How to Balance Reporting with Marketing Work
With a shrinking amount of newsrooms with jobs for journalism graduates—that, plus the difficulty and low pay—it’s not surprising that many journalism grads go straight to marketing jobs. And if you talk to enough freelance journalists, you’ll find quite a few that do content marketing in addition to their reporting.
It’s not hard to see why. The marketing work pays more for less stress than the typical news story. I’ve heard tales about pre-internet magazine rates well above today’s $2-to $3-per word, but today, it’s hard to find online outlets (magazines’ sister sites) that pay more than a few hundred words per article.
The thing is, content marketing for companies, editing on the side, and other side-gigs can lead to major pitfalls. Journalists working side jobs to make ends meet isn’t new, as is pointed out in this captivating Poynter article. But I started thinking about the downsides of this after a staff editor lost her job for receiving $10,000 in exchange for marketing work, as explained in the Chicago Crusader and amplified in the Chicago Sun-Times. And yet, I received multiple emails lately from PR folks who want to write articles on the side.
So, where is the line of impropriety? And how can journalists earn extra money without jeopardizing their credibility? For starters, here’s what to do and avoid:
Disclose necessary information.
As an independent contractor, you don’t have to necessarily disclose all of your clients, but you do need to notify them if you need to recuse yourself from an assignment. If, for example, you’ve written content for a company and your editor needs you to interview an exec at that same firm, tell him/her/them you can’t take the gig.
Show your work.
Things that are left hidden could come off as improper. You may want to include samples of your content work in your portfolio, so you don’t leave anything up to chance.
Avoid marketing gigs in your beat.
If a company approaches you about marketing work, use your best judgment as to whether you should take it. If it’s a company that you’ve written about already or may write about in the foreseeable future, don’t take the gig. If not, you’re welcome to consider it. The downside to that is you’ll be coming into the gig without much familiarity about the subject; the upside—your credibility stays intact.
Remember your ethics.
Don’t take payments from people you cover. Don’t cover people from whom you take payments. It’s quite simple. Anyone who’s a client should always be a client. Anyone who’s a source should always be a source. As a journalist, your credibility is everything.
Reinvest in your business
Publications sell ads to support their reporting staff. And at respectable places, there’s a “separation of church and state,” if you will. Treat your freelance marketing/side gigs the same way. Don’t let it interfere with your reporting, but use the proceeds from it reinvest in your reporting. Beyond putting a roof over your head, grab some of the transferrable SEO skills and apply them to your story. Spend some time on longer stories in the meantime. Go after that passion reporting project and see if it leads somewhere interesting. If so, pitch it to editors.
How do you navigate content and reporting gigs? Tell me in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.