By Graeme McGill
Freelance journalism is no picnic, contrary to popular belief. The term freelance journalist to many suggests an international jet setting, debonair individual trawling the globe looking for angles, stories and exclusives. The reality, however. Is in stark contrast.
Unfortunately, unless you do an Attenborough through a series of work related miracles, freelance journalism is, for the most part, sitting in your office or spare room (if you’re lucky) and spending your day cooking up ideas, pitching them to all and sundry desperate to have your idea greenlit from prospective editors. An actual reply is a bonus on most days and the ones who do reply (which are in the minority) will regularly reject, shoot down or completely dismiss your ideas.
By the law of averages though you’ll probably get commissioned to do something, even if it’s a long way off how you’d envisaged how the idea would be put together and packaged. After stressing to find sources, sort interviews, sort more interviews after your first round of them doing a Houdini on you, proofreading your work, again and again, and just one more time to make sure it’s engaging. You send it, it’s published, great!
Now you can begin the long wait for your invoice to be paid. Maybe it’ll be the industry standard of 30 days, or it could be several months and umpteen chase-up emails, or anywhere in between. Which, your mortgage provider or landlord will be thrilled about, of course.
We spoke with a freelance journalist named Tom, who has written articles for the likes of VICE News, Al Jazeera and The National,
“With Freelancing, it can be a little bit uncertain moneywise, it can cause anxiety and isn’t ideal for building a stable financial position. The industry standard for payment of an invoice is 30 days, if you file your invoice after the article is published, they [the publication] should pay you within 30 days. This is often not the case, to put it bluntly, there’s nothing to make them pay on time. People can ignore you and your chase-up emails and that happens more often than not.”
Now, with the winter nights drawing in and the cost of just about everything skyrocketing, the nation’s purse strings will be tighter than ever before, will the freelance journalism world transform itself to make it more accessible and reliable in terms of hard earned money being paid? I wouldn’t count on it.
Even before life become ludicrously expensive, bills were always expected to be paid on time, with the unpredictability of writing for a living in a freelance sort of way that becomes very difficult. I was told by a lecturer during my studies when asked how to make ends meet as a freelance journalist,
“Get on good terms with your overdraft provider.” I wish I could tell you this was tongue in cheek but it wasn’t.
There is protection against rogue practices from publications in the form of journalism unions such as The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) which understands better than anybody the trials and tribulations of getting published and getting paid fairly. A union spokesman from the NUJ outlined the union’s intention to combat publisher malpractice:
“As a trade union, the NUJ exists to protect the incomes and livelihoods of journalists – including its 7,000 freelance members who face unique challenges. Freelances should be paid fairly promptly and without complication, and the dates payment should be expected should be made clear. We will continue to defend their rights and livelihoods and challenge employers who exploit their goodwill.”
There are plenty of brilliant openings, in roads and jobs that make all the suffering and strife involved with studying for a degree in journalism worthwhile, most of them, however, don’t lie in the freelance world.