Title: Preconditions for succesful freelancing according to freelance journalists in Flanders
Authors: De Smaele, Hedwig
De Cock, Rozane
Issue Date: 2-May-2016
Conference: L'emploi par soi-même: auto-entrepreneuriat, journalisme entrepreneurial. Nouvelles pistes, nouveaux risques pour la profession location:Louvain-la-Neuve date:2 Mai 2016
Abstract: The bulk of research on journalists profiles and job careers consist of 1) large scale surveys 2) among employed journalists working in an editorial team. Freelancers or entrepreneurial journalists are often neglected or marginalized in these studies. A report of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ/ILO, 2006) that explicitly looked into the situation of freelancers, still called them ‘atypical’ workforces. However, as freelancers make up half of all journalists in some countries already (for instance in the Netherlands), the label ‘atypical’ is not satisfactory nor appropriate anymore. In our study 1) we focus especially on these entrepreneurial journalists or freelancers 2) by use of in-depth interviewing to reveal the journalists perspective on job satisfaction, motivations and preconditions to make the job ‘work’.
Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, serves as an interesting case study. The label ‘professional journalist’ is a protected occupational title in Flanders since 1963. However, this title and consequently its privileges and protection are far more easily obtained by employed journalists than by freelancers as one of the preconditions is the absolute ban on commercial activities. It is obvious that entrepreneurial journalists, who have to be professional journalists as well as professional entrepreneurs (businesses) at the same time, encounter conflicting practices with this strict requirement more readily than employed journalists. Notwithstanding this ‘discrimination by the law’, (only?) one in five ‘professional journalists’ in Belgium is a freelancer (Raeymaeckers, Heinderyckx, et al., 2013, p. 10). More freelancers are to be found among youngsters (minus 35 years, 26%) and +54 years old (30%). The 2013 survey shows that only half of the freelancers (55%) is (very) satisfied with their job against 93% of employed journalists. Flanders does not appear as a fertile ground for entrepreneurial journalism. But what are considered the preconditions, opportunities and limitations to entrepreneurial journalism in Flanders by the journalists themselves?
In spring 2012, 71 freelance journalists were randomly selected from the database of the VVJ - Flemish Union for Journalists. 22 of them were willing to contribute to our in-depth interview study, that is fourteen men and eight women, ages 22 to 62. Interviewees were working as journalists for newspapers (e.g. Gazet van Antwerpen, Het Laatste Nieuws, Het Nieuwsblad), magazines (e.g. Knack, Trends, Flair, Joepie, Libelle), radio (national and regional), television (e.g. VRT, VTM, TV Limburg, Kanaal Z) and online media (special interest magazines). Each interviewee signed an informed consent form. An interview guide consisting of central themes and open ended questions served as a guiding instrument throughout all 22 in-depth interviews. The semi-structured interviews The interviews were fully transcribed and coded by use of the qualitative software package Dedoose ( Interviews were built around three main research questions: 1. What are considered the advantages and disadvantages of working as a freelancer in Flanders? 2. How satisfied are freelancers in Flanders with their work and lives? What are the reasons for their (dis)satisfaction? And most importantly, partly following out of these questions: 3. What are the preconditions to make entrepreneurial journalism ‘work’ in Flanders?
Our results show that there is no such thing as a ‘fixed’ list of advantages and disadvantages as most features of freelance work (e.g. flexibility in working hours and assignments) can be considered in both ways. The perception of journalists is dependent on the free or forced choice to freelancing. Those who chose to work on their own see more advantages and are more satisfied than those forced into the statute. This finding confirms the distinction made by Edstrom and Ladendorf (2012) in Sweden between those (young) professionals pulled into self-employment and others pushed into self-employment. Free choice therefore is the main precondition that makes the difference between the perspective of the master and the servant.
Freedom is a frequently cited word in the interviews, both as freedom in journalistic work as in business organization (e.g. working hours). But freedom has a price: the work is unsecure and never done. Freelance journalists need to devote part of their time to ‘running their business’. Essential preconditions to be successful therefore are skills and competences with regard to budgeting, time and project management (discipline is a key element), risk-taking, negotiation and presentation (self-promotion). Journalists need to build a ‘unique selling proposition’ – bringing a business value into the ethos of journalism. A successful freelance journalist is not an isolated journalist: he or she is the pivotal element within a broad social network (social capital), he or she preferably has a partner with a fixed income and gets some professional help with regard to accounting and budgeting. Feedback and appreciation from the environment is an often neglected but important precondition for (continual) motivation as well.
Freelancing in Flanders, to conclude, is not a black-and-white story with all entrepreneurial journalists feeling or behaving as ‘masters’ instead of ‘servants’. Unluckily some still feel as ‘slaves’ due to unsuccessful preconditions and/or a lack of appropriate financial rewarding and appreciation. Those journalists able to ‘master’ their career structures, however, do not wish themselves a future as a ‘servant’ any more.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Art History, Campus Brussels - miscellaneous
Faculty of Arts - miscellaneous
Institute for Media Studies

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