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Turning down a freelancer?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by copperpot, Jan 16, 2011.

  1. copperpot

    copperpot Well-Known Member

    I'd appreciate some advice on two fronts. I recently got an e-mail from a guy asking about freelance work. He said he'd been laid off from his shop about two years ago and hadn't been able to find work and really wanted to contribute.

    As it happened, I'm in need of a freelancer, so I told him to send me his resume and clips. He sent the resume and said he would mail the clips. We exchanged a couple more e-mails, in which I tried to stress the job wasn't his, that I would look at the clips and call him if it looked like he would be a good fit.

    Friday, he sends me an e-mail, "Are we going to talk this week?" I replied that I hadn't been in the office so I hadn't seen his clips yet, and that, as I said, I would call him after I looked at them if I thought he'd be a good fit.

    He writes back, "Oops, I forgot to send the clips. I'll do it today."

    So, here's where I need advice. My gut says not to waste time with the guy. If he can't remember to send clips when he claims to so desperately want work, who's to say he won't forget to file/complete assignments? Am I overreacting?

    Assuming I'm not, and it's best to cut this guy loose, what do I do? I want to tell him that I don't want to take a chance on a guy who can't be bothered to send his clips without a reminder, but I don't want to be unnecessarily harsh. On the other hand, I don't want to sugarcoat it, because it'd be nice if the guy could find work SOMEWHERE, and maybe he needs a kick in the ass.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
  2. BillyT

    BillyT Active Member

    My only thought is that you had not gotten to them yet, so it really doesn't matter.

    See what the stuff looks like.

    If you don't like the stuff, tell him you're not interested.

    If you liek it, use him once or twice.

    Freelancing is not a permanent thing.

  3. ringer

    ringer Member

    I fully agree with Billy T.

    But if you're looking for personality traits, the more revealing detail, I thought, was the freelancer's aggressive email: "Are we going to talk this week?"
  4. WriteThinking

    WriteThinking Well-Known Member

    You're overreacting.

    The guy is showing his interest by keeping in touch, continuing to email and asking when to talk to you.

    It's a little strange that he hasn't sent his clips if he's that gung ho. But, really, does it matter all that much? It's a freelancing position, and this is one of the "perks" of that from the newspaper's point of view: There is no real commitment on your part, and it is easy enough just not to use someone anymore if you don't want to do so.

    It follows that, with freelance coverage, you sometimes get what you pay for/commit to. And, remember, it's really the freelancers who are doing papers the favor, not the other way around -- even if the people do need work. (They are NOT being treated like, or committed to, as a staff reporter would be, and they're usually settling for freelancing, because they have to/need to work, or because they don't have enough experience yet, not because that's what they'd prefer).

    And yet, what you're doing (and what many papers do) is wanting a freelancer for what may essentially be a staff job, with staff quality, work habits, professionalism, etc., without actually treating/committing yourself to him in the same way.

    It's unfortunate, but sometimes you don't get that. You're lucky if you do, but you shouldn't necessarily expect it.

    Do as BillyT. says. When you get the clips, look at them and decide. Or, use the guy once or twice even you don't get any clips, and see what happens, and go from there. That's what occurred with many of us with whomever gave us our first breaks, or any breaks.
  5. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    It's freelancing. Read his clips, give him a low-key assignment and see how he follow through. It's not rocket science.

    On a somewhat related note, it's funny to see ads that papers are hiring freelancers. They want stringers to go through the song and dance of sending in clips and interviewing for a job that is only as stable as your next assignment.
  6. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    OK, people who know me know I'm not going to be a complete hard-ass on this.

    But I have to say, WT, I asked a guy recently to send some clips and some thoughts about some freelance work, and he finally answered, not to send clips or share thoughts, but to apologize for not getting back to me -- he hadn't checked his e-mail in two weeks.

    Say what you will about modern life and being tethered into work and others all the time, but if you're interested in a freelance job, you've expressed interest, and then you don't check your primary method of communicating with the company involved in TWO WEEKS, that says something.

    And even if I completely buy that freelancers are doing ME a favor, I'm still paying them reasonably well to do work at a time when work and pay for writers is at a premium. And if they can't be bothered to communicate in a timely fashion, OK, well, then I'll find somebody else to do me that favor.

