Access Vs. Scoops And Why It Matters Whether You’re A Staffer Or Freelancer (Or: Score One For ‘The Gig Economy’)

By now you all have heard about Michael Hastings’ Rolling Stone profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal…the one that ended up getting McChrystal sacked.

You have surely also heard the news that Hastings is a freelancer, something that caused our sister blog FishbowlLA to shout: “Way to score some respect for those without a staff position! Woo!”

Jay Rosen blogged last night (in the middle of the night!) about what this means. And it’s not just “scoring some respect” for non-staffers (though that’s awesome too).

Essentially, he’s arguing (and many others are too) that Hastings could not have gotten the story he did as a staffer.

This observation is predicated on a note from a Politico story about the McChrystal profile that read: “McChrystal…is not known for being media savvy. Hastings…is not well-known within the Defense Department. And as a freelance reporter, Hastings would be considered a bigger risk to be given unfettered access, compared with a beat reporter, who would not risk burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks.”

That line was later taken out of the story. (The Politico wouldn’t discuss “editing decisions” with Clint Hendler of the Columbia Journalism Review, who asked about it.)

Rosen adds:

The suggestion is that a beat reporter would know when he’s being trusted not to reveal back stage behavior. It would never get to the point of “should I publish this damaging but spectacular story or hold it back to preserve my access…?” because the reporter would mentally label what he saw as unusable material. It wouldn’t be a question of “catching” the General and his staff because he would have internalized the difference between “on” time and down time, and this might even be part of his sophistication.

He quotes Joe Calderone who said on Twitter that anyone who thinks beat reporters are just as likely to write damaging stories “never worked as a beat reporter I guess.”

So there you have it. If your freelancing experience is less the set-your-own-hours-FREEEDOM and more the god-are-we-having-hamburger-helper-for-inner-again, there are at least a few people who support your ability to do amazing work.