News agency boss says €250,000 project is realisation of long-held ambition
A BRITISH journalist who runs a news agency based in Vienna, supplying English-language stories to clients in the UK and US, has launched a not-for-profit organisation to support the work of freelance journalists.
Michael Leidig, a vice-chairman of Britain’s National Association of Press Agencies (NAPA) and head of Central European News Ltd, has launched The Fourth Estate Alliance this week that is starting to network freelancers and to connect them with publisher clients.
The project has involved a €250,000 (Euro) investment for bespoke software and is already providing employment to a team of 40 media professionals including sub-editors, journalists and photographers.
Mr Leidig said: “Being a freelance journalist has the potential to be the best job in the world, but it just lacks investment and organisation.”
He had already spent a decade developing the project when it was devastated by a story in BuzzFeed branding him and his agency, which has been running since 1985, as the “King of Bullshit News,” alleging that they faked stories and quotations.
Asserting that that charge is completely false, Mr Leidig and CEN have filed an $11 million (dollar) libel suit against BuzzFeed that is currently moving forward in court in New York City.
Mr Leidig added: “Although the BuzzFeed story caused me to lose a substantial investment in this project, I never stopped believing in the potential of the project to help freelance journalism, which for too long has been the poor relation of media staff jobs.”
In the project, freelance journalists and photographers join online “newsrooms” to work together to produce news content. Their stories and photographs are sent to selected publishers based on metadata suggesting where the stories will be welcome. Payments for stories or photos purchased are automatically divided up among members of the teams that produced them.
Successes already include a story by Polish journalist Bartosz Staszewski about a World War 2 veteran who died two days after walking his daughter down the aisle. Among the many places it appeared was the popular LADbible news site, which led to 775,000 Facebook shares of the story.
Staszewski has also used the platform to cover stories about the Polish rubbish Mafia, Polish arms smugglers, Polish plans to limit IVF treatment to married couples, and a series of exclusive reports on an online game where players became Auschwitz guards.
He said: “I have complete freedom to cover whatever stories I want, regardless of whether they stand a chance of being published or not. I get to learn from people who have been in the business for years.
“It’s a rewarding job where you get to make a difference and put a spotlight on things that the world talks about, by virtue of being published with some the biggest names in the media.”
Mr Leidig says that the use of metadata “allows specialisation linking the appropriate material with the appropriate news desks”, and it later aids the formation of new “newsrooms” where freelance journalists work together to check facts and produce new material.
He said that after the BuzzFeed piece caused him to lose funding for the project, he paid the money himself to complete it. He added: “Developments has been a lot slower as a result, but on the other hand it is now a project by journalists for journalists, with nobody else looking to profit from their work.”
Mr Leidig also pointed out that the project has safeguards built in that will protect freelancers from false charges such as those he faced from the BuzzFeed piece, providing “full transparency over the way a story is produced”.
More information can be found on the website: https://fourthestatealliance.com.
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