Anyone working in the world of words will tell you that the industry has changed significantly since the dawn of the Internet. Old-hat editors talk about how digital media is killing journalism and publishing, and that it won’t be long before these industries are unable to sustain themselves.
But savvy media outlets are developing digital strategies and new players are shaking up the norms, producing more opportunities than ever before. The digital landscape offers lots of advantages for writers – but do they outweigh the kudos of seeing your byline in a physical magazine or newspaper?
Many outlets offer exactly the same rate of pay for online stories as they do for print, while many others are still catching up to the reality that digital content matters just as much as what appears in their pages. What can freelancers learn from the varied approaches of different publications? Choose where your words appear carefully and it’s absolutely possible to make good money as a digital-only writer – but watch out for those old-school outlets who tell you their budget for online material is “limited”. Nine times out of ten, they’re not worth your time.
These days, a link to your article on a newspaper or magazine website is much more impressive than a haphazardly scanned clipping. If you’re looking to build a portfolio to showcase your work, digital offers an appealing set of opportunities that print can’t compete with. Freelancers rarely meet with editors in person to discuss pitches and commissions, so you’re unlikely to have much use for a presentation folder full of glossy magazine articles. A link to your finely crafted web portfolio is much more likely to capture an editor’s attention.
Editors are interested in audience engagement, and stories published online generally have a broader reach and a more talkative readership than those that appear in print. Digital work also allows you to gauge reaction to your writing almost instantly, whether that be via the comments section of a publication’s website or via platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit. If you pay attention, this quick-fire feedback allows you to improve your stories – and build your career – faster than ever before. Just make sure you’ve said ‘yes’ to those push notifications on your smartphone.
Think about the process of consuming online stories. You might see a headline that catches your eye, click through, read the article, and be left curious about the writer. So you casually follow a link to their profile on the website, journey onwards to their Twitter page and perhaps decide to follow them. Suddenly, however passively, you’ve made a direct connection with the person who wrote the story you just read. Being “discoverable” online is a crucial way for writers to build an audience today, and the digital terrain allows easy and effective ways to take advantage of this.
Without the traditional media’s restricted column inches, online stories are told in the number of words a writer deems necessary. Well, provided your editor is convinced. This is one of the most exciting things about digital. More flexibility in terms of format means more creative storytelling, stronger reporting and greater personality in writing. Whether 500 words or 5,000, the story formats offered by digital outlets provide a sense of freedom that print publications can never match.
If you can get past chasing the old-school kudos attached to writing for print, the digital world has a huge amount to offer you: a better variety of publications, more interesting formats, stronger interactivity and better means of showcasing your work. What’s not to like?
Freelance features journalist and foreign reporter. Writes mostly about politics, development, technology and culture. Twitter: @LaurenRazavi (www.twitter.com/laurenrazavi)