Spot.Us, Byliner, Atavist Are Showing Freelance Writers the Money

    by David Cohn
    June 8, 2011

    I often joke that an unexpected job duty of Spot.Us is that I’ve become an agent for freelancers. I like to pretend I’m a Jerry Maguire figure for small independent freelance reporters.

    They ask me to show them the money or sometimes they want a clip in a big publication. And sometimes at Spot.Us I’ve got a little ray of hope in a pitch, and I ask which freelancers are “coming with me” as I waive a suitcase in the air. Spot.Us was built with freelancers in mind, a way they could pitch the world and all editors at once instead of one editor at a time. As such, we get pitches, and often when they become more realized we shop them around to some of our 100-plus publishing partners or I seek out new partners.



    It’s not 100 percent of what I do, but it’s an unexpected job duty that has emerged as Spot.Us has evolved. I love it. What I say to everyone who gets a pitch up on Spot.Us is, “I work for you.” And I mean that. I do work for you. I just ask you to keep in mind that I have a lot of bosses.

    As I was joking about this last night with a freelance science writer, she expressed general gratitude at the idea. Fact is, just looking for work as a freelance writer is a full-time job itself. Freelancers need agents, and some of the best journalists get them.

    But I wonder if there’s more of an unexplored market here. I look at organizations like The Atavist, Byliner, and maybe even curation organizations like Longreads, and wonder if they’re in the ideal position to become talent agencies for mid-level freelance writers. These are organizations that work with one writer at a time to do a deep investigation and then publish it for tablets and split download proceeds with the reporter.


    But that one-time publishing could be just the start. As they build out a portfolio, the “long form micro-publisher” that keeps the best relationship with talent could end up in the strongest position. And considering the growing number of freelancers who could use such services, it could be a profitable niche.


    We know the big-hitting reporters have agents, book deals, etc. But in a new media world there is always space for a longer tail. We’re told that reporters must work on a personal brand, but much like actors, there will always be various levels of talent, experience, name recognition, and so on (think A-list and B-list actors).


    Steve Buscemi

    And from the start, we should note that being on the B-list isn’t the kiss of death. I look at actors like Steve Buscemi who may never be an “A-lister” but has made a career out of being … well … Steve Buscemi.

    There is a good chance that the future of journalism will include much more freelancing. We’re seeing it already. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

    The journalism industry (emphasis on industry) has been historically tied to large institutions (i.e., newspapers) and this created a negative stigma for independent freelancers, as though they just couldn’t hack it. That’s not necessarily the case anymore. Aside from the Screen Actors Guild, most actors never worked for a single institution besides themselves and whatever agency that was representing them and getting them gigs.

    And I think gigs or “gigging” will be the way freelancers turn their practice into a career in the future. Instead of pitching story to story, you’ll be working project to project or gig to gig.

    And that means reporters who work on projects will need representation.

    I’m not sure exactly how that relationship works or what it looks like. But the new breed of micro-publishers like Atavist and Byliner (and one could argue that Spot.Us, while not like these, is a kind of precursor) are in a position to explore this. Or perhaps an organization will step in that doesn’t do a lick of publishing and just focuses on bringing clips and paid work to new or young writers. Some might already be poking up like eByline and StoryMarket.

    One thing is certain: Freelancing isn’t going anywhere. But I do think the relationships freelancers maintain needs to be updated for the Internet.

    Money image courtesy of Flickr user elycefeliz; image of Steve Buscemi by David Shankbone via Wikipedia.

    Tagged: agents atavist byliner freelance writers freelancers freelancing longreads reporters spot.us

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