I got a call yesterday from a freelance journalist. He’s working to place a short piece in the Age arts section, and wanted to include about 80 words on Fitzroyalty and a suitable image. He called me to discuss this and asked me to supply him with a photo to illustrate the piece. I’m not going to name the journalist as I believe he was being naive rather than greedy, but several things about this interaction were completely wrong.

First, he told me I should put my full name on the homepage of Fitzroyalty because that is essential for transparency and accountability. The problem is it already is in the copyright section in the top left corner with a link to my static domain homepage. I don’t like being lectured on the ethics of blogging by an old school journalist who gets it wrong. Learn to read. Fail.

Second, I explained about my previous bad experience with supplying photos to corporate media dinosaurs and asked how he will ensure that I get confirmation in writing that any photo I supply will be credited properly. He says the Age doesn’t do credits on the arts page. I say I don’t give away my work for nothing – I require cash or credit. Fail.

Third, he expected me to give him my content for free so he could effectively sell it to the Age. Why should I help him make money from my work? And why should I help the Age? What are either of them giving me? Nothing. Fail.

He tried to charm me by saying how much he likes hyperlocal sites because they are so relevant to their audiences, and in so doing hinted at how less relevant he thought the Age is. He seemed concerned by my agreement. It got awkward. I don’t think there will be anything about Fitzroyalty in the Age arts section in about two weeks after all.

Freelancer was perplexed that I didn’t seem to care whether Fitzroyalty was featured in the dead tree media. He’ll never understand. He spends his days with his head up the arse of a dinosaur tickling its colon with his tongue. You can’t see much of the world from in there.

Later the same day, I received an email with the subject heading ‘Meeting’. The message body contained the words ‘Freelance journalist’ and a mobile number. I Googled the name of the journalist in the header of the email (it’s a different one). Someone with the same name has written for the Australian and has a profile in LinkedIn where he describes himself as a journalist at the Australian.

The email implied that I should call the number and make enquiries. But why should I? If he wants to pursue me he can contact me. I emailed him back saying ‘I think you forgot the message – why are you contacting me?’ The response is very interesting:

Oops. I must have hit send too early.
I’m new to the area and was interested in understanding more about the local environment.
The ideas of open source, hyper local and online resonate strongly with my personal ideals of the media and i was hoping to chat with you a bit further about this.
I have just started freelancing but in the future i hope to launch my own publication/website.
If you’re keen to have a chat, let me know.

Again there’s the implicit assumption that I would immediately want to talk to him. Why? If someone wants to talk to me, they need to say so clearly and explain what it is they want, but this email is unclear and potentially duplicitous. It made me suspicious. I responded by saying:

If my cynicism is inaccurate please accept my apologies, but…
When you say you are ‘new to the area’ do you mean geographically or intellectually?
If you are the same [name] as [link to LinkedIn profile] then I don’t think so. You may be new to freelancing but not to journalism.
You’re the second freelance journalist to contact me today. It’s unlikely to be a coincidence. If you’re gathering information for a story you’ve started in an extremely dishonest fashion.
If you are genuine, then what’s in it for me? You sound like you are asking for a free lesson in hyperlocal online media. I charge by the hour for my services like any other consultant.

Fitzroyalty must be freelance assignment of the day, but I don’t care for these people and their inappropriate assumptions. Their attitude suggests they believe I am (or should be) desperate for their attention. They’re wrong.

I don’t need the exposure, the traffic or the supposed legitimacy of appearing in print. Fitzroyalty is whatever I want it to be, and mostly it is a hyperlocal site with local news for local people. There’s plenty of local stories to cover, like the antics of another corporate dinosaur giving away pizza to gullible hipsters in exchange for their free participation in a dubious marketing exercise.

Fitzroyalty is a hobby and an experiment. It sells nothing. It shares information. It aims to inform and entertain. It is ephemeral and unpredictable. It offers opinion but asks nothing of its audience. It appreciates interaction and engagement but does not take this for granted.

For me, media is more than business. It is a community service. Corporate media dinosaurs and their employees are terrified by the tremendous changes occuring because of the internet. Freelancers are fighting to earn a few crumbs from the dying media giants. They’re desperate.

I say abandon what does not work and try something new. If the dinosaur media corporations give you nothing, give them nothing in return. Don’t give away your content. Don’t allow yourself to be taken for granted. Don’t allow yourself to be used. And, just occasionally, smile with satisfaction as you watch them squirm.

don’t feed the dinosaurs

One thought on “don’t feed the dinosaurs

  • 2 May 2010 at 5:16 pm

    great read. sounds like the dinosaurs are trying to make a comeback. i like your comment about being a community service and how you’re not selling anything with tacky spam ads :-)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *