Amateurs get paid

When people ask me for the most forward-thinking news organization in the U.S. that has actually accomplished things in this new world, I point to WKRN TV in Nashville, run by Mike Sechrist, and Terry Heaton’s work with them. They’ve listened to their community via bloggers (in meetups) and shared knowledge with them (teaching them how to shoot video) and promoted them (in the station’s blog) and supported them (with an ad network).

This week, they announced an important next step: valuing the work of these amateurs. Terry reports:

…WKRN-TV announced tonight that it would begin paying local bloggers for approved video stories they submit and running those stories on its Website and in its newscasts. WKRN president and general manager Mike Sechrist told a “meet-up” of local bloggers that he could envision the day when a daily program would be made up entirely of material submitted by the community. . . .

Sechrist told the group of bloggers that they had already had a significant influence on the news programs the station produces, simply by doing what they do. The station has pursued stories first raised in the blogging community and has used local bloggers as a sounding board at various times. . . .

I’m sure that we’ll hear plenty of bitching about this from the trenches of the TV news business, but the truth is this was inevitable. Stations have always employed “stringers” or “freelancers,” but most of their work was raw video that station reporters used to tell stories. This takes the concept a step further and taps into the knowledge, passion, brainpower and, yes, skill of people in the community. This a fruit of the personal media revolution, and it will be interesting to watch. . . .


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  • Micropayments … it’s gotta be the way. I can’t help coming back to Brad Cox’s notion of “superdistribution”.

    “Ever wonder how hard-working electronic frontier citizens can earn an honest living as we transition to an information age economy?”

    Ok, so maybe I only spend 20% of my personal time “productively” … but what if those 6 or 8 hours deserve $75/hr? Hardly justifies conventional management techniques, but …

  • Yes! Now for the $64 (?) question – how much?

    And will the freelance rate be higher or lower than previously?

    (I think the answer is going to be “lower” – you’re expected to eat “personal media revolution”).

  • As I was at the blogmeet in Nashville when Sechrist spoke about blogging and it’s impact on mass media, I must say that WKRN should be applauded for being progressive and recognizing the importance of the blogosphere. I work for a small (very small) group of papers, and I have yet to see my publishers even recognizing blogging as of value.
    These questions regarding freelance rates are valid, but I think it misses the point to a certain extent.
    Bloggers are going to blog regardless. It’s addictive, highly entertaining regardless if you are blogging about knitting, pop culture or politics. It’s about passion for many of us. Being expressive and getting almost immediate feedback.
    Some will most likely go on to paying gigs and that may be their objective, but on another scale, there are others that just want to be part of the big picture.
    Will the masses make a lot of money doing this, I think the answer is no. However, I do believe that there is validity of wanting to be part of making change.
    I think that WKRN is trying to do this, but there isn’t a handbook for this new forum of communication and its relationship with news. So WKRN’s management are headed out trying to see what will happen. Will they make mistakes, sure.
    Will everyone be satisfied? No.
    Will it open doors? I think so for the best and brightest, especially for creative minds trying to feel like they are of value.
    Idealistic. You bet.

  • The pay question is extremely valid. Once you get over the buzz of being part of the MSM, being a freeter is just another way to get paid. There are going to be a lot of wide eyed innocents trying their hand at it, wanting to be part of “change” however there are going to be as many who are trying to build a career and earn ducets.

    There is part of me that can’t help a little skepticism; is this a media revolution in the sense of a more “democratic” way of participating or just another way of reducing costs for TV stations? Look at all the businesses who have raised profit margins by farming out jobs to temp workers, who don’t have unions, who can’t get benefits, who can be fired at will.

    Sechrist mentioned the idea of having a 30 minute show with nothing but segments produced by vloggers is probably a better idea than integrating them into newscasts. Will be interesting to see which gets the better ratings, the vlogger show or the evening news. I know where my bet lies.

  • I certainly respect the question, but the “how much” issue strikes me as a jaded and cynical response to what is a pretty remarkable move by the station. WKRN already pays local bloggers ($100) to fill-in on weekends on its Nashville is Talking website, and there already is a pretty respectable scale in place for freelance (stringer) video. Cut packages will undoubtedly be higher, and as soon as that has been set, we’ll publish it.

    Seth, I have just one question. What the hell does a “mainstream” media company need to say or do to convince you that it wishes to work WITH the local blogosphere and not exploit it? Because WKRN hasn’t done one thing to suggest the latter, and yet apparently some people — yourself included — seem to think they’re incapable of the former.

    You are not a part of the local blogging community here, and if you were to do a little research among them, you’d find that such a stereotypical response is really quite unfair. There is no model for any of this, and WKRN is trying to write one. They could use your mind and support.

  • Agreed. Mr. Heaton. Agreed.

