If you’re getting into freelancing these days, one option is writing for content aggregator sites like Helium, About.com, Associated Content or HubPages. These companies pay writers to create massive amounts of content to help the sites rise up to the top of Web searches and make more money on click throughs.
But for freelancers, there’s a huge debate happening over the merits of writing for a content aggregator to advance your career, a debate that last week spilled onto the pages of this blog. First long-time freelancer Tim Beyers examined the reasons why a writer shouldn’t bother with content aggregators. Then Helium’s new writer outreach manager Barbara Whitlock countered with her own detailed explanation of why freelancers would want to write for a content aggregator, Helium in particular.
I say if you’re a writer looking for experience, there’s a better way.
Instead of writing for an aggregator, find out what hyperlocal news sites have popped up in your area, introduce yourself and ask if there’s anything you can do to help.
In case you’re not familiar with them, hyperlocal news sites are blogs that focus on what’s happening in a specific area, be it a neighborhood, town or city. You might also know them as community news blogs or citizen journalist sites. Some examples: NewzJunky in Watertown, New York; Hop Town in Hopkinsville, Massachusetts, and NeighborsGo.com in Dallas.
If you work for a hyperlocal news organization you’ll probably start out making about as much as you would at a content aggregator – which is to say not much. But if you really are just starting out, you could use the opportunity to go out and do some man-on-the-street reporting, and pick up other valuable experience.
If you don’t think there are hyperlocal or citizen journalists operating in your city you’re wrong, you just haven’t looked hard enough. Here in Portland, there are at least four, including Neighborhood Notes and OurPDX, more if you count sites that focus on niches like tech, books or cycling.
If there really aren’t hyperlocal sites where you live, start one. By teaching yourself everything you need to know to run a hyperlocal or community news site, you’re teaching yourself everything you need to know in 2009 and going into the future to get hired as a staff writer or make it as a freelancer, things like using a content management system (a fancy term for blogging or blog-like software), HTML, linking, how to write for a blog, how to write straight news, how to take pictures, video and audio, etc.
When it comes down to it, as long as you’re going to the time and trouble of learning the craft, why give the fruits of your labors to another business when you could maximize the benefit and profit for the enterprise that matters most – you.