The High Cost of Freelance Journalism

By: Morgan Gstalter 

Photo by Claudio Riccio via Flickr

Photo by Claudio Riccio via Flickr

In 2013, Forbes named newspaper reporter as the worst job in America. In 2014, it swtiched spots with lumberjack and moved up to number two. Their reasoning seemed simple: long and unreliable hours, exceptional stress, a low median salary of $37,000 and the danger of reporting.

James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and Peter Leo Curtis were all captured by Islamic militants in Syria. All reported under the title of “freelance war journalist.” With Foley and Sotloff’s gruesome murders comes to light the true danger of freelance reporting and why this dangerous job is still one of the most important jobs.

CBS News published an article entitled “In danger and ‘on their own’: The perils of freelance war reporting” by Julia Steers.  It illustrates the harsh reality of reporters working out of the Middle East.

The numbers are frightening.  “According to Reuters, 714 journalists worldwide have been killed since 2000 for doing their job,” says an article published by Business Insider. Commitee to Protect Journalists sites  34 have been confimed dead in 2014 alone, with 11 of those deaths in Syria.

Often times, freelancers are “on their own” in dangerous environments, without security details or special press passes from the government.Their editors are thousands of miles away and reporters travel with limited equiptment. News managers need to step back from the money and assess the risk for each new reporter they hire. They need to step up and act responsibly for the life of their employees, including purchasing protective equiptment for their journalists and doing daily check-ins about their welfare.

Many are calling now the time to pull out reporters covering war-zones or where free press is restricted in a totalitarian regime. The risk is simply too high now and we have lost too many of our own. But with this manuever, we would risk a disrruption of media on current events.

The importance of freelance journalism is highlighted now more than ever, given the horrific circumstances. But one question remains: is the cost of accurate and timely news too grave for freelance reporters?

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8 responses to “The High Cost of Freelance Journalism

  1. idreamofdreaming

    I was in a store the other day with a Drake tee on and a woman asked what I was studying, i said journalism, and her response was “Dangerous…” At first I was confused, because when I picture myself as a journalist, I imagine myself working for a magazine in a cute, fun town covering stories on fashion and food. I dont imagine myself in a war zone, surrounded by the possibility of being murdered/kidnapped. I dont think journalists should be send overseas, to freelance work alone without security or protection. I think it is important to know what is going on over there, but not to the point where somebody is risking their life to do so.

  2. I think we are now reaching a point to reassess the risk of sending journalists overseas to report on these dangerous areas. Like you mentioned, it is important to supply the public with timely news, but I really do not see it being worth it when we are risking lives to do so. There has to be a safer way to do this, and even though I don’t know what this may be, it might be something to look into as the risks continue to pop up.

  3. I think this is a really good point to cover. I think the public has a right to know and get information through journalists about what is happening overseas, but I also don’t plan on going into a field of journalism where I will be in danger, much like professor Van Wyke said. Freelance work overseas is very important and many reporters make the choice to cover those kinds of stories, but I agree that the risks should be reassessed.

  4. I agree that the information still needs to be reported, there are major problems going on in our world and I feel we need to know about them. With that said, I also agree that we should not be sending our writers overseas without any security or any safety equipment. I think Maggie said it perfectly, there has to be a safer way to deliver the information without putting our citizens live in the line of fire. The solution may even be that these journalists receive some sort of military training, as far as protecting themselves and their crew with them. It may be more difficult or more expensive, but in a choice between spending more money while saving lives versus saving some money but losing lives it is a clear decision.

  5. I completely agree with you that news managers need to do a better job of looking after their reporters and making sure that even if they are freelancers, they’re not being sent into a combat zone unaware of the risks and lacking adequate protection. I also have been told at least a dozen times when I tell someone I want to be a journalist that I should “be careful” or “don’t go into any of those danger zones.” And that’s an option, but having journalists in these war zones makes the information reported more credible because someone is actually there, taking pictures and experiencing the struggle and turmoil. While that makes for good journalism and good reading, I agree with Sarah that maybe journalists should receive military training so they are able to protect themselves. If a news agency sends a freelancer into a war zone, that agency should be responsible for the protection of that reporter because that’s simply the responsible thing to do.

  6. This is a very interesting topic to cover, and it’s only going to become more relevant. On one hand, I understand the general consensus: Securing a story isn’t necessarily worth risking the lives of American journalists. On the other, you mention in your posts that these writers are freelancers. This means they don’t have editors who are forcing them to go into war zones; they’re doing so on their own. If this is the case, and if the writer truly understands the risks involved, is it wrong to prevent them from covering the story they’re so clearly passionate about? I like Sarah’s answer about military training. I think offering some kind of military training for journalists would be very beneficial for those who are willing to travel to dangerous areas.

  7. I agree with what Lauren said. Freelance writers aren’t being forced into dangerous war zones and many of them are passionate enough about the news they’re covering that they are willing to take the risk. It would be wonderful if journalists didn’t need to risk their lives to get a story, but how accurate is the reporting going to be if they aren’t actually there to get the information? Now more than ever people feel that journalism is distrust worthy and I think it’s wonderful that there are men and women willing to risk their lives so that people are getting the truth. That being said I hate to see what’s happened to journalists such as James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and I certainly hope that eventually we find a way to prevent such loss.

  8. This topic has been brought up in my household lately. My parents know that I want to be a journalist, and in the past I have thought about being a freelance journalist, and with the unfortunate beheadings of the journalists my parents have brought up that they definitely do not want me doing that. My job goal has changed though.
    I do also like Sarah’s comment about military training. These freelance journalists are going over there to report on something they are passionate about, they know the risks, so we should help prepare them for things. Military training, I think would be beneficial for them.

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