Freelancers, the ’stepchildren’ of the Indian media?

March 28th, 2008 - 9:41 am ICT by admin  

(Feature)
By Frederick Noronha
Bangalore, March 28 (IANS) They’re all over the place. Their work is crucial for getting the news from tinier pockets in India, and yet freelance journalists are perceived to be the “stepchildren” of the news media nationwide. So says Subir Ghosh, the editor-publisher of Newswatch India, a portal website at newswatch.in that provides news - and occasionally views - about what is “pertinent to news people”.

Newswatch India has launched a questionnaire to discern trends via an online survey that studies the trends and views of freelance journalists across India.

It calls itself a media site which deals with journalists, journalism and what is of immediate relevance for journalists. It primarily deals with the news media.

Called ‘The State of Indian Freelance Journalists’, the online survey says it’s an attempt to “look at” the status and state of freelance journalists in India.

“In late February this year, we carried out an informal survey of freelance journalists in India. Though some indications are there, we want to come up with concrete numbers,” said Ghosh.

He said this would be “the first ever research study” about the status of freelance journalists in India.

“We want to look at job security, payment defaulters, general working conditions, legal frameworks, copyrights, arm-twisting tactics of news establishments, et al,” Ghosh announced.

The survey is being done through a series of online queries, with confidentiality promised to respondents.

It looks at career choices - why did journalists take to freelancing in the first place (was it a return from a career, due to redundancy, a “post-retirement indulgence”, an urge to work part-time, or simply a career-choice?)

Freelance journalists are also asked about their formal qualifications in journalism, whether freelancing makes for a better or worse situation in terms of variety of work, the work versus life balance (setting one’s own hours), offering new challenges, being one’s own boss, working from home and more.

Journos are also asked whether freelancing helps them find new markets, land assignments, “sell oneself”, negotiate with publishers, balancing life and work, getting paid, rate of pay offered, workload fluctuations and more.

One question raised is which ‘markets’ among publications are good paymasters and which aren’t.

Freelancers are asked: “Do you think freelance journalism leads to any of the following - higher pay, less secure employment, less access to entitlements like sick or maternity leave, safer work practices, increased press freedom, diminished occupational health and safety, increase in training opportunities, greater editorial autonomy…?”

They are also asked how they decide on deadlines and how they prefer to get paid - one-off contracts, rolling renewable contracts, verbal agreements or retainers.

Ghosh told IANS: “One keeps bumping into freelancers all the time, being in the profession. Everyone has some story or the other to tell.”

He says he recently came across a magazine that pays freelancers a rupee a word. “That was the same rate we were paying 15 years ago. So I decided one needs to quantify things. That was the trigger point (for the survey),” Ghosh said.

Since the survey went out in March 2008, it has attracted around a hundred responses in just four days, Ghosh said.

The site newswatch.in has been there since mid-2005.

(Frederick Noronha can be contacted fredericknoronha@gmail.com)

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