Would you work for that?

There are a lot of ways to make a living and for some freelancing is it. I’ve been a freelancer for almost 20 years in the film business – it’s the norm. However when I started freelancing as a journalist, I realised for some industries it is not.

Australian news media is made up of national and international companies. Their staff is either fulltime or part time workers. Casuals and freelancers fill in the gaps or are there because of a specialisation or op-ed.

However as media outlets shed more and more costs in the ‘digital revolution’ catch up, being a freelancer is becoming more common.

While hiring a freelancer has traditionally been the cheaper option, with more journalists, who are used to a decent wage, entering the market place the definition of what is acceptable pay will change. Forcing suppliers to reassess what they believe to be a decent pay.

As a freelance journalist I have been surprised by the various rates offered for my work. Recently a publication offered $350 for 2500 words. When I looked at how much time I would need and what I was expected to do I was earning just under $10 a hour.

My first thought was, that barely, barely covers my living expenses. And then I thought, would you work for that?

When media outlets pay for commissioned work at a much lower rate than their staff writers not only is it exploitative it is audacious. If you would not expect to work for that money, why would you ask it of someone else?

The MEAA sets filmmaker rates as the industry standard. It is a livable pay often set as a minimum, with producers often negotiating 10-25% on top to create a decent rate. The same union sets a freelance journalist rate at equivalent to 93c per word. This would be on par to the minimum rates they also set for film and television.

The disparity between what the union set and what news outlets pay is staggering. Especially after years of watching how influential the MEAA is at setting the film industry’s rates. With all the work it does for journalists, why don’t their rates get the same consideration?

For news outlets to say there is no money to pay these rates or that the digital business model is still being worked out, does not stick. As I have discussed many a time on this blog there are models that work and can work well.

So the excuses won’t last for long, if you want quality journalism you’ll have to pay for it. Sooner rather than later.

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