Keith Ng: best-paid journalist in New Zealand

Keith Ng
Ng catches up on the news (via @mcquillanatorz; click to zoom)

KeallHauled

Chris Keall

Oct 19: Donations to Keith Ng for his MSD story have now topped $5500. Join in the giving, or look on in horror, here.

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Oct 15: Keith Ng is the best paid journalist in New Zealand.

At least for one day.

As I type, Keith Ng has raised just over $4400 after requesting donations from those who liked his stonking investigative story on security problems at the MSD. It took only a few hours to pass his target total of $1500, and the money's still rolling in.

$4000 is a good haul for a 1200-word piece.

Ng would have made around $500 if he had sold it to a newspaper at the usual freelance rate (40 cents a word*) rather than given it free to Public Address, then asked readers to chip in if they liked it (via his page on Givealittle.co.nz).

An earlier story, on big tobacco astroturfing - from January this year - saw appreciative readers donate just under $1500.

Has Ng stumbled on the future of journalism? Maybe - or at least a useful way for an expert commentator to operate in the modern media environment, and supplement his income (or at least offset his expenses and legal bills) at the same time.

Although as he said on MediaWatch after his first crowd-funded paypacket, it remains to be seen if the public has an appetite for doing this on a regular basis (something Bernard Hickey will test later this year).

The future of journalism, part II: not being a jounalist
Another element of the future of journalism could be having a backup career, or at least a second day job you can turn to.

To wit, when not blogging on Public Address, Mr Ng works in the field of data visualisation.

Sometimes he creates interactive infographics for media (such as this graphic representation of a poll for Stuff or this all-singing, all-dancing effort on Scoop.). But, publishing budgets being what they are, he's usually found on contract to one of the big accounting firms or another corporate client.

* Journalists used to complain the freelance rate had not increased since the early nineties. Now, as print contracts and online - so far - generates only a fraction of the revenue as offline media, most are just grateful if they can find a publication, like NBR, that holds the line. 

ckeall@nbr.co.nz

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14 Comments & Questions

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Yes, this must be the future - a direct relationship between journalist and readers with reward related to perceived value.

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Nice scoop for Keith, but how often do stories like that come along? He probably could have persuaded the Herald or TVNZ to pay up to the tune of $3000 for the exclusive - and the price would justify the leg work he has put in, but how sustainable is it? Will be interesting to see if the donations keep coming in once its slipped down the news agenda. Either way, this is the best test so far in NZ of whether crowd-funded journalism works.

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Journalism - especially tech journalism in this country is appallingly paid. No wonder NZ is considered a 3rd world nation by most of the civilised world

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When I started as a reporter in 1997 the freelance rate was 40c/word and everyone I knew complained about it.

These days I hear about 25c/word as being commonplace and I've seen magazines pay three months in arrears. Three months!

That doesn't include those blog gigs where you're expected to write continuously without any serious remuneration.

The problem with NZ journalism is that freelancers can't rely on income from journalism. If you don't have a high earning partner/trust fund/rich sugar daddy to pay your rent or mortgage you can forget about any reasonable standard of living.

A 1,000 word feature (a rarity) will earn you $400 before tax, yet will take quite some time to put together.

If we want good quality investigative journalism we need to fund our journalists a whole lot better than we do today.

If you want to know why so many end up in PR, there's your answer.

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What special, in-demand, monopoly services does a "freelancer" supply?
What special qualifications does the "freelancer" hold?
What special abilities does he/she possess?
Farmer Brown suggests that the answer to all those questions is reflected in the market rate of 25c/word , which seems, in the circumstances , to be rather generous.

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Hmm, how about -
- research, analyse and synthesise information from a range of sources
- use decent judgement and experience to weigh the relative reliability and validity of said sources
- know where to go and who to ask if you need to verify facts
- construct a well-supported argument using clear, lucid prose and correct spelling and grammar...

I am marking a stack of third year university essays at the moment, and believe me when I tell you these are all increasingly rare skills. Join you in race to the intellectual and economic bottom, Farmer Brown? No thanks.

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Problem is MSM doesnt want any real investigative journalism thats why NZ doesnt any. So accept in rare cases like this good stories are hidden away for want of talent to expose them.

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What happens if the story is proved to be a dud, a set-up, or worse - results in a defamation payout??? Is the crowd-funded money returned???

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A "good " story?
Those who deal with Government departments (other than IRD) are at risk of having their details exposed? Really?
Who'd 'a ' thunk it?

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Look, a 5 year old could understand why you dont use plain text password storage, anyone who didn't pick that out, sorry bit they might be a bit incompetent.

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who cares if he made a few bucks from it, he's got the best story of the week, he wrote it himself and it's fact rather than fiction.

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It's hardly a sustainable model for journalists, but it does go to show that there is an interest in critical stories that go beyond "paraphrase press release from government agency, get a quote most obvious contrasting position in the name of 'balance', file, and repeat."

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So what has this "Ng" done? Answer, deliberately hacked into MSD and took away private details of fellow citizens and waved them about in public. And he claims it was for the public good.
Bullsh*t, he doesn't give a toss about the privacy of others and, believe me, it is not a good look.

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Anonymous : Why should we believe you? Didn't he have to download the files and open them later with appropriate software otherwise no one would have believed him? Did he use a USB stick for this? if so, the IT department for MSD ( you might be working for them) should get caned.
Turns out form news tonight that Dimension Data had already warned MSD about the hole, but the obviously no one bothered to believe them, even after paying them to seek out such vulnerabilities. Talk about incompetency paid for by innocent taxpayers.

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