Question: Someone at my local paper asked if I wanted to work as a "stringer." What is that? I know they have cut down on their staff and just fired two reporters. Do I really want to work for them? And doing what?
Answer: If they have let their regular reporters go, they will need stringers more than ever. A stringer covers local events, usually time-consuming local events, for a flat fee instead of an hourly wage.
It looks as if they are trying to save money (and benefits) by using stringers to cover local stuff that the regular staff used to do. Newspapers are all suffering economically. Paper costs are sky-high and, in an effort to promote a greener America, a law was passed that so much of a newspapers paper must be recycled. Recycled newsprint is far higher than the new stuff, so that makes printing copies even MORE expensive.
They are always looking for "stringers" to cover time-consuming local assignments. These often pay little in terms of $ per hour, but can be very rewarding in terms of experience and fun. Say the local historical society is taking their replica 17th century sailing vessel on a day-long cruise. They want a reporter to come, but the editor knows it will take all day (and cost many hours of salary), and he'll only get one story for his bucks.
A stringer can go and spend six or eight hours sailing up the bay for a flat fee, usually a low flat fee. If the stringer can take or "come by" some photos of the vessel as well, the editor will have a nice looking feature at a reasonable price, the historical society will be proud and gratified, and the stringer will work long for little, but have a nice byline on the Sunday B1.
Also the stringer will get to spend the day on a 17th century sailing vessel, will meet contacts and may find ideas for other articles. A stringer I know, got $25 for her feature on the sailing ship, met a professional photographer who was looking for publicity and who had some lovely slides of local skipjacks as well as the 17th century ship when it was under construction.
Later she earned many times her original fee for a feature on the ship's builder, Jim Richardson, from a boating magazine.