Tag Archive: freelancers
“Publishers reap all the rewards of working with freelancers, but assume none of the risks. If something terrible happens at any point leading up to, or following the transaction, the publisher bears no responsibility.” -Jaron Gilinsky, When a Kidnapped Journalist Is a Freelancer
In the past year, we’ve posted a few items about the increasing use of freelancers in conflict reporting. Using freelancers, publications save money and mitigate risk, shifting the substantial risks, both personal and financial, to vulnerable and often young freelancers. If you haven’t already, spend a few minutes with Jaron Gilinsky‘s piece When a Kidnapped Journalist Is a Freelancer. Gilinsky is CEO of Storyhunter, a website that helps freelance video journalists pitch and showcase their work.
In the piece, Gilinsky details a few recent cases of freelance conflict reporters who’ve been kidnapped or killed in recent years. Ali Mustafa‘s family was saddled with $20,000 in debt just to retrieve the young photographer’s body from Syria, and the photo agencies who bought his pictures offered no help. Both James Foley (previously) and Austin Tice have been missing for years; the Global Post has helped Foley’s family search for the reporter, but the Washington Post has apparently done little to find their stringer. Molhelm Barakat (previously) was killed while stringing for Reuters without hazardous situation training, insurance, or protective gear, and he may have been under 18.
Gilinsky offers the most detail in contrasting the circumstances surrounding the kidnapping of journalists Javier Espinosa and Ricardo Garcia Vilanova in Syria. Espinosa is a staff reporter El Mundo, but Vilanova is a freelancer who has worked with Gilinsky’s Storyhunter website. Both were eventually released after six months in captivity, but the ordeal played out differently for the two journalists. Because he was a staffer, Espinosa’s family received his full salary and benefits throughout his captivity. For Vilanova, on the other hand, debt began to pile up as his studio rent, home mortgage, and other financial obligations began to pile up. There was no news organization to lend financial or legal resources to any negotiations that might have helped secure his release or provide for his family or funeral should the need arise. Friends and family created a crowdfunding campaign which raised nearly €40,000 as of this writing, which will pay Vilanova’s debts and allow him to purchase new gear to resume working.
Ultimately, Gilinsky argues that there needs to be systemic change within journalism to make it so freelancers no longer feel the need to undertake such substantial risk to make a living in the industry. He says publications and news organizations should require (and provide) insurance and conflict training to freelancers, and freelancers should refuse to work with publications that work with uninsured journalists. Last year, the Sunday Times said it would not buy work from Syria from freelancers, and other organizations should do the same. And organizations such as RISC, the Rory Peck Trust, and Reporters Without Borders, offer training and support to freelance conflict journalists.
Make sure to read Gilinsky’s piece.
UPDATE 24 October 2013: Russia has dropped piracy charges against the 30 Greenpeace activists, including photographer Denis Sinyakov. They are now charged with “hooliganism,” which seems to be similar to a charge of “disorderly conduct” in the US. Lenta has the news in Russian.
UPDATE 29 September 2013: There’s now website gathering signatures of support and money for the legal defense fund (via Yandex and Paypal) for Denis Sinyakov: FreedomDenisSinyakov.ru
Original: This week Russian security forces arrested 30 Greenpeace activists who were protesting oil drilling in the Arctic. The group, comprising people from 18 nations, used a boat to approach a drilling operation, and a few members tried to board the platform. The activists were arrested and may be charged with piracy in addition to other crimes (though Putin questions the piracy charge).
Among those arrested was freelance photographer Denis Sinyakov, a Redux contributing photographer, who now faces months in prison. Reporters Without Borders has condemned Sinyakov’s arrest and sentence, calling it an “unacceptable violation of freedom of information.” Sinyakov has worked as a photographer for Greenpeace in the past, in addition to regular assignment work for Reuters and AFP. Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy has a petition asking for the release of Sinyakov, and Greenpeace has a petition asking for the release of all the arrested activists.
In protest of Sinyakov’s arrest, major independent Russian media sites have blacked out their photos today. As seen in the screenshots above, Dozhd, Novaya Gazeta, Russian Reporter, Ekho Moskvy, Znak, Lenta, Russkaya Planeta, and others have joined the call to release the photographer.
Conflict reporting is a dangerous undertaking increasingly dominated by the work of freelance journalists (as high as 80% of journalists working in Syria are freelancers), most of whom lack the legal, financial, and security resources of large news organizations while working in risky environments. Vaughan Smith, of London’s Frontline Club, and a group of freelance photographers and other journalists have organized the Frontline Freelance Register to address the issue of freelancers putting themselves at risk without the institutional backing of large news organizations (two French freelancers freelancers were just abducted in Syria; James Foley has been missing for 204 days as of the writing of this post). The FFR is billed as “a representative body for freelance journalists exposed to risk while gathering news” and will work to establish and promote industry-wide safety standards and best practices for journalists working abroad in difficult and dangerous circumstances.
If you work in dangerous environments, you can apply to join the FFR here.
Related: RISC trains freelance conflict journalists to treat life-threatening injuries in the battlefield.
This is making me panic as a Photo Journalism major. -top voted comment discussing Who Pays Photographers? at reddit
Pricing journalism always feels like a dark art. Following the online payment for journalism back-and-forth last week, Manjula Martin started collecting payment rates for writers at the Who Pays Writers? tumblr. Following that lead, one of our friends set up Who Pays Photographers?, a collection of anonymously-submitted reports of rates paid for (primarily) assignment work. Not long after the site took off, I got a call from the creator concerned about the popularity of the site (averaging 15,000 unique visits a day), and we talked a bit about what purpose the site might serve and how to make it a reliable resource. You can submit rates anonymously through the site.
