Is freelance media in freefall?

If the news and information content that you’re reading, seeing or listening to has become markedly narrowed, it might not be just Covid-19.

Freelancing in the media industry has become the standard through which the quality and objectivity of news and information content improved. Freelance media exponents are in a market where knowledge and talent were liberated from the restrictions of traditional working practices, and it is not just the self-employed who realised that removing barriers meant that the best broadcast could be shared and seen – all the biggest names in news and social commentary rely heavily on contracting freelancers for content.

Location, location, location

Just how many newsworthy sources the freelancer can cultivate will obviously depend on who they can communicate with and critically, where they can travel. Reliance on Chinese state media for a Wuhan update isn’t fact-checked by anyone, sure. But you don’t have to think too hard to recall how freelancers often get to ground-zero information even in the most autocratic states, when they’re allowed to travel and find the news-makers, eye witnesses and facts.

Fewer local and international stories

The less that is being produced by freelancers also means audiences are being denied value. Your local news stories are now likely to be dropped or adapted to fit a Covid-19 response narrative which, though incredibly important, is not the only thing that you need be notified of. Meanwhile, media freelancers who are not in investigative journalism or current affairs fields are also severely hampered by travel bans, the cancellation of concerts, events or in some instances, the need to self-isolate.

Obviously, Covid-19 developments get priority, but everything else that isn’t being followed by media freelancers hasn’t just disappeared, and may well be worse when your focus returns to whatever post-pandemic life awaits.

Censorship via lockdown?

With that social capital of our news and entertainment suspended indefinitely, the future of media freelancing won’t neglect what this pandemic lockdown has revealed. That organisations and NGOs supporting media freedoms from censorship or persecution need also to address scenarios wherein the freelance media workers are excluded from the narrative because of lockdowns.

The criteria for who would qualify for such exemption would be complex to say the least, however, should the basic principles of journalistic ethics be the standard bearer of such waivers, then at least we are going to get the information most needed in a pandemic: truthful, accurate, impartial and fair.