Dear Dr Deadline,
You’ll have to forgive me if this is a rather naive question, but I’m quite new to the freelancing game. I sent a news story, “on spec”, to my local evening paper last week. I didn’t hear anything back, but the story did appear. Although they used most of what I sent – including a number of quotes – they also added some additional stuff that I hadn’t got. What was finally used was about half my work and half somebody elses, but my byline didn’t appear on the story. I’m not sure if this normal practice or not – but what does this mean when it comes to my payment? Also, shouldn’t they have checked me out a bit more carefully? I did include a quick CV, but as far as they were concerned, I could have been making the whole thing up.
When it comes to news copy, the majority of bigger newspapers will generally use a staff byline – or the equivalent of “by staff reporters” – even if the copy was submitted by an agency or a freelance and used without too much alteration. The general idea, particularly with regional papers, being that readers prefer to see bylines that they recognise rather than a mish-mash of other names.
Either way, the lack of a byline shouldn’t affect your payment, and you should invoice according to their usual word rate. It’s usually worth checking this out first before sending something “on spec” for the first time, and it’s a good idea to include something, in your original submission, to the effect that you expect payment along those lines.
News copy submitted this way will often be rewritten according to the house style – even completely rehashed or slashed to fit a smaller space – without checking with the original author. It’s not something to get precious about. That’s not usually the case with feature copy, where original bylines are usually used, and significant changes will generally be cleared with the writer.
However it is, as you say, surprising that they didn’t check you out with a phone call – particularly in the light of the hoo-ha surrounding the reporter who fabricated all those stories at The New York Times. But in case you’re tempted to do a Jayson Blair, don’t forget they may well have checked the accuracy of your story with your original sources.
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