RECRUITING A FREELANCE MEDIA ARMY
who are binj contributors?
As a Harvard researcher who shadowed BINJ for several months reported: "I encountered the provocative idea across several BINJ contributors that they were not inhabiting the professional identity of journalism at all. Due to their position as precarious freelancers who often held other jobs, there was an apprehension to claim 'journalist' as a fitting title for the work they do. I should note that for some, such as Chris [Faraone] and Jason [Pramas], there was no anxiety about this. They have been trained as journalists and identify as such; journalism is their full-time work. However, the majority of BINJ contributors do not receive their primary income from their journalistic work, be it for BINJ or anywhere else. Rather, this freelance work for BINJ and other outlets was often supplemental income, or even done on good faith that an appropriate paycheck would come at a later date. Primary income came from work in a variety of sectors, from service to tech industries. Some were self-employed."
WHAT'S WITH THE 'ARMY' THING?
Call it what you will—a crew, a team, a squad, your posse—but our point is that it's cold out there, and you're going to need people power to accomplish anything. We can't stress enough that people in your media ecosystem have to be excited about what you're doing, and about the incubator/whatever you are building. You can't be doing this just for you. Or because you and a couple of friends have a hunch that it's needed. If you're sitting here reading about how you can actually bring change to the journalism ecosystem in your (subject or physical) area, then hopefully your interest spurs from multiple conversations that you have had with multiple stakeholders, from writers, to publishers, to editors. Well, that's your team. Those are the people who you need to get involved. Without them, you're just another lonesome blogger or startup news site. There's nothing wrong with that, but that's not what this is all about. This is about providing opportunity for others—other journos, other outlets, etc.
HOW DOES ONE EFFECTIVELY ORGANIZE SUCH AN OUTFIT?
Two words: project-based. Did you hear that? Because it is important. Again, if you're coming here for advice, then we are assuming that you are a grassroots operation, or are at least considering starting something of the sort. And if that's the case, you probably have another job, or two, just like most of the freelancers with whom you'll be working. Because of all these moving parts, and since you probably won't be face to face with contributors like in a traditional newsroom environment, organization will be key. And the best way to keep things in order is to operate on a project by project basis. Here's what we mean by that, along with some tips for keeping an organized incubator:
- Potential contributors are going to come with a truckload of ideas and tips. Your job as a coordinator is to see where they all intersect, and to form teams along those lines. This will happen as your team leaders filter ideas, but it also happens organically—and in real time—at writer meetups and similar events, especially if contributors can plaster their thoughts on the walls.
- Projects can be parsed however seems appropriate, but whatever the case, it's important to have clear lines around ideas and commissions. For example, last year several of our writers were interested in bicycle safety and infrastructure. One contributor was a Boston University journalism student, whose final project had a lot of promise but still needed to get pulled over the finish line. Meanwhile, a researcher we work with was compiling statistics, and another writer was interested in reporting on the region's most dangerous intersections. Instead of treating them like one-offs, we built a whole campaign around them all—along with other pieces we brought in—gave it a snappy title ("Vicious Cycle"), created a Facebook page, and built it all out as a single project with multiple parts.