Freelancers are the lifeblood of the outdoor media industry, but COVID-19 has shrunk journalism budgets across the board. Climbing Magazine, which gets about 75% of their content from contributors, is keeping up the work, and even doling out cash.
“You do it because you love it, or you have to, like a compulsion.”
Those words, and variations of, have been shared with me time and again from freelance writers, photographers and artists. Through grins and contemplative stares, over beers and across Zoom calls, the sub-text is that you don’t do it for the money.
The inner drive buttresses morale through tough times, but when work dries up, cash helps too.
For over 50 years, Climbing Magazine has been leading the way. Thanks to a new initiative by the publisher, they are giving a portion of their revenues directly to freelancers through their Climbing Contributor’s Fund (CCF). During April and May, 25% of proceeds from new Summit Memberships are apportioned to the fund. For every 50 signups, $500 gets doled out.
I spoke with Matt Samet, the Editor at Climbing, and Kevin Riley, Associate Publisher, to learn more about their new effort, the only one of its kind in the industry.
Author: How did the idea for the fund come about?
Matt Samet (MS): This was all Kevin Riley’s, idea. He goes on long trail runs and does these epic solo brainstorming sessions and comes back with tons of great ideas. Almost makes me wish I was still a runner!
Anyway, when the COVID-19 closures hit and everyone was sent home from work, we at Climbing all saw these effects trickle down pretty quickly, especially in the form of our many beloved freelancers. I’ve been a freelancer on and off myself over the years, and you’re always hustling, always saying “Yes” to any and all gigs because you don’t know when you’ll hit a dry spell.
With the economy basically put on pause, we knew there would be a big dry spell for many of our contributors, who are often piecing together a living with multiple gigs, including contributing to the magazine. We wanted to do whatever we could, while at the same time encouraging more people to sign up for our Summit Membership, which in turn supports our staff to work with freelancers to develop our content.
Why do you feel this is important to do as a publisher?
Kevin Riley (KR): Helen Keller said, “Alone, we can do little; together, we can do much.”
Climbing reaches over 1M people across its platforms, giving it the unique ability to galvanize the community to help the writers, photographers, and artists that make climbing (and Climbing) so special. As climbers, we take care of our own and many climbing contributors are facing difficult financial situations right now. Sure, being a climbing writer or photographer might sound glamourous, but the truth is it takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice to do what they do.
Can you talk about the role that freelancers play for Climbing?
MS: I reckon that 75 percent or so of our content comes from freelancers, who are out in the field, writing, shooting, creating video, and creating all this original content.
We are able to create some content ourselves here, too, being based in a climbing center like Boulder, Colorado, and with the three of us on staff—me, Kevin Riley, and Digital Editor, Kevin Corrigan—all being passionate writers (and the two Kevins are great photographers). But because we work in a deadline-based industry, we’re chained to our desks much of the time, so there’s only so much we can do from here. We rely on our network of freelancers to bring us the goods from all over the world.
How do you fund this?
KR: The CCF is funded through the Summit subscription.
The important difference is that we committed to expediate payments to contributors, so they get checks in their hands right away. We decided to allocate a portion of Summit Membership sales to CCF because it had the best potential to raise funds while CCF recipients could provide exclusive content for Summit Members as a token of gratitude.
How has response been from readers and the larger climbing community?
MS: So far, it’s been great. Our first contribution went to the photographer and photo editor, Irene Yee (@LadyLockoff), who’s based in Las Vegas, Nevada, and is an amazing talent and someone we work with often.
Irene created a video sharing her processes for both photo selection and editing in Lightroom, using shots from The Firewall in Liming, China—it’s a very cool behind-the-scenes look at a photographer’s process from hanging in the harness, shooting photos, to editing, to publication, and a great resource for anyone interested in climbing photography.
If you enjoy climbing and adventure stories, consider signing up to become a Summit Member with Climbing (which includes a bevy of other goodies) or sign up for a subscription to another publisher to help assure they continue to operate (and provide work for freelancers). Adventure Journal, Sidetracked, Rock and Ice, Alpinist and others widely use freelancers for content.
Are you a freelancer?
Here are a few additional resources for those in the outdoor media industry:
- Sonia Weisner’s journalists helping journalists spreadsheet
- Nat Geo’s Emergency COVID-19 Fund
- Snowboard community fund
- Documentary film maker fund
- Study Hall’s publication cutbacks list
- Comprehensive listings of available grants: PHLEARN, Funds for Writers
Feature photo source: Climbing Magazine