How a reporter works with non-media clients

What I've been up to since I went freelance.

Hi there! 

How’s it going? October and November are particularly busy months, for me at least, so let’s catch up on what I’ve been up to. Let me know if you have any questions or reflections on autumn via comments below.

(A non-fungible token with my poem, “Open Source,” on sale via Rarible.)

Since I’m no longer on staff at CoinDesk, I’ve been getting back into the groove as a freelance writer. I’m working on some stealth projects related to bitcoin and the media industry, which I will be thrilled to announce later this year. For now, it’s mostly writing and paperwork. So much paperwork! 

Here’s a quick round up of what I’m doing (so far):

Legacy media 

I reported a piece for Business Insider about how the pandemic is impacting the lingerie industry. According to lingerie guru Cora Harrington, there’s “much more demand for loungewear during the pandemic,” such as silk robes and bralettes.  

“We're entering the busy season for intimates - Christmas + Valentine's Day - and I think a lot of brands and stores are hoping to make up some lost ground,” Harrington said, describing the industry’s recovery from the broader COVID-19 slump.

“Customers should anticipate fewer options, which, ironically, makes supporting the things they do see in the market even more important. Brands and retailers will be aggressively tracking what sells.”

Freelance clients

I’ve drafted a contract template for working with companies in the cryptocurrency industry. 

To be clear, I still firmly agree with the tradition that staff journalists should not accept payment or favors from companies they cover. This gets tricky in an age of access journalism, yet reporters should strive not to have an emotional or financial stake in the projects they research. 

There’s a growing cohort of Silicon Valley moguls crusading for tech companies to stop engaging with traditional outlets and fund their own outlets. This can create branded content - like the tampon-sponsored Youtube show about a lesbian vampire, Carmilla - or educational content as well. However, efforts by staff members to report on internal corruption or legal issues rarely work.  

On the other hand, there is a dire need for journalists in particular to rethink tech coverage and the broader shift from institutions to social media influencers

From the beauty industry to the cryptocurrency sector, influencer-driven marketing is already the norm. Some people offer honest advice and reviews, while others basically broadcast social media infomercials. These people are sometimes independent pundits that take on all the marketing overhead, reputational risks and liability issues themselves.

These influencers can publish niche content, equal in quality to some newspapers, including reporting that would not be feasible for a tech company to produce itself. In order to work with companies this way, the writer may need to be independent from the sponsor, whether the sponsor is Microsoft, Youtube or the Washington Post. 

With the old model of ‘real journalism’ belonging strictly to institutional platforms like CNN or the New York Times, there’s no real incentive to publish useful information if it won’t attract much traffic. If you want to be taken seriously, you need numbers. You need followers or a brand name or constant traffic. I find this annoying. Some of my favorite articles from the past decade were only read by a few hundred people. So, in addition to freelancing for outlets, I wrote up draft contracts for various types of commissioned Substack posts that can’t be pitched to editors. 

It’s rarely economical to become a crypto reporter or a privacy tech reporter, because if you lose that specific job, you’ll be less competitive in the broader market. You need to be up-to-date on marketable beats. Generalists make more mistakes and typically offer less insight. We want expert journalists who aren’t beholden to media companies. 

I’ve written up two different contracts and started exploring several other types of offerings as well. One of these commissions will be for an educational guide, for example, which isn’t focused on the startup yet relates to the startup’s target audience and the users’ needs across platforms. The other contract is for an independent research piece about a crypto project. 

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Contracts 

My potential contracts aren’t promising reach or promotion, like freelance marketing work or most branded content. 

What I am offering is a publicly searchable, independent assessment anyone can use, whether it’s a generalist reporter on a tight deadline or a prospective buyer looking for honest information about the company. This is independent service journalism or solutions journalism, depending on the context. 

According to the nonprofit Solutions Journalism Network, this type of reporting uses “the best available evidence” to delve “deep into the how-to’s of problem solving,” as defined by focusing on effectiveness, limitations, actionable insights and ground-level understanding. 

In the case of my monthly newsletter, a commission pays for time, not clicks, conversions or endorsements. If anyone wants me to write about a topic, we agree on the expectations and they pay me a flat rate of $1,000. (This can be flexible for much shorter posts, requiring less research.) My lawyer says I can’t share the contracts with you guys (pesky legal advice!), and would like me to remind you I don’t offer legal or financial advice. 

Starting now, I’m open to commissions for newsletter topics. I also sell poems and tarot readings. Feel free to reach out for more details about rates and offerings.

It looks like I’ll also be writing about the process of making a cosplay NFT, later this year, in addition to personal updates like this one. 

Until next month, take care everybody!