Letter of Concern from Canadian Freelance Union

Why do publishers want to replace journalists with ordinary citizens? The price of “free” is enticing. However, while some ordinary people in other professions may be good writers, the amount of people who want to devote their free time to writing for a paper for free is probably quite low. A good model to look at is Huffington Post; many bloggers were happy to contribute to the site, until Arianna Huffington turned around and sold it for a cool price that was not distributed amongst her contributors. That turned many of Huffington’s contributors sour on the model.

The rule is, in any profession, if someone is profiting from your work, you should be paid. Citizens and writers alike. This is something that both the ordinary citizens being asked to write should be just as concerned about as the journalists.

It’s no secret to writers that publishers increasingly want to replace them, and their pay, with ordinary citizens. A recent plea for citizen assistance by the London Free Press which carried a subtext of disdain for the “old business model” of paying writers was posted on their website. Soon after, fellow writers and the Canadian Freelance Union picked up on the story and the CFU wrote an open letter to the London Free Press, which has not yet been responded to. You can view it on the CFU website as well. Reprinted with permission.

CFU concerned about LFP’s move to encourage “free” content

April 21, 2011

Joe Ruscitti, Editor-in-chief
London Free Press

Re: Make your voice heard in paper
Newsroom: Initiatives underway to enable the community to better interact with the newspaper

Mr. Ruscitti, we at the Canadian Freelance Union (CEP Local 2040) are dismayed and frustrated that the London Free Press is now seeking to replace the work of professional journalists with free content produced by members of the community. As the national union for professional freelance media workers, we ask that the Free Press reconsider this decision.

We have no objection whatsoever with members of the public contributing news tips, or pointing to stories that need coverage. This strengthens the paper, and its connection to the community. But your column clearly envisions something much grander. By providing a professional editor to work with these “citizen journalists,” and even offering training, the paper is clearly attempting to replace paid professional journalists with the free work of members of the public.

In your column, you tempt the readers by saying a reporter’s job is “cool.” Do you know what else is “cool?” Getting paid. Instead of teasing members of the public with the chance to get their name in lights, how about offering something real. How about offering to pay for the work you clearly want?

There are dozens of professional freelance writers, journalists and photographers in your community who would be more than happy to work with the Free Press. They already have the skills, and the desire, to tell the stories your readers want to read.

The Canadian Freelance Union is fully supportive of the Free Press’ desire to engage the community. We encourage you to look to the large pool of talented individuals who would like nothing better than to help you with this endeavour.

We only ask that these people be treated fairly.

Michael OReilly, President

3 Responses to “Letter of Concern from Canadian Freelance Union”

  1. Thanks for picking this up and posting it.

    April 26, 2011 at 11:14 am
  2. Todd D #

    I live in London, ON and actually work in the Freepress building (I don’t work for them however).

    I can see why the want to use this free content (purely for financial reasons), but the current writers are not really all that great to begin with. The paper is rife with grammatical and spelling errors.

    If anything this may force the current writers to smarten up, I doubt it though. Either way, it saddens me that the LFP is resorting to this. We freelance writers applaud people like you who are willing to voice our concerns to print organizations.

    Keep up the great work!!

    April 29, 2011 at 8:17 am
  3. admin #

    Thanks Todd! Too bad to hear that about the LFP. It’s a malady that affects a lot of print and online publications these days. It doesn’t help that copyediting has been outsourced, in a large part, to Asia where someone with “good enough” English is doing the task that a seasoned copyeditor used to perform. I can speak and write French in that “good enough” way, but if asked to copyedit any French document, I’ve always told people to accept my work at their own risk. I certainly wouldn’t charge for the service.

    May 5, 2011 at 7:03 pm

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