Freelance journalists have written an open letter to news publishers demanding they fix payment systems that leave them out of pocket.
The #FairPayForFreelancers letter has made three demands for pay reform:
- An end to payment on publication – whereby freelances are only paid once their work appears in print/online, which means they don’t get paid if it isn’t used despite having fulfilled the commission and done the work
- Respect for late payment fees
- And updating payment systems that lead to “bottlenecks”.
At the time of writing, the letter has been signed by 242 journalists, including ex-Wikileaks journalist James Ball, New Statesman columnist Amelia Tait and former Sky News journalist Mollie Goodfellow.
Freelance journalist and former Vice staffer Anna Codrea-Rado – who has been published by the New York Times, Wired and the Guardian – has organised the letter demanding action.
It comes as mass job cuts have hit digital media outlets, forcing many journalists to consider moving into freelance work.
A crowdfunding page for freelances owed money by women’s lifestyle website The Pool was set up last week following its sudden closure and has so far raised a more than £23,000 towards its £24,000 goal.
The open letter published today read: “We are journalists calling upon our industry to pay its freelances fairer, better and faster.
“Freelances are an integral part of our media ecosystem. As staff teams across our industry shrink, it’s increasingly falling to us to turn around well-reported, high-quality journalism.
“The reality for freelance journalists, however, is that in doing our work we routinely experience overdue invoices, find ourselves acting as de facto creditors and battle with bureaucratic red-tape when getting paid.
“Some report that the financial hardship they experience as a result leaves them with no option but to leave the profession.
“We want to work together towards a sustainable future for our industry. We believe this starts with media outlets paying freelances fairly and on time.”
Speaking to Press Gazette, Codrea-Rado said: “Being freelance, I absolutely love it… it’s just some things make doing your job unnecessarily difficult and a lot of them are around pay and it doesn’t need to be like that.”
She said she would be sending the letter to managing editors later today, adding: “I would really like to engage in actual dialogue with the decision-makers at the relevant media publications.”
Speaking about payment on publication, Codrea-Rado said: “In some cases you’re paid on words published rather than words commissioned, so it’s actually really difficult to budget how much you’re going to be making from a piece.”
Addressing payment on publication, the letter said the practice effectively put freelancers in the position of being “de facto creditors” to media outlets and led to long gaps between submission and payment.
Freelance journalists are pushing for publications to pay half of commission fees upfront and the rest on publication to address the problem.
One anonymous freelance journalist quoted in the letter said they are owed more than £2,000 from an outlet in late payment fees.
The journalist later added that the overdue payments had led them to take money out of their savings account to cover rent and bills for the month.
A survey by the NCTJ published two years ago showed that the number of journalists grew from 18,000 in 2015 to 34,000 in 2016.
Picture: Reuters/Phil Noble