As another year of advocating on behalf of SPJ freelancers comes to a close, I thought I’d take a moment to review where we are with the freelance committee and where I see us heading in 2006.
So much of what I’ve done this year is talk to freelancers. I get many phone calls and e-mails asking for either very specific advice on a specific situation or else “how do I get started freelancing?”
Many times I don’t have the answers. Through a network of “experts” in various fields — contracts, First Amendment law, rights, pitching and grievances — I do my best to connect people to resources and others who can provide those answers.
In an effort to bring fresh voices to this column, I’ve asked some freelancers to write on specific topics in upcoming issues. Expect to see guest columnists write about the elements of a contract; ergonomics and how it impacts freelancers; work-life balance; and the components to a query letter.
Contact me if you’ve got suggestions for other topics or are interested in writing a column.
Business liability insurance
Many have asked about business liability insurance (also known as “errors and omissions” or “media perils” insurance). I’ve archived two articles that thoroughly address the issue and hope to have them posted to the Web shortly.
The American Society of Journalists and Authors has an article on its Web site (www.asja.org). Jennie L. Phipps, editor and publisher of Freelance Success newsletter (www.freelancesuccess.com), also has written a good piece on this subject.
The bottom line is this insurance is very expensive; National Writers Union doesn’t even offer it anymore. If publications are asking you to have this insurance, please contact me because I’d like to know their reasons and how they plan to compensate you for requiring such insurance.
Federal shield law
The committee has a vested interest in the outcome and the language of a federal shield law. Though freelancers are not explicitly targeted for exclusion, there are a number of precautions we must take to ensure inclusion.
* Always work under contract, even if it’s an e-mail agreement.
* Work done on spec will not be covered.
* New or unpublished writers may not be covered as defined “journalists.”
There is no language for a function test in the current bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee. I will remain involved with this issue to ensure the freelance voice is heard.
Freelancers have shared horror stories this year about the inability to get paid and about having their work killed to please advertisers. These trends are very disturbing and becoming more prevalent at smaller local publications.
Individual freelancers must determine for themselves when they walk away from a publication or assignment. Use the SPJ Code of Ethics as your guide and report such abuses to me so that we can track and publicize the flagrant offenders through our newly formed SPJ Watchlist.
I’m developing a questionnaire for freelancers and hope to distribute it in January so that we can begin building a database that includes freelancers’ contact information, geographical range and areas of specialty.
Editors are finding our committee via the Web and asking for specific help, often at the last minute. Currently I send those requests out to the e-mail group list. But I’d like to be able to better target our freelance membership to meet its needs.
Anyone with database-building experience who would like to help should contact me. Send an e-mail if you’d like to be added to the group list.
Improved Web presence
Our Web presence should serve as a virtual SPJ chapter for freelancers. Hopefully, with the redesign of the SPJ Web site, we’ll have more prominent placement and easier accessibility from the home page. A criticism I hear frequently is that it’s difficult to find our section.
I have a slew of new articles and resources to post there, but I’d also like to see the discussion board become an active conversational tool. I’m hoping to segment the discussion board into relevant topics such as: print, broadcast, online, photography, fees, contracts and water cooler for general questions.
I’m toying with the idea of an open-source freelance blog. I’m not a techie, so suggestions are welcome.
Dialogue with editors
I’d like to open dialogue with editors at newspapers, magazines, online and broadcast outlets who regularly work with freelancers to figure out how we can better work together.
We work with many editors. What I miss most by working independently is plopping down in an editor’s office and saying, “I’m struggling with parts of this story” or “The reporting is not coming together the way I’d like, any suggestions?” or “Any suggestions for some diverse sources?” or “I can’t seem to get the narrative to flow.”
It is possible to forge those kinds of relationships with editors as a freelancer, but you straddle the line between being collaborative and being a nuisance. I believe journalism is better served if we can find a way to improve the collaborative relationship between freelancers and editors.
A key to making this gig worth the struggle is knowing that you’ve got an ally — someone to challenge your angles, to push your reporting process, to strengthen your writing and to remind you that you’re not in this alone.
Thanks for supporting the efforts of the National Freelance Committee.
Wendy A. Hoke is chairperson of the SPJ National Freelance Committee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tagged under: Freelancing