The Pimping Journalist: A Story of Money and Sincerity

Here’s an update to an earlier report about Chi-Town Daily News Editor Geoff Dougherty. He reports on the Media Shift blog that posting a story by an amateur “citizen journalism” on his site will likely cost him “between $90 and $125” in recruiting, training and other overhead costs. The amateur reporter doesn’t get anything.

Dougherty says a freelance story costs him “between $160 and $200” to get up on the site. Of that cost, the reporter gets “$125 or more per story.” That’s probably consistent with the per-story pay of an entry-level salaried reporter at a traditional paper who has a five-story-per-week quota (and let’s not even get in to the damaging impact of story quotas.)

But here’s the most important part of Dougherty’s post — he says that he doesn’t just spend less on amateur reporting; he argues that he gets MORE for less.

“Each one of the 60 or so citizen journalists working for us is an advocate for our site. They tell their friends and family about what we do, which helps drive traffic and recruit other volunteers.”

And this reminded me of a conversation I had last week with the staff of The Star-News in Wilmington, N.C.. One staffer who had a lot of experience engaging with her readers online said that sometimes she felt “like a pimp” when telling folks that she has just posted a new story in which they might be interested.

Rather than go in to my whole shpiel about how journalists need to learn from political campaigns, I tried to follow her analogy and explain that there was a difference between pimping and paying for dinner, and that the difference is sincerity.

Sharing thoughts and information with people for the purpose of building a long-term relationship with them is not pimping. Pimping is hawking services purely for transactional purposes, with no relationship implied or encouraged. Most folks can inherently tell when a human relationship is sincere and when it’s fabricated.

Which leaves me wondering this: Why are journalists not better public advocates for their own work? Why does Dougherty think that his freelancers don’t do the kind of advocacy work that his amateurs do?

After all, most journalists I know are rabid advocates for their own work when it comes to pitching stories to editors. Why, then, do they become such shrinking violets after the story is published?

Experience Levels of Online Journalists

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported the median age. (July 8, 1:16 p.m.)

In my survey of online journalists in North Carolina, I found that most have fewer than 10 years of experience in journalism.

The average years of experience was nearly 14, and the median was 10. But that’s because the years of experience ranged from one to 49.

The most frequent experience level was six years. Eleven percent of respondents reported they had done that much time in a newsroom.

Education Levels

  • At least an undergraduate degree: 82 percent:
  • Post-Graduate work: 19 percent