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Freelancing, service, and self-promotion

Outside of their primary job, what other responsibilities do media workers take on? Our findings suggest that media workers actively contribute to professional organizations, nonprofit organizations, and engage in freelance work.1 Possibly hinting at differences in professional priorities and needs, we find that managers are more likely to donate their time or skills. Staff members are more likely to engage in freelancing or self-promotion through social networks, creating a personal website, or blogging.

When asked what activities they have done outside their primary job in the past five years, managers were more likely to say donated skills for a charitable group (53% vs 44%), contributed time to a professional group (33% vs. 27%), or contributed time to a startup or nonprofit (31% vs 28%).

Managers Staff members
Donated your skills for a school, association, church or charitable group 53% 44%
Contributed time to a professional communication/journalism association or group 33% 27%
Contributed time to a startup or non-profit effort 31% 28%

Data Source: Question: Outside of your primary job, which, if any, of the following have you done in the last five years? (Select all that apply)
Asked among a half sample.
Managers N = 779. Staff members = 1,760.
Original report: “Facing Change: The needs, attitudes and experiences of people in media.” 2015.

American Press Institute

Staff members are more likely to pursue opportunities for promotion outside of primary work. From using social media to advance their career (50% vs 45%), creating their own website (33% vs 25%), doing freelance work in news (33% vs 22%), to maintaining a personal blog (24% vs 18%).

Managers Staff members
Used social media to try to advance your career 45% 50%
Created your own website 25% 33%
Done freelance work in news 22% 33%
Maintained a personal blog 18% 24%

Data Source: Question: Outside of your primary job, which, if any, of the following have you done in the last five years? (Select all that apply)
Asked among a half sample.
Managers N = 779. Staff members = 1,760.
Original report: “Facing Change: The needs, attitudes and experiences of people in media.” 2015.

American Press Institute

Such differences likely reflect that non-managers feel a greater need to develop and promote their portfolio (in the following section, we discuss how staff members feel less secure about their job). Managers may be better able to donate to causes they are passionate about because they are more secure in their work/finances. Given that managers tend to be older than staff members, age and life stage are other possible factors.

With 1 in 3 non-managers freelancing in the past 5 years, as well as 2 out of 10 managers, we sought to understand why they do so. When reviewing the rates they were paid for their most recent freelance job, managers were slightly more willing to accept a gig that did not pay (15% vs 11%). This likely reflects that managers generally earn more than non-managers, and are thus more willing to work for free outside of their normal job.

Compensation for their last freelance assignment most frequently fell between $100 and $500, with 39 percent of both managers and of staff members earning this amount. Managers were slightly more likely to be paid amounts over $500 than non-managers. For example, 19 percent of managers earned between $1,001 and $5,000, compared to 16 percent of non-managers. Managers may be better able to command higher rates due to greater stature in the field or stronger experience/technical skills.

Managers Staff members
I was not paid 15% 12%
$100 or less 8% 14%
$100 to $500 34% 37%
$501 to $1,000 15% 13%
$1,001 to $5,000 19% 16%
More than $5,000 8% 8%

Data Source: Question: If you did freelance work, how much were you paid for your most recent assignment?
Asked among those in the half sample who said they freelanced.
Managers N = 306. Staff members = 871.
Original report: “Facing Change: The needs, attitudes and experiences of people in media.” 2015.

American Press Institute

Given the relative prevalence of freelancing, we were interested in understanding why people engage in this practice. Our survey probed this phenomenon by asking respondents what their most important reasons for freelancing were, while allowing them to select up to three answers.

We find that about 4 out of 10 managers or non-managers who freelanced said compensation was a primary reason. The second most common answer was to raise their personal profile, with 3 out of 10 managers or non-managers giving this answer.

After these two reasons, we see differences. Managers are more likely to say they freelanced because they believed in the mission of the organization (25% vs 21%) or that they wanted to give back to the organization (21% vs. 11%).

Staff members are more likely to say they freelanced because they wanted to gain experience (28% vs 23%) or hoped that it would lead to a paying job with the same organization (16% vs 10%).

Managers Staff members
The compensation made it worth my time 39% 42%
I wanted to raise or market my personal profile 30% 30%
I believed in and wanted to advance the mission of the organization 25% 21%
I wanted to gain experience producing work that my current job 23% 28%
I wanted to give back to the organization in some way 21% 11%
Other 16% 16%
I just had something I wanted to say 11% 13%
I hoped it would lead to a paying job with the same organization 10% 16%
I haven't done any freelance work in the last five years 2% 1%

Data Source: Question: Which of the following were the most important reasons for your deciding to do the freelance work? (Choose up to three. Answers can tally to more than 100%)
Asked of those in the half sample who said they freelanced.
Managers N = 306. Staff members = 871.
Original report: “Facing Change: The needs, attitudes and experiences of people in media.” 2015.

American Press Institute

Overall, the picture that emerges from these responses is that media workers differ in their emphases outside of their primary jobs. Managers are more likely to donate their time or skills, to freelance to serve an organization, and more likely to freelance for free or be paid over $500.

Staff members, on the other hand, are more likely to use social media, a personal website, or a blog to raise their profile. They are more likely to engage in freelancing and more likely to do so in the hopes that it is valuable experience or will lead to a job.

Given our previous finding that nearly half of non-managers said job seeking skills were important for someone in their field, the survey results suggest that many staff members prioritize building a competitive portfolio. To do so, many journalists who are not managers are actively promoting their work and freelancing.

Such activities may reflect anxiety over keeping a job in journalism, a subject we explore in the following chapter.

  1. The questions analyzed in this section were administered to half the sample, which consisted of 779 managers and 1760 staff members.

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