Evolution of the freelancer - keeping up with the digital age
By Alex Ward
The rise of technology and the speed with which we must all keep up is constantly shaping the evolution of the freelancer. With social media and fan-dangled job sites pedalling freelance work, there’s no shortage of platforms for professional freelancers to put themselves out there and snag a good commission.
On media super-site Journalism.co.uk, owner John Thompson says their job board - one of the most widely used and recognised job sites in the media industry - attracts plenty of freelancers. “Sixty per cent of the subscribers to our job alerts are interested in freelance jobs, so they are clearly interested in our jobs board,” he said. “News and features focused on freelancing always do well on initial publication and also in the long tail. They are also very engaged with our presence on Twitter and clicking through on general news as well as our instructional features and tips.”
And it's not just job websites that are increasingly catering for freelancers. Online content 'marketplaces' are cropping up all over the world wide web and they're geared toward the digital-savvy freelancer. The NewsRoom, the largest online content marketplace in the world, has more than 4,000 ‘fully-licensed’ self-employed sources worldwide gracing its books. The platform from NewsCred boasts it is the “highest paying freelance network in the market” with entire commission fees going to the freelancer which is unlike many of these platforms that take a percentage fee for the service. Recently they publicised the fact that they had exclusive access of 500 freelance journalists, photographers, videographers and digital artists. "We’re proud to be the highest paying freelance network, proving our commitment to the growth and sustainability of journalism," said Shafqat Islam, CEO and co-founder of NewsCred.
Mobile phone apps are also at the forefront of journalism in the digital age, linking freelance journalists and photographers directly to newsrooms. Labelling itself the 'global freelance journalism marketplace,' FindStringers app connects freelance reporters covering breaking news on the ground with newsrooms, allowing journalists to shoot footage, edit and send it off to the newsroom at lightning speed (and ideally faster than any staff writer could). “Our goal is to get news to air almost as fast as Twitter,” Gary Symons, president and chief product architect at the app’s maker Vericoder told Journalism.co.uk.
Thompson hopes his site will guide journalists through this brave new digital world. “Technology is moving at such a pace that we are more strongly focused than ever on making sense of that new landscape for all journalists,” he said.
Going mobile isn't just a characteristic of the freelance workforce. Some 40 per cent of the entire working population – that's 1.3 billion people – will be mobile by 2015, according to Esselte’s ‘The Future of Work’ report. “As a result of the internet, new technologies, the huge increase in mobile or home working, part-time jobs and today’s “always on” 24/7 culture, we found that most people now spend more time working than sleeping,” the report said.
As the role and abundance of freelancers rises (see our blog post on the numbers of rising self-employed journalists), many other sectors are working to keep up, offering services for the self-employed such as accounting. Helen Christopher, operations director at contractor support company OrangeGenie, reckons that 20 per cent of their self-employed clients are media professionals. “This flexible workforce is a huge part of the way the employment market works these days and I can’t see it changing,” she said.
Even accounting has gone online, assisting the self-employed to keep on top of their paperwork. "There is the perception that accountancy for freelancers is hard but perception and reality are different things," Christopher said. "It's all online book-keeping and portals now and in real time, so accounting doesn't need to be an onerous task for freelancers."