In journalism, a stringer is a freelance journalist or photographer who contributes reports or photos to a news organization on an ongoing basis but is paid individually for each piece of published or broadcast work.
As freelancers, stringers do not receive a regular salary and the amount and type of work is typically voluntary. However, stringers often have an ongoing relationship with one or more news organizations, to which they provide content on particular topics or locations when the opportunities arise.
The term is typically confined to news industry jargon, and in print or in broadcast terms, stringers are sometimes referred to as correspondents or contributors. At other times, they may not receive any public recognition for the work they have contributed.
A reporter or photographer can "string" for a news organization in a number of different capacities and with varying degrees of regularity, so that the relationship between the organization and the stringer is typically very loose. When it is difficult for a staff reporter or photographer to reach a location quickly for breaking news stories, larger news organizations often rely on local stringers to provide rapid scene descriptions, quotations or photos. In this capacity, stringers are used heavily by most television news organizations and some print publications for video footage, photos, and interviews.
A superstringer is a long-term freelance journalist. He or she is usually a contract worker for one or more news organizations. Traditionally, stringers freelance for a period of time and then become employed full-time by a news organization, but with the collapse of the traditional newspaper advertising model and the emergence of the Internet, many stringers are becoming superstringers.
The etymology of the word is uncertain. Newspapers once paid stringers per inch of printed text they generated, and one theory says the length of this text was measured against a string. The theory given in the Oxford English Dictionary is that a stringer is a person who strings words together, while others use the term because the reporter is "strung along" by a news organization, or kept in a constant state of uncertainty. Another possibility is that using a sports analogy, the freelance journalist is seen as a "second string" whereas the staff journalist positions are more of the "first string." This in turn comes from music, where the first string is the premiere violin in the orchestra, the second string is the next most talented player and so on.
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