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Freelancing pros and cons

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Mark2010, Jan 16, 2009.

  1. Mark2010

    Mark2010 Active Member

    Since being laid off at a mid-sized paper last year, I have been doing a substantial amount of freelance writing for both my former paper and another smaller paper in the region. As time has progressed, my feelings about this have become decidedly mixed.

    1) On the one hand, there were no hard feelings about the layoff.It was business, not personal. So no grudges held against the remaining staff.

    2) Obviously, like most of us, we enjoy covering events to an extent and it gives us a chance to get out and do that.

    3) The money, while nowhere near as good as full-time, helps in a tight economy.

    However, I balance that against this.....

    There has been a very disturbing trend in recent years to rely more and more on freelance journalists as opposed to hiring a full-timer or even regular, hourly part-timers. No benefits, no salary, etc. The paper still gets the copy and doesn't pay near as much. The journalist, on the other hand, gets the short end of the stick. So my question is....

    Are we, as journalists, enabling this pattern of behavior to exist and by doing so destroying our own profession and posssible future opportunties?

    Would you be willing to accept freelance assignments (at a reasonable pay rate) from a publication that either laid you off or cut your hours substantially?
  2. WriteThinking

    WriteThinking Well-Known Member

    I hate freelancing -- not the work, but the concept -- because it's a one-sided commitment, on the part of the reporter/writer, not the paper.

    But I do it, anyway, because if I didn't, my career might be dead, and, of more immediate concern, I wouldn't have any money to pay the bills that keep coming in, whether I have a real job, or not.

    And I don't think for one minute that I'm the one destroying our profession, or any possible future opportunities.

    There's not anything wrong with journalists freelancing if they need/want to.

    What I do think is wrong is that papers hire freelancers not really as freelancers but as de facto staffers -- ones they don't really have to treat as such in any official, meaningful or binding way.

    I freelance, regularly, for a good-sized newspaper, and have also done it for a couple magazines.

    The magazines handle it better, and more honestly and forthrightly, because they treat freelancers as freelancers -- i.e. asking you if you're interested in an assignment before assuming you're going to do it, and even often giving you the assignments instead of you having to do regular, essentially staff-beat work to find them on your own. And usually, they pay you better.

    Newspapers, on the other hand, expect you to, essentially, be a staff member while you get none of the perks, and cannot really and legitimately say, or feel like, you are part of the staff.

    They often expect you to work every day, even if you're not being paid for everything (you know, same as they do with staffers). They pay you substantially less than you would make if you were on staff (even though you do, or could do, virtually everything a staffer does). And, of course, you get no paid vacation time or medical benefits (paying for which can very well do in somebody who may not be bringing in enough money to begin with).

    And, you can be told you're done, and be gone, with no special effort, and no repercussions, on the part of the paper, or any rights for the freelancers, because they are considered, officially, if ridiculously, to be self-employed.

    Newspapers do it because they can, and because, let's face it, it makes economic sense these days. And there's nothing the individual journalists, themselves, can do about it.
  3. Drip

    Drip Active Member

    I have enjoyed freelancing but the problem I have is that the money doesn't come in when you need it. Many publications pay once a month. Miss that cycle and you're toast.
  4. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member


    You make a good point about continuing a cycle, but, really, what are your options?

    I think the best you can hope for as a freelancers is to have another full-time job and to do the freelancing in your terms. Cover things you like or when you need the cash.

    Or become so in demand that publications are clamoring for you.

    As a freelancer, though, you aren't a defacto staffer. You are always free to say no. And, hopefully, it isn't used against you.
  5. SixToe

    SixToe Active Member

    Yes, but the problem is if you don't accept an assignment that pays only $50 (for example) some other guy who will take anything will do it.

    Being selective can hurt your bottom line. I don't believe it matters to the newspapers because they know they can find someone else to do the same job at their price. Or they just rip an SID release to rewrite on the fly.

    I've declined magazine offers that were ridiculously low, like $125 for 1,500 words. The editor, a longtime friend, said it was fine because he had other writers who would take the assignment. The magazine he works for makes money like they're printing it.
  6. forever_town

    forever_town Active Member

    The answer to this part of your question is: Much depends on the situation and the circumstances.

    I left my old shop on bad terms. Much of what's happened since I got two weeks' notice has been documented in the thread on Anything Goes. There isn't a way in Hell I'd consider or be considered for freelance writing assignments at my old shop.

    If it's a situation like one I saw on the Jobs board where the boss who had to lay off a talented designer advertised that designer's services there, I'd be far more likely to want to freelance at my old shop, along with trying to line up other freelance gigs until I get a full-time position.

    The good thing about freelance work is that keeps you in the game if you want to stay in it. It lets you tell people you have something as far as a job's concerned. It allows me to have business cards to pass out. Unless you find yourself getting enough assignments for enough dollars per assignment, it's not going to pay all your bills for you.

    The bad thing is, you're often at the mercy of the news outlet. If they say they don't have any assignments for you, you're not working. And you have to be a special kind of journalist to get people banging at your door to give you assignments.

    Again, you're not on the staff if you're a freelancer or a stringer. At my old shop, the CEO was very specific about the difference between an employer and a stringer. The paper (or papers, or magazines, etc.) are under no obligation to you. If there's a big meeting or a big event or a big game, you don't get first crack at it like you would if you were a full-time employee.
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