Can magazines be effectively run by freelancers?

Since 2006, the number of freelance writers has increased more than 300 per cent and today, freelancers produce more than 70 per cent of magazine content in the USA. With this in mind, can a publication be effectively run with just a team of freelance journalists?

“YES” says Will Rankin, Freelance Editor, Diners Club Middle East

WillRankin120Most freelancers have great experience across a diverse number of fields and topics… staffers can become stale and jaded quickly, writing about the same topic day in and day out

As long as there’s an editor to report to, it is my view that a team of freelancers can definitely run a publication. Of course someone needs to chase the freelancers and pull the magazine together, but I know a number of publishers who not only employ freelancers, but also rely on them. Now, I can only recount my own experiences, but I’m currently freelancing, and work across a number of titles as an editor, employing a number of different writers.

From a company point of view, there’s no need to worry about office costs, visa costs, medical care, holiday pay or gratuities, so farming the work out to freelancers makes an awful lot of business sense, especially to a start-up.

I bring more than two decades of journalistic experience to a publication, the sort of experience that doesn’t come cheap, were the company looking to employ me full-time. Compare my ability and experience to a fresh graduate staffer, and I really believe I represent a better option. Most freelancers have great experience across a diverse number of fields and topics, bringing livelier copy and a wealth of experience to publications. Staffers can become stale and jaded quickly, writing about the same topic day in and day out.

One of the joys of freelancing for me is the sheer diversity; one day I’m writing about oil field technology, the next compiling a hotel review. I have rarely stuck a full time job for more than two years. Journalists – at least the best ones I know – tend to be people who don’t like a job that is strictly nine to five; who work best when the mood strikes them, and who, yes, quite often enjoy late night libations, even if they are couched as press events.

Freelancers can sit at home, working in their underwear while still coming across as extremely professional. Put me in a tie, make me work nine to five, and my work will surely suffer. Freelancers also have more freedom to navel gaze, to come up with better feature ideas, and to think outside of the box. 


“NO” says Radhina Almeida Countinho, Associate Director, TRACCS UAE

RadhinaFreelancers may have the skills and the ability to do the work but you still need someone who is dedicated to the job full-time

There’s an important distinction in the way you classify a freelance journalist – is it someone who is on your books regularly on a freelance contract – as in, physically not sitting in your office but pretty much tied to you anyway by a regular salary and job responsibilities, or someone who pitches and gets commissioned on an ad hoc basis? The distinction in my opinion is a crucial one because although the work culture has evolved and is definitely one in which freelancing is becoming more the norm than the exception; can a publication run purely on ad hoc freelancers? I don’t think so.

If one thinks that all you need to run a publication is a bunch of intelligent individuals armed with notepads, telephones, multimedia skills and a laptop, it’s an unfair simplification of the journalistic process. For smaller publications and those that don’t cover sensitive issues, perhaps the freelance model may work, but for more serious publications, institutional backing plays a big role.

Well-established, respected titles still hold clout and get staffers opportunities and access to doors many freelancers wouldn’t be able to get through. True, there are big name bylines that can confidently command any audience they seek, but for the vast majority there are many other considerations. Like safety, for instance. Many news agencies are not comfortable sending freelancers into conflict zones because the risks are too high. The same is true for the journalists themselves. It could be a life and death situation for a freelancer in a hostage situation – an international title holds bargaining power that a freelancer working on his or her own just does not.

Moreover, from a publication’s point of view, a full-time employee is just more reliable and in many ways, more cost effective. When it comes to it, can you pin down a freelancer to sub your work, write those headlines, or make that call when he or she is physically not in your office? The answer is no, and most employers won’t want to take that gamble on a regular basis.

Yes, freelancers may have the skills and the ability to do the work but you still need someone who is dedicated to the job full-time who can keep a check on quality and consistency. And someone who is around when the five ads you thought were turning up fail to show and you need those five pages filled ASAP – that isn’t a job any freelancer is going to be able to help you with at 10.30pm on a Friday night!



1 reply
  1. Alan Ewens
    Alan Ewens says:

    I don’t know which freelancers you use Radhina but a Friday night at 10.30pm is not a stretch for those of us committed to the client.

    After 26 years in Dubai, I am well aware this is no nine-to-five gig and have put together 100+ pages of event programme material at midnight and opened a press office at 3am simply because I wanted it to be right. Call me any time 🙂

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