A Letter from Latterly
One startup HackPack has admired has been Latterly, a news magazine covering social justice issues since 2014. Founder Ben Wolford sent a letter to its members, reminding them of the meaning of Latterly’s mission.
At HackPack, we spend a lot of time staying up late, sleeping a bit rough, in countless meetings, just like many other freelancers around the world. While we always believe in our purpose, sometimes — we’ll admit — we get tired too. Wolford’s letter reminded us of the importance of what we’re doing, and (with Ben’s blessing) we wanted to share it with you.
Helping you tell the stories that matter,
Your HackPack Team.
On Jan. 29, the U.S. initiated a raid to kill an al-Qaida member in Yemen. While the Trump administration claimed the mission was a success and denied that the target was a Qaida leader, on-the-ground reporting and interviews with Pentagon officials suggest otherwise. The raid resulted in the deaths of two Americans — a Navy SEAL and an 8-year-old girl — plus more than a dozen other civilians.
The journalist responsible for that reporting is Iona Craig, and we all owe her a debt of gratitude for it. The reason we know so little about that raid is that for Western journalists it’s nearly impossible to reach the village where it took place. In an interview with Poynter, Craig described the dangerous overland journey, which required permission from warlords and physically disguising herself. Because of her past experience reporting in Yemen, she said, “I was able to cover a story that probably no other non-Yemeni journalist could.”
You’d think Craig wouldn’t have any trouble making a living given her unique skills and expertise. On the contrary, she said: “As budgets have been slashed in the media industry, especially in my main field of print journalism, international news coverage has become heavily reliant on the work of freelancers. I worked for over four years in Yemen as a freelancer, or stringer, while living there and have done another two years going in and out.
“We get paid per word that we write and often have to negotiate hard or even beg to get expenses paid for by those who commission us. This was the first time I’d been to Yemen in over six years and actually had all my flight costs covered. Before, I’d had to pay for them out of my own pocket. With costs of return flights to Yemen now at $2,000 (from a pre-war $350), over the last two years I’ve found myself paying to work.”
I’ve spoken with other freelance journalists who’ve told me the same thing: that their reporting is just a “passion project” now or a “loss leader” and that they have to make their money other ways. It’s the same for me. Most of my income comes from various kinds of editorial consulting work, some of it journalistic, some of it commercial. Only a few freelance journalists I know make their living entirely from journalism.
For me, starting Latterly in 2014 was an answer to industry malaise, in ways both theoretical (the idea of Latterly) and substantial (our various scoops and investigations). We’re part of a new ecosystem of independent media filling a hole in international news coverage left by shrinking mainstream newsrooms. (Remember when, for example, The Baltimore Sun had foreign bureaus?) Two years later, I’m still essentially paying to work, and most of our correspondents are, too. We haven’t solved the problem, but we’re working on it every day. And for the people involved in our project, it’s worth it.