Freelance Journalists & Safety

Jill Carroll

Jill Carroll

Tony Dokupil published an interesting essay on the Radar website called “Lifting the Veil on Jill Carroll.” His essay uses Jill Carroll‘s abduction in Iraq while working as a freelancer for the Christian Science Monitor as a way to explore the trade-off between the cheapness of freelancers and their vulnerability.

From the article:

Carroll’s story is indicative of a broken news business where media companies—under ever-growing pressure to cut costs—shave the salaries and benefits of freelancers grateful for work and too conscious of competition to protest. “There’s a dramatic relationship between changes in the industry and use of freelancers. It’s something that a lot of people are very worried about,” says Josh Friedman, director of the International program at Columbia’s journalism school. “If you complain, employers will just drop you and get somebody else.”

…with no guarantees and no base salaries, the majority of writers, reporters, and photographers have to fight for strings, selling stories and photos to mid-major outlets like the Monitor. Such publications are increasingly reliant on freelancers yet unwilling to dip into shallow overseas budgets to pay for their insurance and security. “It’s a Don’t Ask, Don’t Offer system,” says Frank Smyth, Washington representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists…

The benefits for employers in an age of declining advertising revenues, evaporating print audiences, and increasing competition are obvious: no health care costs, no overhead fees, and streams of gutsy reporters willing to step into the crossfire. What’s less savory, critics worry, is that a built-in lack of security for freelancers encourages risk-taking and big-story hunting at the expense of less glamorous but important news.

He’s particularly critical of the use by the CSM of Carroll’s experiences in their 10 part series, pointing out that the newspaper never comes in for any criticism for the sin-of-omission part they may arguably have played in Carroll’s abduction.

(FYI: As the director of the Committee to Protect Bloggers, I led an effort to disseminate video messages to Carroll’s abductors via blogs.)

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