An interview at PDN tells a little more about what goes into collecting this information and the goals. You can see all of the submitted rates paid to freelancers around the globe, from Gazeta Wyborcza’s $26 day rate to Forbes’ $1250 day rate including assistant and digital fee. The entries also have notes about contractual terms and the time it takes to receive payment. It’s not always a rosy picture, though that’s hardly a surprise.
The response to Who Pays Photographers? has been generally positive, spreading quickly via twitter, facebook, and reddit. At reddit and elsewhere, though, people have been dismayed by the low fees for most photojournalism.
I’m of the opinion that Who Pays Photographers? is an incredibly important resource. While many organizations and blogs work hard to educate freelancers about the business of photography, the actual fees paid for assignment or stock are often kept secret by photographers (though some do publish rate cards). The best way to improve our lot is to be honest and open about what it’s like to work in photography, and a major part of that is a conversation about money, since we all know exposure doesn’t pay the bills.
Make sure to submit some of the rates for your assignment work. I have already, and you should, too.
After submitting pictures from Aleppo this week Rick Findler was told by the foreign desk that “it looks like you have done some exceptional work” but “we have a policy of not taking copy from Syria as we believe the dangers of operating there are too great”. -Sunday Times tells freelances [sic] not to submit photographs from Syria
The British newspaper, The Sunday Times, has told a freelance photographer not to submit photos from Syria because the risk of working there is too great. After sending pictures from Aleppo, Syria, to the paper for consideration, conflict photographer Rick Findler was told that the paper has a policy not to look at non-commissioned reporting from the country. It’s an interesting development for the photojournalism industry, especially since closures of foreign bureaus have increased news publications’ reliance on freelancers for international reporting. Conflict reporting is a dangerous and expensive operation, and when things go bad freelancers lack the institutional support afforded to staff reporters.
Speaking to the Press Gazette, The Sunday Times policy deputy foreign editor Graeme Paterson cited just these concerns in explaining the paper’s policy against hiring freelancers to cover Syria or license their work from the region even after the reporter has gotten out of the country. Speaking on the matter, Paterson said, “…we take the same view regarding freelancers speccing in material. Even if they have returned home safely. This is because it could be seen as encouragement go out and take unnecessary risks in the future. The situation out there is incredibly risky. And we do not want to see any more bloodshed. There has been far too much already.”
Have you ever been stiffed by a client? There isn’t a lot of recourse for freelancers beyond sending in invoice after invoice after invoice. A New York state law has now been proposed which would hold deadbeat clients responsible for money owed to freelancers. The Freelancer Payment Protection Act (S4129/A6698) aims to help out freelancers who haven’t paid.
The legislation is gaining traction: it’s passed through the New York State Assembly and has gotten support from both Democrat and Republican state legislators. If the act becomes a law, freelancers will be able to file complaints with the New York Department of Labor about clients who have not paid their bills and allow them to collect 100% of the fees owed to them in addition to legal fees and interest. It’s a small step, and would only apply to freelancers in New York, but it isn’t a small matter. According to the Freelancers Union, “in 2009, New York State’s self-employed lost $4.7 billion due to client nonpayment, and the state lost $323 million in tax revenue.”
You can help in a few ways. Sign your name in support of the Freelancer Payment Protection Act; if you’re in New York, contact your state legislators and tell them to support the Freelancer Payment Protection Act; if you’re anywhere else, contact your legislators and suggest a similar law.
Related required viewing: Fuck you, Pay me – a discussion of adventures in contracts, negotiation, and payment
“…unlike traditional employees, [freelancers] lack any labor protections to ensure that [they] get paid for the work [they] do. Freelancers Union found that 77% of independent workers have experienced nonpayment at one point, and in the last year alone, more than 40% of New York’s freelancers had trouble getting paid.” -Freelancers Union campaign letter to support NY Bill S8084
For anyone who remembers the Digital Railroad debacle or who has been stiffed by a deadbeat client, the Freelancers Union has started a campaign to draw up support for New York State Legislature bill S8084. The proposed law, sponsored by New York State Senator Daniel L. Squadron, would: grant freelancers the same wage protection as traditional employees, require the Department of Labor to pursue freelancers’ unpaid wages, and holds deadbeat executives personally liable for up to $20,000 and jail time. If you’re in New York, you can join the campaign by emailing your state senator through the Freelancers Union website. And for balance, here’s a New York City lawyer’s opinion that the law is misguided or, at least, won’t help freelancers who are already at the mercy of a patchwork of confusing laws.
Gawker asked its readers to share their horror stories of late payment for freelance work and ranked the 10 worst late payment offenders in print (though, RadarOnline seems an odd inclusion for a list ostensibly about print journalism). The graph above records the number of days between invoice and payment for freelance work. The Brooklyn Paper is the worst offender, allegedly taking almost 2 years to pay a writer a $40 fee. The Brooklyn Paper’s editor Gersh Kuntzman responds in the comments, though doesn’t dispute the meat of the allegation. More freelancers share bad experiences in the comments, as well. Of note, also, ESPN Magazine and the Village Voice get recognition for very prompt payment.