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New ways to make the interwebs pay

HOW CAN freelance journalists make money out of the web? Tim Dawson, chair of the NUJ’s Freelance Industrial Council described some concrete examples to London Freelance Branch's February meeting, while Julian Marszalek shared tips based on his own experience as a web-only music journalist.

Tim Dawson © Tony Rizzo

Tim Dawson, co-founder of the New Model Journalism blog.

Tim is co-founder of the New Model Journalism blog, which catalogues examples of journalists starting up their own successful media enterprises. The blog grew out of LFB's 2009 conference New Ways to Make Journalism Pay.

Now big media groups like News Corp, Northcliffe and Trinity Mirror are suddenly embracing paywalls, daily iPad newspapers and hyper-local news sites as models for making money out of news. Richard Branson has entered the field with a new iPad magazine.

But as well as these big players, there are some successful homegrown news outlets started by journalists, often on their own.

One case study that Tim described is Better Never than Late, run by a "gang of twentysomething lads", with an interest in trainers and graffiti - subjects which mean that "advertisers have begun to knock on their door". The site is simple - hosted on Blogspot - but they mined a particular demographic which advertisers were interested enough in to approach them through an agency. But the lads subsequently found they could deal with the advertisers themselves. They make roughly £25,000 a year.

Sailracing magazine is an iPad-specific sailing magazine that was launched as a print product but now uses "the sexiest of new technology" to publish at half the price of doing so in print, helped by a readership that "may have a great deal of money".

Journalist John Pring started subscription news service disabilitynewsservice.com. Like many such online subscription news start-ups by journalists, John based his operation on niche interests and contacts accumulated from years reporting on a particular patch for many years. John earns about £1300 a month selling stories to a dozen or so disability charities, which they put on their websites.

Frank Dolman ran a very comprehensive reporting service in the form of his Tommy Sheridan trial blog. Rather politically partisan, it carried a thorough 1000-word description of everything that happened in each day's proceedings, with lengthy conversations with commentators. Despite covering a very sensationalist case involving sex, politics, and lies, Frank's very simple Wordpress-type blog does the sort of straightforward reporting that newspapers have given up on. But Frank has not sought to advertise, and it's unclear what sorts of services Sheridan trial devotees might be in the market for. Tim said he knew of twenty more such examples, but suggested first exploring the practicalities of how to make this work.

LFB member Julian Marszalek makes a living as a music journalist working purely for online outlets, in which he's been involved since 1994 and the dawn of the digital media age.

Julian Marszalek © Tony Rizzo

Julian Marszalek, online music journalist since the dawn of the digital media age.

If you're planning to go it alone, says Julian, consider social networking, shopping and auction channels, knowledge sharing and gaming sites, all of which can tie in with earning a decent living. Find outlets, and people looking for online writers. These include content farms - Demand Studios, eHow or Suite101. Content farm eHow is about very short articles on how to do something quite specific, with a split of the advertising revenue generated by a particular page, based on how many hits it gets. More traffic can be generated to your feature with a fairly simple amount of social networking.

Tim said the BBC now provides training for senior staff in how to mine information from Twitter. They explicitly see it as a source of verification, generating news and generating comment about news. NUJ Training now runs a course in "Social Media for Journalists": see the course calendar on that site.

More traditional media owners, such as AOL, who have purchased Huffington Post, are looking for more writers. On a weekly basis, on three and a half hours a day, copywriting can supplement feature and other writing to permit a fair living standard.

Knowledge of platforms such as Blogger and Wordpress and image manipulation tools help immensely to get work, as they shorten a commissioning editor's task in subbing your written work for the web.

Networking is often "off-line" and face-to-face or by phone, which remains the best way of finding this sort of work. The days of dropping in on commissioning editors seem to be gone, ringing them is better. Julian finds editors are almost surprised by the novelty factor of speaking to a human, instead of communicating with them just via email.

Last modified: 08 Mar 2011 - © 2011 contributors
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