Tinder for Freelancers

Freelance journalists struggle to connect with editors, land assignments and establish steady cash flow. Meanwhile, news organizations need freelancers with diverse experiences and subject matter expertise to contribute a broad array of articles, photographs and other content. The Center for Independent Journalists (The CIJ) launched in September 2021 aiming to bridge the gap between these groups by providing support, community, education, tools and advocacy to freelancers and by offering editors access to a diverse group of independent journalists. For this project, the team will seek to better understand the barriers of information, trust and communication that prevent editors from hiring diverse freelancers -- which ultimately often ends up pushing freelancers of color out of the field. In consultation with the Center for Independent Journalists, students on this project will conduct design research and develop concepts and prototypes of a matching system which may inform future development by the CIJ.

Faculty and Staff Leads

Joe Germuska

Chief Nerd

Joe runs Knight Lab’s technology, professional staff and student fellows. Before joining us, Joe was on the Chicago Tribune News Apps team. Also, he hosts a weekly radio show on WNUR-FM – Conference of the Birds.

Jeremy Gilbert

Knight Professor in Digital Media Strategy

Jeremy Gilbert is the Knight Professor of Digital Media Strategy. Both his work and teaching focus on the content and revenue strategies of existing and emerging media companies. He explores the intersection of technology and media, examining how new tools and techniques will affect the creation, consumption and distribution of media.

Project Details

2022 Winter

Important Questions
  • What are the biggest challenges for freelancers in finding assignments, winning the trust of hiring editors and producers, and establishing a sustainable business?
  • What prevents editors from assigning projects to freelancers of color and other marginalized groups? What steps have they taken to solve this problem already? What resources could they tap within their news organization? What are the remaining barriers?
  • What are the stages in a freelance career and what are the unique challenges to each stage? Perhaps they are start-up, loss of an anchor client, stagnation?
  • What are the existing resources and tools for connecting freelance journalists and editors? What parts of this problem do they solve and which remain a challenge? (Look at The Washington Post Talent Network and the Solutions Journalism Talent Network.)
Sample Milestones
  • Weeks 1-2: Meet with the Center for Independent Journalists team. Review preliminary statistics and freelance survey. Research existing systems for supporting freelancers and develop questions for interviewing freelancers and hiring editors.
  • Weeks 3-5: Conduct interviews with freelancers and hiring editors. Begin developing personae and possibly a journey map for new CIJ members and for editors. Generate and refine concepts for products/services that meet persona needs in connecting with editors and establishing a successful freelance practice / overcoming the barriers to hiring diverse freelancers.
  • Weeks 6-10: Test concepts and iterate; develop an action plan and present it to the team from the Center for Independent Journalists.

Students will get real world experience in the work of design research for media product innovation. They will produce artifacts documenting their work, and make a proposal to our partner for how to test the new ideas and further explore the opportunity. They will gain expertise with the business of freelance journalism, which is often opaque.