The future of global journalism and freelancing

What does the future of journalism look like? How are the world’s leading publishers adapting? How are freelancers operating in this globalised world? We spoke to researcher and Assistant Professor, Lea Hellmeuller, to delve into these questions and more. 


The following is an excerpt from the Brand Storytelling podcast. Available on iTunes,  Soundcloud, and selected Android apps


Rakhal Ebeli: What do you say is the future of journalism, particularly for freelancers?

Lea Hellmueller:  That’s such a big question. I also have to mention here that in the past, when everybody would do research on foreign reporters, we would traditionally go by the organisation. That might have something to do with our journalism theory so that we theorize journalism as being part of an organisation. There’s almost no research, at least that I know, that’s focusing on freelance journalists because they were just not part of the organisation traditionally. 

Now that, for example in the United States, the number of traditional newspaper foreign correspondents dropped from 307 in 2003 to 200 in 2011 – that’s a fall of about 25% and when we look at TV network coverage of global news. It’s less than half in 2013 compared to the late 1980s. There is some space that is opening up because on the one hand, we see an increasing need for being more informed about global issues, such as ISIS or the Zika virus right now. 

On the other hand, we have fewer people covering it within that traditional framework of news, talking about the traditional news organization. I think the future is really about connecting those foreign reporters that are increasingly operating without an organization, so without a safety network, connecting them to audiences globally. On one hand, of course connecting them to traditional news outlets, but also to audiences and engaging them.

Rakhal Ebeli:    You have studied CNN, in particular their iReport service, which is something I’ve been keeping an eye on for a few years. It’s really interesting, this user generated content versus professional journalism and even networks like CNN releasing or essentially firing 50 of their best reporters. This is a highly profitable news enterprise, supposedly, and we’re seeing this again and again right around the world. What do you make of that circumstance? Are we going to be seeing more user generated content or unprofessionally curated content or does it just not matter as long as the story is in the content?

Lea Hellmueller:    It’s again filling something that is not being filled by traditional reporters anymore because we see that CNN iReporters, they peek at a time when really CNN didn’t have access or the resources to send reporters or when there was no access, like let’s talk about the elections in Iran, right? I think in 2009, so there was no access for foreign reporters. CNN iReporters filled a very important gap for journalism in itself. I know there is a lot of criticism among the concept of user generated content, especially from the journalism field, like from journalists themselves. They do not believe that this is real journalism because they do not have the education. 

We’ve seen that, for example, CNN responded to that and organized boot camp to train those CNN iReporters. In a way, as I said, I think they’re filling a need for the organisation and on the other hand, I think it’s also an engaging technique for CNN  iReporters themselves so they start caring about their community and actually seeing it with different perspectives.

Rakhal Ebeli:    What do you make of the rise of content marketing agencies and brands essentially becoming publishers around the world and really dipping into, as Newsmodo admittedly and unashamedly, engaged the professionalism of journalists right around the world to create content. Where do you see all that heading from a brand publishing perspective?

Lea Hellmueller:    I think it’s an important thing for the future to break the Chinese wall of the marketing department with the journalism department so that we really work somehow together, more collaborative in this network society, and I think it’s just important not to forget about the journalistic values and norms. If we sell it as a journalistic product, it should really be of benefit to a larger public’s interests rather than to a corporate interest.

Rakhal Ebeli:    That’s really important, too, and we advocate the transparency of the content that we create for brands.

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