Friday, October 14, 2011

The curious case of a hyperlocal site's decision to cut out freelancers

What a huge difference a year makes. Only 365 days in the calendar, but encapsulated in an individual's life and that is a significant chunk of time. A year ago I was finishing up my degree at Cal Poly and also working pretty steadily for both the local paper, stringing football games and covering events for a start up hyperlocal website owned by a huge media company.

Said hyperlocal site has recently slashed its freelancer budget to a bare minimum, virtually eliminating correspondents for most of its branches in California, a once flourishing network with more than 80 sites covering communities from Agoura Hills to Walnut Creek CA.

So I guess I was one of the fiscal casualties of the site's restructuring of its model of delivering content to readers which once relied heavily on a local editor updating content with many freelancers working under said editors, and which now has been reduced to more of a true content farm, pulling information from various sources on the web under one unbrella, with editors aggregating content from other newspapers and sites.

Well, I am not here to debate the merits of such a model, whether a true media source develops more original content versus the model now presently being used by the website. What I do want to convey is that working for this site for nearly a year, and seeing how it operates under the shrinking fiscal conditions of a struggling economy presents a good lesson and a good overview of how media operates in the digital age.

The shame of it is that journalists have been operating for a while now in a market which has very little idea of how to charge for content, a puzzle this author says you would have thought they would have solved years ago.

I can see why so many people are out protesting down in Wall street and throughout the nation in the Occupy WS movement, and though they have been criticized by some for having no clear focus in their message, at least they are willing to get out there and try to engage people in a debate about change that is necessary for the middle class to survive.

Yet, that is a much broader social issue. As for me, I have gone back to freelancing prep sports for my local newspaper. I am on my way to cover a game now, and though the money is not as good as it is on the web, maybe there is more stability and more security in mainstream media outlets such as the good old neighborhood newspaper. At least for the time being. What the future holds is anyone's guess.

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