Freelances 'losing work' as readers write for Guardian

By Dominic Ponsford

Freelance journalists may be losing out on work because of The Guardian’s increasing use of “citizen journalists”.

A meeting of London Freelance Branch of the NUJ heard that there is
concern in particular about the twopage Guardian “Readers’ Guide” in
the new Saturday travel section. This consists of a series of
recommendations emailed by readers to the paper’s website and then
edited by journalists from the travel desk.

Freelance journalist
Hilary Maskell told the meeting: “At The Guardian, since the relaunch,
there are more sections devoted to readers’ contributions.

I
assume they are being paid, but it seems to me that a lot of freelances
are not now contributing to The Guardian because certain areas are
disappearing.

“In one sense I can see this is a good principle to
interact with the readers – but there is great opportunity for
exploitation, with the best will in the world, because of this reliance
on readers.

“It seems that every section has something, but the
biggest one is the travel section. I just hope somebody is checking
that the restaurants they review are still there.”

Guardian
managing editor Chris Elliott said reader contributors did not get paid
because “it’s just like going out and asking readers’ views in a vox
pop.

It would be like paying for letters on the letters page”.

He
added: “We haven’t set out to use fewer freelances. What we have set
out to do is to have more interactivity with our readers.”

The
issue of citizen journalists came to prominence following the 7 July
terrorist attacks in London, when dozens of pictures were emailed by
members of the public from their mobile phones to newsdesks. Many news
organisations have since started openly encouraging readers to
contribute in this way.

The meeting heard that the NUJ is
compiling a code of conduct to govern the way journalists work with
citizen journalists. The code will cover the union’s concerns about
legal liability for images sent in by citizen journalists, payment,
copyright and safety.

NUJ activists prefer to use the term “citizen witnesses” or “witness contributors”

because the people involved are by definition not real journalists.

Robin
Brownsell, from mobile imaging company Picmore, told the meeting that
over the past year every national newspaper bar the Telegraph has used
technology provided by his company to allow their readers to send in
mobile phone images.

He said Trinity Mirror was leading the way
in the regional press in this field, most effectively when the
Liverpool Post asked readers to send in pictures after the Liverpool
Champions League win against AC Milan in Istanbul in May.

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