Since February 2010, I have published in Digital Journal 307 articles and 9 blogs, uploaded more than 840 images, and received more than 362000 page views. At the end of my 20th month of collaboration with Digital Journal I decided to review the experience, contrast investment/benefits and assess the results.
Why now? One reason is that during the past month I achieved my best standing in the rank so far (ended the month in the N°7 spot, after being N°5 on Sept. 28). This allowed me to estimate and evaluate what one can realize at such level, to extrapolate the effort that may be required to reach a higher level in the rank and the potential benefit associated to that level of “success”. A second motivation was my judgment of the new system of achievements, points, badges and leaderboard implemented by Digital Journal in September.
I reviewed the number of articles posted, page views, “likes” and the comments received. I also estimated the time spent in researching a subject, reviewing sources, in many cases examining material in languages other than English (Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian), writing the article while adhering to DJ editorial guidelines, reviewing it for correctness, proper syntax, spelling and coherence, taking photographs or searching for proper images, selecting and processing those for quality, writing captions, interviewing people when appropriate, and so on. As a result, I reckoned that to produce and post a reasonably interesting article, substantiated with the appropriate sources, grammatically correct and easy to read, and sufficiently illustrated with quality images, it takes no less than two hours (often a lot more).
Possibly a seasoned professional journalist can produce a 500 word article in less than half an hour. But, I can anticipate that the average Digital Journalist puts a fair deal of time and effort into the production of a decent article. I do.
Besides taking stock of the whole 20-month-period as Digital Journalist, I analyzed my production and resulting benefit in the best three months of the stint. I considered articles posted (“In the Media” and “Special Reports”), page views, likes and comments per article, words per article, ratio of likes and comments based on total page views, and finally the earnings on total, overall production, and on the best three months.
I am not going to bore the reader of this blog with tables and details on the data, equations and all the results of the statistical analyses. However, the most relevant result is that since February 2010, Digital Journal has shared advertising revenue with me at an average rate of USD 2.65 per article or USD 0.0078 per word. If delivering a decent article takes a writer about 2 hours, it works out that the average article brings to a freelance person writing for DJ about US$ 1.32 per hour. It is germane to consider at this point that the average minimum wage for unskilled labourers in Canada, the USA and the UK (just to consider a few of the countries where most currently active Digital Journalists reside) is USD 8.81/hr.
I am not saying that a Digital Journalist can expect to make the equivalent of the minimum wage of an unskilled labourer working for a regular employer in Canada or the USA. But it’s also appropriate here to consider that Writers.ca in its page on guidelines about “what to pay a (freelance) writer” suggests $1 to $3 per word; $60 to $100 per hour for on-line, web site writing (they add: it varies widely; “business” sites pay higher). That sounds a bit as wishful thinking.
But, let’s not forget DJ’s “rewards to top talent”. During the last month I made it to N°7 in the “Leaderboard”, earned 2228 points and achieved 5 badges: I was among the Power Users, Top Content Producers, Top Commenters, Top Editors and Top Photographers. Not bad, but that can go into the account of intangible, “glorious” assets. And it disappears at the end of the month. What about real benefits? Well, based on the secret algorithm used by Digital Journal to calculate how advertising revenue (“the “moneypot”) is shared with the writers, in the month of September 2011, writing for Digital Journal my share was $ 2.09 per hour or $ 0,008 per word.
I have a great respect for those who write news and original special reports for Digital Journal. I agree that most contributors to DJ "strive for excellence and aim to follow sound journalistic principles". I can even understand those who were wowed by the announcement about the points and badges posted by Digital Journal Staff on Sept. 19. However in my opinion, my time, my skills and my knowledge deserve better than a couple of thousand points, five gleaming badges and $2/hr.