By Cat Cardenas
After conducting a month-long census of freelance journalists working in Spanish in Latin America, researchers found that most are optimistic about the future of journalism.
Conducted by researchers with the Escuela de Periodismo Portátil (School of Portable Journalism) along with the John S. Knight (JSK) Journalism Fellowship and Stanford University, the census sought to provide information about freelancers, from their thoughts on the journalism industry to their motivations for working outside traditional newsrooms.
While many newsrooms throughout Latin America are downsizing and struggling to be profitable, Juan Pablo Meneses, a JSK Fellow and freelance journalist from Chile, said freelancers are more entrepreneurial and more optimistic than traditional journalists. According to the findings of the census, of the 12,000 journalists who responded, 71 percent were optimistic about the future of the industry.
“It’s very interesting, the new profile of journalists in Latin America is very entrepreneurial, it’s very focused on the future,” Meneses told the Knight Center.
Meneses first presented the census findings at the 10th Iberian American Colloquium on Digital Journalism in Austin, Texas on April 23, following the final day of the International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ).
The journalist said that before the survey was conducted, there wasn’t much data on freelance journalists throughout Latin America. In order to get a better understanding of the journalism industry, they needed to talk to journalists working in this capacity.
Other findings from the census showed that Mexico had the most freelancers, followed by Argentina and Colombia, and that 40 percent of them were journalists under 35 years old. It also showed that more than half (66 percent) of the survey’s respondents were freelancers not because they didn’t have jobs in traditional outlets, but because it was a conscious career move.
“It’s very important to understand the freelancer in Latin America has a new profile,” Meneses said. “In the past, freelance was only [for] journalists without jobs in the traditional media, but now freelance journalists are more independent.”
Considering the obstacles traditional outlets are facing, Meneses said it’s easy to see why younger journalists are opting to start their careers as freelancers.
“The problem is that to work in a traditional newsroom is having to work in a place with a low salary, where you work hours a day and they’re constantly letting people go because the newsrooms are shrinking,” Meneses said. “It’s not an interesting place for young journalists, it’s a place of great stress, and young people would rather have more control over their career and work outside of a newsroom.”
The fact that many journalists are choosing careers outside of traditional newsrooms has given many of them more flexibility in their lives. Another statistic from the survey showed that one-third of respondents work another job outside of freelance journalism.
“Someone could be working as a journalist three days a week and driving an Uber the rest of the week,” Meneses said. “Millennials would like much more to travel than to work in an office. It’s important that the news outlets understand that they need to work with freelancers more because the newsrooms are getting smaller.”
As journalists move out of newsrooms, Meneses said it’s crucial for freelancers to understand that they need to form networks of their own with other freelancers.
“In the past, freelance was more individualistic,” Meneses said. “Today, in a world that’s so connected, it’s important for them to work together with other freelancers. That would be my main advice. For them to know that they need connections, and that they get together to write about the topics that they like.”
Since the release of the census, the researchers have launched a second effort focused on freelancers in Brazil and Portugal. Located at CensoFreelance.org, the survey will take place throughout the month of May. While he can’t be sure of the results yet, Meneses said that he expects that the findings will be similar.
Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.