Day three: Get someone else to do it

Or should that be, ‘let someone else do it’? On the social media cynic’s bingo card, see ‘collaboration.’

It depends what kind of news operation you’re going for, but often someone else’s writing can bring fresh eyes to a topic. Newspapers have done this for hundreds of years, with opinion pieces, guest editors and celebrity columnists. Some of the time, they can pay people. But right now (two or three months into freelancing) I’m only just paying the bills off my own back, so paying someone else ain’t going to happen for a while. So…

Should you pay? If so, how?

If you run a blog, what’s the best way to go about it? What if you want an impartial news piece? Personally, I tried asking for impartial news a few times on the Guardian Edinburgh blog but unless the person was trained in journalism, it rarely worked as ‘news’.

Often the answer was to just head up the article with ‘opinion’ or make sure the intro stated that it was a guest contribution. Fine, but not ideal. That’s not really encouraging citizen journalism. In a moment I’ll mention Open File, a format which I think may have nailed it.

Amazingly, the guest posts never dried up on the Guardian Edinburgh blog. It got really fun once I found people who shared my opinions, like Ewan Leitch of the AHSS who wrote this piece about protecting post-war architecture. It meant I was publishing articles I wished I could write, but would never get away with!

The door was also open to anyone wishing to run campaigns through a series of guest posts, as the Forest Cafe volunteers did. I was careful to never state my own opinions on the topics though.

In both cases it seemed they weren’t so bothered about cash and just happy to have a decent platform to air their views. At no point did I feel I was being a ‘bad person’ by not being able to pay, as nice as it might have been.

I’ll admit that I was wrong to expect guest posts would dry up. I feared that the fact we weren’t able to pay people could have become a problem of Huffington Post proportions. So I would make a conscious effort to make it very clear when asking people to write for us, or when replying to people who had asked to do so, that there’d be no cash.

It would have been nice if we could have paid something though. But, aside from the people writing, would that have improved anything for the readers? Would it have resulted in better copy coming my way? I’m not sure it would have.

There are some interesting models out there that do pay, including Open File in Canada – read how it works here. As a reader, your role is to suggest stories, or ‘files’, you’d like to see investigated. The site employs professional journalists to investigate and report back. I’ve got it on good authority that the Open File format is one that could soon start up on this side of the pond too.

Will it work? Are there better ways to generate content and keep the writers happy?

Closer to home, in Cardiff, the culture magazine Plastik has set up its own discount card for people shopping at local businesses. By getting local groups on board, they seem to have opened the door to allowing people who work in local independent record shops and arts centres to write for them. It’s collaboration in action.

As I said at the start, it all depends on the motivation of the person writing and the aim of the publication/site.

I think I’m just keen to find out about interesting ways that news organisations are paying people to write. I’m aware I’ve barely touched the surface of the issue, and that’s kinda the point. I really appreciated the comments on the previous posts. If anyone wants to share their ideas on this topic, dive right in by commenting below.

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