I recently signed on with (and soon resigned from) EvoNews. For those in the dark, Evo (like the inappropriately named “NewsHub”) are part of an unfortunately growing trend in online journalism, one where desperate and sporadically employed freelancers are paid a pittance purely on account of how many “hits” their articles receive. I’m not joking. What little you’re paid literally depends on how many people click on your article. Disturbingly unethical, I’m sure most will agree.
So why did I bother? Practice, for one. Evo were looking for news writers and these days I don’t have much of an opportunity to work on pure news. Feature writing seems to take up a lot of my time and that isn’t always the easiest or sometimes even the most enjoyable form of journalism. “Writing the news”, as the module was titled, ran each and every year when I was at university, and it seemed a shame to me to let such acquired skills go to waste. Practice makes perfect. Or practice makes a mediocre journalist somewhat less mediocre, in this instance.
What happened next was quite remarkable. Evo were initially happy with my coverage of the ongoing situation in Venezuela. Anyone who knows me personally will know that I entirely support the Maduro Presidency and regard sizeable elements of the US-funded opposition as unviable, unethical and illegitimate. My attempts to cover this issue, however, had to remain professionally structured, giving voice to all corners rather than simply saying what I, personally, believed to be the case. This did not for a moment involve any endorsement of the opposition or their perpetually odious sponsor, the US. It did, however, presumably please Evo to receive material on Venezuela, if only for the severity of the situation there and what I imagine they believe involves the failure of “Venezuelan socialism”.
I might sound paranoid. But what happened when I tried to write on issues inside both the US and UK was very telling. Today I submitted a piece I’d been working on regarding mounting cases of racial hate/aggression on university campuses in the US. This was rejected by editors, apparently because it wasn’t timely. As far as I’m aware, racism in the US remains a living reality, most emphatically in the current political climate, and the fact I’d been in contact with lawyers in that very country just yesterday makes it doubly perplexing as to why Evo rejected the story when they were quite happy to accept material on Venezuela. But it gets better. Much better.
If Evo wanted something timely, what better story could there be than something closer to home that happened this very week? The decision on Monday by the UK’s High Court to throw out a legal challenge on UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia seemed perfect. Court drama is generally newsworthy in itself, especially when it involves a heated political situation involving dodgy arms deals and the perfidy of vested interests putting profit before human lives. The UK’s arming of Saudi Arabia has undeniably contributed to the catastrophic situation in Yemen and only a morally vacant simpleton would argue otherwise. This is most certainly a newsworthy story.
Unfortunately, Evo’s editors are morally vacant simpletons. The article was rejected out of hand, despite the relevance of the material and the abundant evidence that British policy in regards to Riyadh is a veritable horror for the much abused Yemeni population. Something stank, and for once it wasn’t me. I can smell partisanship when it’s in the air, and it was more than palpable considering these yanks were willing to take a pronounced interest in Venezuela yet purposefully shut down scrutiny of major western powers. The only moral thing to do was send them a choicely worded letter explaining the situation and the nature of their “journalism” and depart forthwith.
You could say this served me right. After all, what the heck was I up to having anything to do with such an outlet? But this is the thing. I’d quite happily write straight-up news material on any number of situations. I wouldn’t want to allow my own leftist sympathises to get in the way of that. I’d say it how it is, even if that means having to cite the words and arguments of individuals I personally believe are objectively corrupt and immoral. That’s journalism.
But this is another problem. Much of the journalistic world is not remotely interested in “how it is”. They have a specific agenda and a specific model, primarily a business model that doesn’t tolerate undue attention to stories the editors, board of directors or indeed investors may find unpalatable. There is no abstract freedom of the press. There is the freedom to invest in the press, no doubt about that. But the finished product and the priorities and agendas that come with that may have little to do with freedom. On the contrary, they may be actively hostile to it.
There are plenty of worthy titles on precisely this subject. Bagdikian’s “New Media Monopoly” is one. Alexandra Kitty’s “Outfoxed” is another. Herman and Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent” is a seminal text. All of the above contain a plethora of information any journalist worth their salt should pay close attention to. It’s not a nice world out there, and those in charge of how that world is viewed by the public are generally not the nicest people themselves.
My little story above is thus perhaps quite inconsequential. But it matters for other reasons. There is a growing trend in journalistic priorities to simply race to the bottom, in the process paying employees a pittance whilst acting as if getting “in print” is some kind of heroic and intensely rare undertaking. This plays on the hopes of great many journalism graduates with dreams of becoming yet another controversial figure in the news room, perhaps ultimately akin to a less degenerate Christopher Hitchens or, if they have more sense, a John Pilger.
Yet the industry is not what it was. “”Freelancers” and “stringers” are more and more the norm, where the vulnerably employed eke out an anxious existence hoping for the attention of all-too-often cold and remote editorial staff. “EvoNews” marks a new development in this depressing story, one where payment isn’t really payment unless your article accrues a sizeable and often impossible number of “hits” from the viewing public. In my brief time here, with six published articles to my name, I earned a grant total of ninety cents. Ninety cents US. That probably wouldn’t even cover the processing charge involved in converting dollars to British pounds.
This isn’t all that uncommon. Partisanship is intolerable. Yet couple it with hyper-exploitation and you’ve entered a whole new realm of objectionableness. That needs to be fought.