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News agency boss fighting libel battle with Buzzfeed creates non-profit to support freelance journalists

A news agency boss pursuing legal action against Buzzfeed after it branded him the “king of bullshit news” in a story has launched a non-profit organisation to help support freelance journalists.

Michael Leidig, who runs Central European News, has used his own money to set up the Fourth Estate Alliance after the 7,000-word Buzzfeed News article “devastated” his hopes of outside investment, he said.

He claims the FEA, which officially launched yesterday, is already supporting some 40 media professionals, including reporters, sub-editors and photographers.

It aims to create online “newsrooms” where journalists can work together to produce news content that they can then send to publishers who are targeted as a match for stories and pictures using “metadata”.

Payments for news and images are then divided between members of the newsroom teams that produced them.

Leidig, who is also vice-chairman of Britain’s National Association of Press Agencies, said: “Being a freelance journalist has the potential to be the best job in the world – it just lacks investment and organisation.”

He said he spent a decade developing the project before Buzzfeed published allegations that he had faked stories and quotes in news content sent out by his agency – claims which he denies.

Leidig has filed an $11m libel suit against the website over the story. Buzzfeed has fought the claim, which is being heard in US courts.

Added Leidig: “Although the Buzzfeed story caused me to lose a substantial investment in this project, I never stopped believing in its potential to help freelance journalism, which for too long has been the poor relation of media staff jobs.

“Developments has been a lot slower as a result [of the Buzzfeed story], but on the other hand it is now a project by journalists for journalists, with nobody else looking to profit from their work.”

Leidig claimed the project provides “full transparency over the way a story is produced”.

Press Gazette editor-in-chief Dominic Ponsford has acted as an unpaid advisor to Leidig in the creation of the Fourth Estate Alliance.

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