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The reality of being a stringer?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by elephant, May 17, 2008.

  1. elephant

    elephant New Member

    Posting here as someone who has been working as a freelance, and having provided photographs and articles to a website/publication for a number of years.
    This was on a non contract basis, the work was steady, I provided them with a lot of it and they used a lot of it.
    It’s my main source of income.
    My problem is recently over the last little while I’ve been paid between about a half and two thirds of what I was getting and I ain’t happy.
    When I queried this the response I got wasn’t what I wanted, along the lines of ‘we pay you well enough’ ‘your not a staff’ ‘things evolve etc’..
    There was nearly a bit of an arrogance there because they know I am dependent on them..
    Is this just a hazard of the business, of being a non contracted contributor?
    I’m astonished that you can be so loyal to a company for so many years and then all of a sudden its BAM!
    What would an editor do this?! Are they under budgetary pressure?..
    Is this sort of thing common across the industry?
    It’s left me a little disillusioned and I realise finally how fickle this business can be, what should I do now?
    The editor know that I ain’t going to work elsewhere and there’s cheaper, younger freelancers coming through so is it time for someone in my situation to get out.
    There is nothing to say that in ten years time the rates won’t be the same.
    Have rates risen or fallen for most people?
  2. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    Do you just bill them what you think youshould get or do you have an established rate?
    Do you itemize the bill each month?
  3. fremont

    fremont Member

    Well, yes, the business is fickle and generally not doing well. As far as websites go they're still trying to figure out how to make money. I haven't done as much stringing and such for websites because the money's not there. At best I recoup what I pay for gas.

    The way I do it is I get a figure on how much for a story and how much for mileage. If there's to be some sort of change I'd expect to know about it beforehand, although there's nothing I can do about it. I can decide to work for what they can pay or not, and they try to find someone who will. Thing of it is, stringers are the future. Papers are increasingly unable to fill full-time positions with benefits, and when those positions get cut they can either have stringers or have a lot less local content in the paper. So there's a need on their end too. There's a weekly for which I produce most sports content despite not being a staffer, because it's not in a spot where they can afford a full-time sports guy now. There's definitely a market for what you do, but it can vary depending on where you are.
  4. WriteThinking

    WriteThinking Well-Known Member

    Yes, this is a hazard of being a freelancer, particularly at a newspaper or for its web site. The outlet is under no real obligation to you, has made no official commitment to you, and so, you are at its mercy. This is especially so if you're not working under contract.

    You're doing them a favor with your work, providing a service they need or that they want in that particular instance, and they're accepting your offer/help. You, meanwhile, are, hopefully, getting to do something that you like and enjoy, and that you want to do.

    But without a contract, and without actually being hired onto the newspaper's staff, the relationship only goes so far, and it looks as if maybe you've reached that point.

    My suggestion would be to try to freelance with magazines or magazines' web sites, instead of with newspapers. They generally pay better, and they're accustomed to the common use of freelance work. Consequently, they usually have better-established, fairer and more consistent practices in place regarding financial/operational etiquette, standards and rates concerning stringers.

    What's more, they seem to value -- rather than discount -- experience and seasoning more than newspapers do, because, generally, they're seeking more length, depth and stylish writing to their stories, anyway.

    Please understand that I say all this while realizing exactly how you feel. I was a regular newspaper freelancer for some time before then getting hired into staff jobs.

    For me, that was the only reason to freelance -- as a means to an end. Being a stringer was never my goal, and I was OK with it only up to a point.

    Your approach to the job and your reasons for doing it may be different, of course. But it sounds like you may need to decide, yourself, where that point is.

    I hope this is of some help, but regardless, I think I've told it to you like it is.
  5. forever_town

    forever_town Active Member

    I agree with what WriteThinking said, wholeheartedly. It's the sad reality of our business that so many papers treat everybody who "works" for them like crap.

    And I never liked the distinction between staff and "stringers" or "freelancers." My boss makes it all the time in terms of who gets what. As far as I'm concerned, if you're covering an event for my paper and you're writing a story or taking a photo (or both) for my paper, I consider you staff no matter what it says on the masthead.

    I think it's time to look at whatever that next step is, whether it's getting a gig somewhere else or going into a whole different field. As for the "we pay you enough" response, newspapers aren't going to jack up what they pay their stringers unless there's a dire need to. And even then, they'll look for cheaper labor somewhere else.

    Case in point: We have a stringer whom we pay $50 per story (I think it's that price). He's good enough to be a full-time writer for a daily in my opinion. I've only ever had to move one graf in his story maybe once or twice. My boss has tried to order me not to use him because he's more expensive than other stringers per story. I just keep using him anyway and let her kvetch.
  6. fremont

    fremont Member

    One of the papers I string for recently gave a $10/story and $.10/mile increase. It kept me around. So never say never...the weekly for which I do most of the sports work gives me a great rate for a paper its size and I'm fortunate for that. It does help that I'm fairly well recognized in its readership area, as I grew up there.

    forever_town, there needs to be more guys like you in the business.
  7. forever_town

    forever_town Active Member

    I can't speak to that point, but I try to be loyal to the people who do well for my paper. I'd like to think those people are loyal in return.
  8. fremont

    fremont Member

    To trot out a phrase I've not originated, but used a time or two in this line of work - "I stand by my words."
  9. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    There should be a difference between stringers and staff. I wouldn't want crap assignments if I was on staff and some stringer had a better story. Journalists should be on staff for a reason. That doesn't mean that stringers should be treated like garbage, but staff writers come first.
  10. lono

    lono Active Member

    Newspapers are firing people in record numbers.

    Why wouldn't they fuck the stringers, too.

    Seriously. Have you not read all the threads about massive downsizing and cost-cutting?

    You are nothing more than an expense and an annoyance to them.
  11. steveu

    steveu Well-Known Member

    But you don't get benefits and they don't have to mess with tax issues, too. It DOES go both ways, even though nine times out of 10 it doesn't seem like it on paper.
  12. forever_town

    forever_town Active Member

    Don't take what I wrote to mean that I put stringers on the exact same level as staff in terms of assignments. My full-timer still gets first dibs on stories. I definitely do not treat stringers like dirt.

    I'll give you an example: One of my stringers won an award from my regional press association for the other paper in our group. I was there to pick up the award for my former full-time reporter. When they called the stringer's name, I cheered -- loudly -- for him. Later on, after all the awards were given out, he came over to my table to say hello. One of my tablemates e-mailed me later saying she was favorably impressed by that.
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