Learning to COPE: Multimedia freelancing in the new media economy

April 30, 2013 · by David Campbell · media economy, multimedia, photography

Guest post from D J Clark

How people make a living from ‘multimedia’ reporting and storytelling is one of the most pressing issues.

In the new World Press Photo Multimedia Research Project report (p. 44) is a colourful diagram. As an illustration of how indirect revenue can subsidise work, “Ways to make money blogging” sits in the midst of a discussion about how the old media system is now broken and how “in the new media economy all media is multimedia, social media, and it is increasingly mobile.” Examining the various income streams laid out in blue, yellow, red and green, I realized how similar this was to my freelance business as a photographer turned multimedia journalist.

The diagram below represents a quick email survey of five Beijing-based international freelance visual journalists, including myself, who have successfully made the transition from a single media (mainly photography) to delivering multiple media (mainly photography and video) to international clients.

easelly visual 590 Learning to COPE: Multimedia freelancing in the new media economy

While freelance assignments still make up the largest part of our income, surprisingly it is less than half. Of that half, the vast majority (78%) is for regular media clients rather than one-off assignments. As with TV news, multimedia not only requires the freelancer to be well versed in a particular style of shooting, it also needs the freelancer to understand complex workflows, compression settings, subtitling, transmitting etc., which together make it more likely the media companies will use the same people repeatedly.

Of the five of us surveyed, three had formal contracts with at least one media company, but this still made up only 10% of overall assignments. Commercial work was the next biggest earner, although two people said this takes up very little time and is undertaken to fund equipment and editorial assignments.

Teaching on university courses, conducting media company training, and running workshops all formed a reliable income source for most of us. Grants only made up 6% of income, although four out of five of us had received at least one. Funding projects with grants and crowd sourcing is often put forward as a potential substitute to publishers but much of the money is spent on travel and production costs with little going back to the journalist as income. My most recent grant ended up costing me money as the project went over budget by more than the amount allotted to my fee.

One other surprise was stock sales, which in the old system was a trustworthy form of income even when assignments were slow. At only 3% there seems little point in investing too heavily in the time it takes to organize media for stock agencies and send it off – maybe better to upload to YouTube, Vimeo or Flickr as a way of promoting yourself and generating sales?

There was one additional question I asked the group. How much time do you put into social media and/or online promotion? All except one explained they find it hard to separate social media/blogging from their work, and the individual who was not so engaged said she should be doing this. “This stuff is completely intertwined with my life,” explained one journalist. Yet all of us answered 0% when asked how much direct income we derived from these time-consuming activities. Indirect income is another matter, however.

Recently I discovered the world of COPE – ‘Create Once Publish Everywhere’, a concept first championed by NPR and now used extensively by media companies to get their content to where audiences are, rather than trying to bring audiences to them. For multimedia freelancers it is also important to spread your content on as many platforms and in as many ways as possible. Sharing photographs on Instagram while working an assignment, tweeting from behind the scenes, sharing links on Facebook, uploading (when permitted) stories to your YouTube and Vimeo accounts, and blogging all help promote the journalist effectively, if not more so than having a personal website you expect people to find. Learning how to separate the noise from the signal and using time-saving social apps like Hootsuite are also key skills to save getting bogged down in the social stream so you can concentrate on the story.

This short survey is by no means conclusive but it does demonstrate that developing strong relationships with a few media organisations, taking on a variety of income creating activities, and devoting a good amount of time to online engagement that is not directly paid, all form part of modern-day, successful freelancing in the new media economy.

This is a guest post from D J Clark, with whom I have worked in various capacities for more than ten years. You can find out more about D J Clark at djclark.com. The MA International Multimedia Journalism he directs (and to which I contribute) is now accepting applications for September 2013. D J Clark’s newly released, free, and co-authored multimedia training resource is at multimediatrain.com.

This is the second in a series of posts highlighting the content of “Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism“, the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie study of the global emergence and development of multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism. The posts are searchable with the ‘Multimedia Research Project’ tag.

4 Responses to “Learning to COPE: Multimedia freelancing in the new media economy”

  1. For me, C.O.P.E is content strategy. I’ve called places such as Vimeo, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. mini hubs or satellites that you create and send out to “be in front of your audience”. It’s sort of like having mini (or major) offices around the world (global domination!).

    Multiple Income streams have always been a part of business and as a photographer it is crucial to pay the rent. Does it mean you have to do everything? No. It means focusing on what you are good at and hopefully that intersects with what you love to do.

    I’m curious to know how the lack of “direct income” from blogging / social media was measured (if any). The graphic/illustration labeling is confusing/misleading (at a glance).

  2. Hello DJ,

    Thanks for your post. Could you tell us how you go about finding resources (time and money) for your long-term personal projects? What options do we have other than grants and crowd-funding?

  3. Thanks for the comments.

    I agree multiple income streams have always formed part of a freelance photographer’s income. However in my career the percentage of income derived from other things other than freelance assignments had always been very low up until recently. The survey suggests that freelancers are only getting half their income from assignments and I would argue (though I don’t have the evidence) that five years ago the percentage would have been much higher.

    On the question about measuring the income from blogging/social media, I asked the participants to put a rough percentage figure against the categories listed in the chart. All replied 0% for the blogging/social media category, although these activities used a lot of their time.

    The question about finding funding for long term projects and grants is difficult to answer briefly. There are a many websites, courses and publications on how to successfully fund long term projects but there is always far less money than there are people who need it. What surprised me in doing this survey is that even the journalists who have been successful in securing multiple grants still said the actual income to them still made up a small percentage of what they needed to live.

  1. […] In the new World Press Photo Multimedia Research Project report (p. 44) is a colourful diagram. As an illustration of how indirect revenue can subsidise work, “Ways to make money blogging” sits in the midst of a discussion about how the old media system is now broken and how “in the new media economy all media is multimedia, social media, and it is increasingly mobile.” Examining the various income streams laid out in blue, yellow, red and green, I realized how similar this was to my freelance business as a photographer turned multimedia journalist. …Read the full post […]

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