Feb 9, 2010

Journalists Should Not Work for Free – The Story Continues

The rush of information and comments following my appeal to freelancers to let me know what they are paid and how they are treated continues. Here is a table summarising the latest data

Margaret Simons

Journalist, author and director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism

The rush of information and comments following my appeal to freelancers to let me know what they are paid and how they are treated continues. Here is a table summarising the latest data. It adds to the one published on this blog yesterday.

Underneath this are some of the comments received in my Inbox today. Keep it coming to [email protected]

Outlet Per word Per piece Comments
Reed Business Publishing $1.10    
ACP Custom Publishing $1    
VicHealth Journal $1    
Some online and technical magazines 5c a word   “kids are prepared to write for free”
Express Publications lifestyle magazines   $300 for an 300-1000 word story  
The Australian Literary Review (monthly insert in The Australian) 70c    
Good Reading Magazine 40-50c   Often commissions longer pieces, so can be worthwhile
New Matilda 10c a word $100 for a 1200 word piece  
Jmag (Triple J magazine run by News Custom Publishing) 50c    
The West Australian (Book reviews)     Won’t pay a kill fee, and use only about one in five commissioned pieces.
Frankie Magazine (Morrison Media) 30c    
Virgin Blue Magazine 65c    
ZDNet (online technical  and new media)     


Australian Educator (national magazine of the Australian Education Union) 89c   Rate goes up each year in accordance with MEAA recommended rates


 And the comments:

“Reed Business Publishing (publisher of a range of medical, pharmacy trade magazines), pays $1.10 per word plus GST. This has been my rate for at least four years with them. Ie it may look good in comparison to other rates but the fact it doesn’t go up is a reflection of how badly freelancers are treated relative to staff journalists. For eg the editors I work with will have had their salaries go up. I feel I can’t push for more increases because I know I get paid at a slightly higher rate than many of their other contributors.”


“I’m reasonably new to the industry…I have a day job to pay the bills, and I don’t see how freelancing full-time could ever become an option.”

One freelancer responded to my lambasting of the Australian Financial Review, which pays not at all, by saying:

“Writing for the Fin is rewarded in terms of profile based on my expert knowledge, so publication benefits my business by getting me in front of the Fin’s corporate readers  – and this has led to commissioned work.  So in that sense it’s proved worthwhile.”

The same writer said:

“I’ve also published a couple of unsolicited articles on the opinion page of The Australian in 2008 and 2009. A fee was not mentioned or offered: every time that Rupert talks of “content kleptomania” I suppress a wry smile.” 

And another writer, having read my comments on how Fairfax abuses freelancers, wanted to stick up for one particular editor – Roslyn Guy at The Age.

“I’m very happy concentrating on writing for The Age because Roslyn Guy both gives me a very fair go and pays me, even though I’m more right-of-centre than most of her contributors and The Age generally.  If they get the benefit from automatic syndication in other Fairfax markets at no additional cost, I get the benefit of national exposure.”

But otherwise Fairfax continued to come in for a kicking – more so than News Limited.

But others made the point that wordage rate is not everything.

“It can still be worth doing pieces at lower word rates if you don’t have to pitch for the work. I think I’m reasonably successful at pitching but I don’t particularly enjoy the process so I absolutely love it when an editor emails me with a brief and asks me if I can do it by such a such a date. I think the reduced word rate balances out against me not having to put together the pitch – which can involve a fair bit of research to start off with – and then chasing the editor to try and get the commission. And while the comments about editors who don’t respond to pitches, phone calls etc. rang true, the flip side is another editor who rang all her regular freelancers almost in tears telling them her budget had been pulled and she wouldn’t have any work for them for the rest of FY09 so there was no point in them working on pitches for her etc.”


“One the more insidious ways publishers have reduced freelancers income is in the area of reprint rights. It used to be the case that you could increase your income by reselling a story in one or more other markets, sometimes with very little reworking, other times with more reworking. Now publishers are increasingly demanding worldwide rights because of the Internet. The Internet also means that if you’re going from the specific to the general, or vice versa, with a piece on a particular topic you really need to rewrite the whole piece whereas it used to be completely acceptable to do a feature for a specialist magazine and then take some of that content and repurpose for a general publication such as a newspaper.”

And, finally, a snipe at the journalists’ union…

“Perhaps the Walkley Magazine, organ of the journalists’ union, the MEAA,  should be setting an example to others. At present its rates range from nil to nothing at all.”


Leave a comment

2 thoughts on “Journalists Should Not Work for Free – The Story Continues

  1. Mary Garden

    Well that’s really weird because I’ve had three features published in the Financial Review (The Review section on Friday) and was paid $1 per word, for articles that were 2000+ words. I was delighted. Much more than I got from the measly returns from my book. The Courier-Mail was less generous – 50c per word, The Oz paid about $1 per word, while most magazines (NZ Geographic, NZ Memories, aviation mags etc) have paid less. For part-time freelancers, there is good money to be made IMO and for those struggling authors labouring away on their manuscripts this is a good supplementary income. There is also the opportunity to on-sell to other publications overseas.

  2. observa

    “he other thing Fairfax did with freelance magazine photographers is made them sign away their rights to pictures, so Fairfax can re-use or on-sell them and not share any profit with the photographers.”

    Never working for Fairfax then!

    “If they didn’t sign the agreement, Fairfax refused to pay for outstanding work.”

    Well that’s not legal so I suppose it’s a case of knowing the photogs can’t afford legal action.

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