Despite the increasing challenges, freelancers continue to be a vital workforce within the journalism space.
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Freelancers produce independent, quality and innovative journalism that promotes healthy democracies, ignites public debate and brings the powerful to account. However, to this day, there is no statistical evidence for the number of active freelance journalists in Europe. Nor is there a concise overview available of the opportunities, working conditions, and legal frameworks for freelance journalists, and how these differ between the various European countries.
In 2022, after running the Freelance Journalism Assembly (FJA) programme for over two years, we saw an opportunity to design a pooled effort for unearthing the conditions and dynamics of freelance journalism in Europe. The 925 respondents provided a statistically significant sample of the European freelance journalism community.
Here are some of the main results of the survey:
A plurality of respondents (40%) earned less than €15.000 in 2021, with 60% earning less than €25.000. Low pay rates are a huge concern and challenge for freelancers. Fifty-seven per cent earned the majority of their income through commissioned jobs by publishers, followed by 23% earning income from an editorial project such as a newsletter or podcast.
While the majority of respondents (59%) had been freelancing for more than five years, nearly half (41%) had an occupation in addition to being a freelance journalist. The mentioned jobs were in communications, consulting, teaching or training, public relations, research, editing/copywriting, and translating.
Over half of respondents cited flexibility with respect to work/life balance and freedom to choose their own reporting topics as reasons for being a freelancer (59%, and 50% respectively. Respondents could select all that apply, hence answers add to greater than 100%.)
Survey respondents expressed concerns about having fewer options, due to media closing, lower budgets, and priorities for specific areas of journalism. Topics most frequently reported on included the environment and politics (both 37%), human rights (36%), and culture and lifestyle (33%).
Opportunities are available to freelancers but here is how respondents ranked these in terms of effectiveness: networking opportunities, (43% say extremely helpful), connections between publications and freelancers, grant funding (both 42% extremely helpful), resources and guides (22% extremely helpful), events and conferences (24% extremely helpful) to mentorship (26% extremely helpful).
Learning or improving skills is very important to freelance journalists working in a digital environment, but there are barriers. Fifty-two per cent said money has been a barrier to learning new skills necessary for their work, while 45% say time is an issue. A less common barrier is technical limitations (12%). So which skills are in demand? Respondents indicated grant writing (35%), social media and personal branding (34%), data analysis or data journalism (34%), foreign language(s) (32%), and pitching and outreach to publications (31%).
With more data about how freelancers work and thrive, we begin to better understand the mechanisms and design new strategies for supporting freelance journalists. From the responses and results there are several elements to benefit the health of the freelance journalism ecosystem in Europe:
The European Journalism Centre ran a survey of Freelance journalists in Europe from February to March 2022. There were 925 total respondents, with 688 in English, 135 in French, and 102 in Spanish. The survey was supplemented by focus groups with 16 freelance journalists in Europe, and interviews and focus groups with partners working to support the European freelance ecosystem. The results provided us with a statistically significant sample of the European freelance journalism community. The FJA survey was conducted in partnership with Impact Architects, and with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Are you looking for free resources to support your professional development and reporting? Have a look at these free Freelance Journalism Assembly resources: