The Tyee’s David Beers talks hiring, growth and the value of freelancers


by Rachel Sanders

David Beers says Canadian imgres-1journalism is richer because of its freelancers.

The former Editor in Chief of the Vancouver-based independent online magazine The Tyee has moved into an executive editor role and the magazine is seeking a new Editor in Chief to bring fresh perspective and energy into the ten-year-old publication.

Beers says The Tyee was originally conceived as a way to bring in some of the voices in the province that weren’t being heard.

“But we also set a rather difficult goal for ourselves, which was to pay our writers,” he said during a phone interview with Story Board this week.

“It didn’t seem like a radical notion at the time, but increasingly our competitors don’t pay. I don’t understand why people write for nothing. But I guess they feel they have to. The Tyee doesn’t pay huge amounts, obviously. But I’m told we’re competitive with Postmedia and other places. I’m not sure that’s much to brag about, but that’s where we are. And so we’ve always been a place where freelancers could write and find an audience and be paid,” he said.

Beers lamented the state of online publishing, where sponsored content has crept into news magazines and writers are often expected to work hard without pay. And he says these trends make his job more difficult.

“Because I’m constantly trying to make the case that media costs money. And I’m making it to our readers, who have been very generous in ponying up,” he said.

The Tyee’s fundraising effort last fall raised $100,000 in 21 days, allowing the magazine to expand and solidify its coverage of national issues.

“Then meanwhile there are other websites that claim to be covering national issues or conducting the national conversation and they don’t pay. So from my perspective it’s harder and harder for people like me to make the case that we need money to do good reporting,” said Beers.


Part of the solution

Beers’ experience in a corporate newsroom and his work as a freelancer gave him a dual perspective on publishing.

“Newsrooms, even though they’re a bit insular, they still represent an ongoing, long struggle to achieve decent working conditions for journalists and have what they do recognized as real work,” he said.

Although the internet democratized journalism and opened the industry to a wider array of voices, it also brought with it the undercutting of writers’ fees and the devaluing of good reporting.

“And that’s always been a tension at the Tyee. Are we part of the solution or are we part of the problem?” said Beers.

“So that’s why we’re determined to pay our writers and formalize as many arrangements as we can with writers rather than just make them endlessly pitch and wait for us to respond or not.”

Whenever possible, The Tyee formalizes relationships with its freelancers, guaranteeing writers a certain amount of money or a certain number of articles per month.

“That allows people to plan their lives a bit. And that, to me, makes us a little less of the problem and more of the solution in terms of the pay structure of journalism,” he said.


The value of freelancers

Beers also emphasized the richness and variety that freelancers bring to the Tyee’s journalism.

“I myself was a freelance journalist for years based in Vancouver and I then had some editing roles,” he said.

“Through these experiences, what I realized is what an amazingly rich community of freelance reporters and writers and creative people there are in Vancouver and British Columbia. It’s just an amazing area for that.”

And freelancers have played an important role at The Tyee over the last decade.

“Freelancers are underappreciated because they often subsidize the conversation. By that I mean they have a passion and they live their interests,” he said.

“We have a freelance contributor, for example, named Jude Isabella. She’s a brilliant science reporter. She spends her life just reading about science all the time. Goes to science conferences. Tweets about science. And then every once in a while she writes a piece for The Tyee. We get all the benefit of her life and her passion in those stories,” he said.

“You just would not have nearly as rich of a conversation or a journalism in Canada if you didn’t have a thriving freelance community. So you really have to make sure that it’s possible to be a freelancer.”


A pretty cool job

As for the Editor in Chief job, Beers recommends it highly.

“It’s a pretty cool job. The best job I’ve ever had,” he said with a laugh.

“I think the main skills to bring to it would be not only a good set of traditional skills in journalism but also an excitement and hunger about what’s possible online. To be a bit of a student about what’s happening right now online that’s innovative and exciting because we’re hoping this new person will help evolve The Tyee,” he said.

The Tyee has had a couple dozen applications for the position already — from within B.C. as well as from other parts of the country. The application deadline is midnight on Saturday, July 5th and you can find out more about the job here.

And if you’re a born freelancer and not looking to settle down? Well, you know The Tyee will respect that decision, too.


Posted on June 20, 2014 at 9:10 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , ,

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