  • Terry: The answer is simple – *actually* paying contributors standard freelance rates. You are utterly correct, I’m jaded and cynical. I look at “Who is getting paid (and will that include me!)”. I’ve seen too many so-called business models which boil down to “You, blogger, can submit material to us, editorial gatekeeper, I mean, new citizen journalism hub, and if *we* find it worthy (meaning profitable), *you’ll* get … umm, the joy and happiness of having participated in, err, emergent media, that’s it, you’ll get to tear down that arrogant oppressive old regime, vive la revolution!”. Sometimes they sweeten the deal with Google Ads, or some such. Needless to say, I don’t find this appealing.

    In terms of supply and demand and declining profit margins in the media business, it is completely predictable that freelancers (bloggers) are going to be used to attempt to drive down pay rates. It may not work, but it’s so utterly obvious a tactic that it would be wilful blindness to deny it as a topic of discussion. It’s standard “outsourcing” – use poorly-paid contractors who are cheaper.

    So, in sum: Plenty of past nonbusiness models, and basic economics, make me a skeptic, sorry. The disproof: Show me the money.

  • Seth,
    Even as we “speak” I’m earning money from WKRN to write for their blog. (I’m this weekend’s aforementioned guest-blogger.) I’ve been ‘hired’ to write for two other blogger-zines whose business model is as you’ve alluded to already–feel the love of being part of the revolution but earn your money someplace else. Needless to say, I much prefer the WKRN model of business.

    I have no doubt that the truth will lie somewhere between the two sides of this argument. I really believe that WKRN desires to work with the new talent they’re discovering in the blog world. Yes, it is cheaper and that will work to their favour. However, based on the way they’ve handled their investment in the blog community I have no doubt that their pay scale for freelance video will be on the better side of ‘fair.’

    At the meeting Mr. Sechrist alluded to replacing a popular syndicated program with locally-produced freelance content. I’ve no doubt that we have the talent in this town to generate the quality, and I’ve no doubt we have the eagerness to accept WKRN’s marching orders. I also know that cutrate works well for a business in the short-term, but Sechrist knows Nashville and he and his team undoubtedly know that this is a VERY media-savvy town. Cutrate won’t buy long-term loyalty and quality in Nashville, so I’d assume that the scale will reflect that knowledge.

  • As a ‘brand-new’ (2 month) blogger, I’m definitely finding out I’m behind the curve. I spent yesterday afternoon watching a PhD crash and burn Here … Getting paid for this? That’s lightyears away for me.

    One commentator posted in reply to a concern about real-world retribution to online behavior: “This sounds like an argument for moderating one’s own online behavior. In real life, that prevents people from suffering undesirable consequences. You don’t spit in a big fella’s face on the street in meatspace. What motivates your desire to do it with immunity in cyberspace? God forbid you should have to behave yourself online.”

    Something they found out about over at Nashville City Paper, huh?

  • I don’t think there’s anything wrong paying a “citizen” a token for the use of his/her video–however, this could muddy the waters even further than they are already when it prior publishing/video credentials that he/she deserves a higher rate of pay for his/her stuff?

    Talking with a local newspaper publisher at the Media Giraffe conference, I got some very good info on how and when citizen stuff incorporated by newspapers can hurt journalists who are just starting their careers. If it can hurt those who used to use small-town papers as jumping off points, it just may also hurt aspiring videographers who used to use small-town networks for jumping-off points.

    Does this mean whe all have to go to Columubia Journo or SVA if we want professional credentials? Maybe…. then, what might end up happening is further class stratification and less opportunities for those who are not moneyed enough for big schools.

    Further, I worry about the spin that any media outlet can give to a citizen effort. Face it, media outlets pick and choose citizen efforts accordingly. Keeping citizen media efforts separate from, not incorporated by, networks may be the better way to go for giving the public its voice.

  • To springboard off of Tish’s comment, there is a tendency in “big media” to round up all sorts of players and passers-by with the explicit or implicit intent that they air their views on “my show”. Oprah and Bill O’Reilly are good examples of this. We see this in the TV news as well: The interviewee may be forced to answer the same question over and over, but the point was to get “branded” footage with the outlet’s logo on the mic and the staff reporter’s voice on tape asking the question. The message: “NewsCo was there.” CitJourno means that NewsCo dropped the ball and was not “there”.

    Joe Schmoe Eskimo can be a valuable source of on the spot footage (perhaps most famously being the Zapruder film) but as a disinterested observer this seems to be more the “happy accident exception” than the rule. Of course, CurrentTV is (at last word) nothing but CitJourno, so perhaps we will see the stigma of “homemade” media being slowly erased.

    But I agree with Seth that it’s going to take quite a bit of heavy lifting on the part of the TV media to prove that CitJourno is a) respected and b) worth the effort. Time and time again, I have seen “token” nods to CitJourno, but always at a long arm’s length from respectability. And I can’t resist asking this: I thought the new “flat” world we’re living in means there are no “gatekeepers” and we don’t have to wait around for say, CNN to find value in CitJourno? I’ll hang up and take my answer off the air.

  • Without credentials, I also don’t see how cit vid gets past the “happy accident” stage.

    As for “What the hell does a “mainstream” media company need to say or do to convince you that it wishes to work WITH the local blogosphere and not exploit it?” Seth nailed it. Pay them commensurate.