A former commissioning editor at a women’s weekly magazine has hit out at the “unethical, unnecessary industry-wide problem” of payment on publication ahead of launching her own real-life features website.
Punteha van Terheyden has pledged to pay freelance writers as and when they submit commissioned articles to Lacuna Voices, which she said will be published within three months.
Van Terheyden, who spent eight years as a writer and commissioning editor for Take a Break before going freelance in 2016, believes there is no valid reason why journalists should be “held over a barrel” for their work.
The common practice of payment on publication can leave journalists waiting months to get paid, despite having fulfilled a commission to deadline, or sometimes not at all.
“Payment on publication ends with Lacuna Voices,” said van Terheyden.
She has pledged that writers for the website, which launches in January next year, will be paid within 30 days of submitting copy or an invoice.
Lacuna Voices will focus on mental and physical health, careers, world affairs and men’s issues, which van Terheyden says are often missing from female-led feature sections in newspapers and magazines.
Van Terheyden, who cut her teeth on the features desk at news agency INS, told Press Gazette the widespread practice “continuously grinds my gears”.
“I just find it really unethical,” she said.
“I’ve been on a commissioning desk where we didn’t pay on publication, we paid on submission of copy and it was doable and viable.
“I think that any organisation that doesn’t do that is simply taking the mickey out of freelances and using their position as a large organisation with a ton of money and abusing that relationship with the freelances.
“I just can’t abide by it and I feel that just because something’s been done a particular way for a long time doesn’t mean that it’s the correct way of doing it or that it can’t change.
“At the moment freelances are being held over a barrel and there’s no need for it.”
If the subject of a true-life feature drops out because it has been sat on for a year, van Terheyden said a publisher should “suck it up”.
Although the journalist said she works with many “really amazing” editors, she criticised those who say they can’t pay for every piece they commission because some of it doesn’t make it into print or online.
“If you’re over-commissioning and you’re stockpiling, that’s your prerogative,” she said.
“But [if] you stockpile then you pay for your content and if you use it then great, but if you don’t then that’s a loss you have to chalk up on your desk and within your budget.”
The mother-of-one said she has faced months where she has not been paid for her work and has at times been owed more than £10,000.
“It’s not fair to ask a freelance to put their food shopping on their credit card and pay 21 per cent interest while the newspapers and magazines use those freelances like an interest-free loan,” she said.
“People are just constantly not only annoyed about this but it’s running them into the ground. It’s causing financial hardship.”
More than 1,000 journalists signed an open letter, published in February, calling for “fairer, better and faster” payment for their work, including an end to payment on publication.
The letter said: “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.”
Van Terheyden told Press Gazette she is “really looking forward to creating an environment” at Lacuna Voices “where freelances can bring their talent, their creativity and be respected for their work and be paid for it”.
The project will be partly self-funded alongside advertising, corporate sponsorship and syndication of content to nationals.
Picture: Lacuna Voices