former New York Daily News and AP reporter Chris Allbritton blogged from Baghdad for six months on the back of this ‘crowd-sourcing’ method. But others have found it too stressful, added Mr Reeves – like having 15,000 bosses watching you.
Blogging and belief: there is a widespread belief, stated London Freelance Branch deputy chairperson Alex Klaushofer, that blogs should be written for free, or for far less than their printed equivalent. Wealthy political blogger Paul Staines (of Guido Fawkes fame, www.order-order.com) acknowledged that most bloggers have other jobs and very few make a living. Technology blogger Conrad Quilty-Harper is one of that select few, though: he told the conference that during his career with AOL’s Engadget he wrote 1,750 posts (about 250,000 words). He was paid $6 per post on joining in 2005 and $15 by the time he left. According to Mr Quilty-Harper, the keys to blogging success are: scale of audience, niche content, quantity and quality (in that order), SEO (search-engine optimisation), growing with your revenue – and doing it all at a low cost.