    I don't think you mean it this way, but if you think completely the way you describe, then basically, the freelancer has all the power and I have none, and he serves me at his pleasure.

    I'm not going to be at his mercy in that deal, sorry. I'll find another freelancer.
  7. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    What's the risk? You use him once, if he sucks you don't use him again. If you don't have work for him, tell him that.
  8. flexmaster33

    flexmaster33 Active Member

    Yes, I'd say treat it as a red flag, but still look at his stuff...if it's just okay and you have other options explore those...if his clips are solid give him an assignment or two and see how it goes. The "are we going to talk or not?" e-mail is flag #2 in my mind. Plenty of people looking to write...just a matter of finding the few that are solid.

    @ Stitch...yes freelancers are becoming more regular in this biz, but that doesn't mean they don't need to show some initiative. Asking for clips isn't a huge request. There's a big difference from having a trained reporter helping out in that spot and bringing in some dad or college kid who thinks sports writing would be lots of fun.
  9. WriteThinking

    WriteThinking Well-Known Member

    I may not have expressed my sentiments very well, or, certainly, not exactly.

    The way I think is that the paper, not the freelancer, has all the power. The freelancer is completely at the mercy of a potential employer, not the other way around.

    I understand media outlets' need for freelancers, and I know the needs of freelancers, very well. But, the use of freelancers in this business is something that has become something of a sore spot for me.

    It is, basically, and officially, at least, a one-sided arrangement that, in almost every tangible, meaningful way, favors the paper/media company.

    As you mentioned, you can always find another freelancer, and you will, if you have to, or even if you just want to.

    You can always just stop using someone, either for a legitimate and good reason -- or for no reason at all. I suppose you could, technically, say the same is true of a freelancer. But, not really, because where would that leave him, except, of course, out of work?

    I guess I'm like Stitch, and wonder that there is really no commitment, not beyond an assignment, on the part of the paper, and yet, editors want from a freelancer pretty much the same commitment, talent, skills and professionalism as they would want/expect from a staff member.

    Now, I've had experience with this from both sides. I've wanted to freelance, have been happy and willing to do it, and have done it, reliably and quite well, on many occasions and for sometimes lengthy periods during what I consider to have been a better-than-average journalism career that has also included years of staff membership at several papers of a variety of sizes.

    I've also served as a regular freelancer -- indeed, as a de facto staff member -- for no less than three different papers at various points in that career -- but without the benefits, privileges or status that generally come with doing the work of a staff member, of course.

    I'm not complaining. At the time, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunities, I loved the jobs, and I either wanted, or needed, to do my best to capitalize on them. And, I did it.

    But I know, now, that the arrangements were probably not the best, or fairest, or the most beneficial things that could have occurred. They were probably wrong to arrange and engage, on the parts of both the papers, and myself.

    Looking at the issue from another angle -- one more recent -- I also know that I hate seeing papers, web sites and blogs relying so heavily on freelancers -- more so than has ever happened -- while staff people are being laid off left and right, basically in favor of freelancers, and the business is shrinking -- again, probably more to the benefit of freelancers than many of the (now-former) staffers who worked to achieve their places and status in the industry but are now being squeezed out and off to unrelated careers.

    Whatever the perspective, the use of freelancers, and also, oftentimes, the expectation of them, too, just seems to be off, and screwy.

    That's what I was trying to say. Still don't know if it's what I've communicated, but...well, my apologies for any convoluted posts.
  10. flexmaster33

    flexmaster33 Active Member

    @ Write...

    It is the unfortunate state of the industry right now, but I know at our company at least, when a better opportunity comes up within the company we first look to our freelance crew as possible replacements. Depending on the writer's motivations, it can be a good place to keep compiling clips, build references, etc. Look at is as a paid internship, while you continue searching for something better.

    For others, freelance is a good pace, we've used some retirement age reporters in the past who are happy to just hit a game a week.
  11. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    I would cut the guy a little slack on the clips because a lot of places don't need to see clips to hire a freelancer.

    I've given plenty of people assignments with their word on experience covering events and a stack of award-winning feature stories don't tell me if you can cover a high school basketball game on deadline.
  12. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    It's freelancing. Editors need to get over people not being "professional" because the freelancer is helping you more than you are helping them, otherwise you'd have a staffer cover the event.
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