We are only halfway into the year, and top digital media companies like Buzzfeed, Gal-dem, and MTV News have ceased their operations. VICE is the latest to file for bankruptcy, following its inability to create a sustainable business model.
These closures that happened over quite a short period of time unsettled freelancers, who saw their commissions vanish. Journalist and social media manager Oliver-James Campbell is also concerned about the types of stories that online media will be publishing, as these brands were often giving a voice to those from marginalised backgrounds.
"With titles like VICE and Gal-dem in particular, these reach a different readership than most," he says.
"They're unique in the fact that they produce stories for different types of people. Now, with their closures, there's less space for writers who want to speak about these topics to go to."
That said, most freelancers are used to uncertainty. Running and fitness freelance journalist Lily Canter says that there has always been a need for freelancers to have a backup plan. Multiple sources of income are a must to prepare for tough times.
"I do lecturing, training, podcasting, have a newsletter, run webinars and also have a side hustle as a running coach. But this is because I love diversity of work. I think this has always been the case and I don’t think these closures are a catalyst for that,” says Canter.
The same goes for reliance on securing repeat commissions. The closure of big online publications will mean that more writers will flock to the remaining ones, pitching multiple stories to make up for lost income. Whilst building strong relationships with editors is a good idea, freelance journalist Caroline Harrap says that focusing all efforts on one publication puts writers in a precarious position.
"Working mainly with one client carries more risk because if their budget gets cut, or they go under, then it could leave you with no work. So having at least two or three clients helps to spread the risk a little bit more," she adds.
Amongst the panic and sadness surrounding the end of the major digital-first publishers, Campbell believes that social media will "continue to be the most dominant form of people sharing news."
He adds that a lot of commissioners are working on building a profile across social platforms, and on TikTok in particular. But Harrap does not think social media can become a viable alternative to the likes of Buzzfeed and VICE.
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