Almost immediately after he had arrived, these smaller papers began slashing expenses, including cutting back on freelance coverage. The shift was really fast, Schleifer says. Instead of panicking, Schleifer says he saw the changing marketplace as an opportunity. He started hunting for clients who wanted in-depth, unique coverage from Turkey where journalists “could really dive into the stories,” he says. His eventual mix of clients—The Christian Science Monitor, various Jewish newspapers and magazines, EurasiaNet.org, the German wire agency DPA—allowed him to focus for years on even the obscure corners of Turkish foreign policy and politics, topics the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette may not have welcomed. (Schleifer recently moved to Washington, DC, where his wife has taken a new job. He continues to cover Turkish foreign affairs.)
Making a bare living paycheck to paycheck, most of the freelancers I speak to say they are conscious of money but believe passionately that their work is doing good for the people they write about.
Nichole Sobecki, twenty-five, got hooked on the life in Beirut in 2007, where she interned for the English-language newspaper The Daily Star. A slim, dirty-blonde New York native, Sobecki entered Tufts University in 2004. After her freshman year, she attended a workshop with longtime Associated Press foreign correspondent Mort Rosenblum and VII photo agency co-founder Gary Knight, who suggested Sobecki intern for The Daily Star. That’s how she made it to Beirut, armed with a Tufts research grant to study Hezbollah.
Nearing graduation, Sobecki heard about GlobalPost, the online news organization co-founded by longtime Boston Globe foreign correspondent Charles Sennott. At the time, GlobalPost had approximately sixty correspondents. Sobecki applied for a job and was asked where in the world she wanted to be based. She described meeting at an Italian restaurant with Sennott, who spoke with enthusiasm about under-reported news in so-called “second world” countries like Brazil and Turkey. Sobecki moved to Istanbul in November 2008.
“It took me a year to really get that momentum going,” she says. She felt lucky to have the foundation of GlobalPost, which gave her access to a supportive editor and a small, steady paycheck. “I’ve never missed my rent payment,” she says.
GlobalPost typically pays correspondents $1,000 a month for four stories. Some assignments, such as ones that involve travel to conflict zones, may earn the correspondent more money.
While it is not a staff job with the same pay and perks, Sobecki praises GlobalPost for encouraging her to focus on Turkey, which she considers a significant topic. “Other bureaus have neglected Turkey’s story,” she says. In the nexus of tensions between the Middle East, Europe, and the United States, Turkey deserves more attention, Sobecki believes. “Things you see on a global scale are playing out here every day,” she says.
After her first year in Istanbul, Sobecki says she started to pursue stories beyond the country’s borders, not only for GlobalPost, but also freelancing for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Guardian. These assignments found her visiting more and more dangerous places, like Libya—the risks of which Sobecki knows well. In March, her boyfriend Tyler Hicks disappeared covering the country’s civil war, along with Addario and fellow New York Times journalists Anthony Shadid and Stephen Farrell. “I was witness firsthand to what an incredible force the Times could be in gathering their resources and doing whatever they could to get them out,” she says. The group was released after six days.
I ask Sobecki how, as a freelancer and a GlobalPost correspondent, she resolves questions about her own risks and rewards. In response, Sobecki points out that her Libya replacement, James Foley, was detained in Tripoli for forty-four days before being released. (Another freelancer who disappeared in Libya, Anton Hammerl, is now reported to have been killed.) Sobecki says that Sennott and the GlobalPost staff did “everything” to free Foley. “I feel lucky to have GlobalPost behind me,” she says.