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News sites offer new platform for independent journalists

June 3: From hosting articles penned by a correspondent in Istanbul to a review on the latest film remake of “Alice in Wonderland,” NewsTilt is one of several news models that have sprung up in the last couple of years geared at the independent journalist.

Launched in April, NewsTilt hosts a variety of journalists from across the globe who write what they want, essentially creating their own personal brand. It was fashioned under the premise that “journalists are what matter,” noted NewsTilt founder and CEO Paul Biggar in an e-mail interview. From studying the success of online niche publications like TechCrunch, Biggar came to the conclusion that a successful media model would be: “journalist + niche + technology.”

This is how it works: NewsTilt works out the advertising, social media outreach and content syndication taking a 20 percent cut from ad revenue. All the journalists have to do is focus on their reporting, writing and interaction with readers. “We’re proud to say that NewsTilt is currently working for over fifty journalists and we’re still growing,” Biggar said in an e-mail interview. “These are reporters with 30, 40, sometimes 50 years of experience in the industry. We’re attracting quality journalists from all over the world and I think the quality shows in the diversity, breadth and depth of work on our site.”

When 25-year journalism veteran Doug Clawson heard about the venture, he was quick to jump on board as an editor. “I think it has a chance to be pretty significant. Of course, things spin fast on the Internet so you have to be ready to evolve, and get out in front of the next big thing,” he said in an e-mail interview. “Is this the next big thing? I hope so.”

Although NewsTilt has been received by the media relatively well, other news models for the independent journalist like Demand Studios, Aol’s Seed.com and Yahoo’s newest acquisition, Associated Content, have caught flack from critics who have decried them as “content farms.”

For Lisa Rowan, a former employee of Vocus and frequent blogger, writing for Demand Studios and Seed proved to be a waste of time. Last summer, she decided to try her hand at writing for Demand, which allows an approved writer to pick from thousands of topics that are algorithm-generated. “At first it was great. A little bit of research, write an article and get $15 via PayPal at the end of the week,” she said. But after a while of sifting through topics that ranged from the how-to’s on repairing a fence to putting together a car engine, she ran out of steam. “It’s not that I lacked expertise in a variety of areas. Rather, the options provided by Demand Studios did not leave too much room for creativity,” she said. Her experience with Seed wasn’t any better. Although Seed’s topics are conducive to a writer’s creativity and offer competitive pay, multiple people can check out the same assignment providing no guarantee that any single one writer’s article will be accepted.

“They’re taking advantage of the deflated market, and are probably on to something,” Clawson said. “Frankly, I think it’s sad. They are betting people will write for dirt and they are winning that bet.”

Regardless, Demand Media is considered a growing giant, churning out as many as 4,000 stories and videos a day, according to Wired. Demand has even formed partnerships with big name newspapers like USA Today, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Houston Chronicle and the San Francisco Chronicle with Demand producing content for the publications.

Given the power of the trend for journalists to exist independently from a given publication, could this be the new model for freelancers? Will newsrooms dwindle even more as publishers strike up partnerships with these freelance platforms?

“I don’t know that newsrooms will cease so much as they will evolve,” Clawson said. It’s no secret that over the last several years, more journalists have been asked to take on greater responsibilities as they watched peers disappear during rounds of layoffs and buyouts in the traditional media, he noted. “The craft of journalism will suffer (and is suffering) because of it. There’s no way around it,” he said. “So I do believe a place like NewsTilt can fill some of this void and keep veteran journalists eating, by making their professional copy available at a reasonable price. The reader gets what they want (and deserve), while the company manages its bottom line.”

Although the media regard this assortment of news models for the independent journalist with varying opinions, dwindling newsrooms have created a market for displaced reporters who have no publication to call their own. Biggar believes that the creation of NewsTilt is a reflection of these changes in the media industry, while still holding onto traditional media values: “We believe the best writing always wins,” he said.

— Katrina M. Mendolera

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