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  • David Hinkson

What does the term "freelance" mean to you?

By: David Hinkson

I have been meaning to ask this question ever since I went into full-time freelance work through a change in my employment circumstances in 2016. Prior to that, I had done some freelance work, but I was working full time in another establishment, so it was merely a side gig.

However, over the last four years, I have some major questions to ask regarding the status of freelance media workers. The first thing we must address is the rates. $30 to $50 per "regular" news story in a newspaper, and other such rates, are, as a former boss of mine used to say, "Monkey prices" in modern times!

Contrary to popular belief, not all freelance journalists are between the ages of 19 and 25,

possibly attending school and living with Mum and Dad. In fact, some of us are Mums and Dads, in some cases with children at primary, secondary and tertiary level schools.

We have rent and bills to pay, and if our circumstances were better prior to falling into the freelance sector, possibly mortgages and car payments too.

Now I do not know when those rates were set - maybe sometime in the Dark Ages?

When could you come home with a good set of groceries from the supermarket for $50? When could you get a $10 "food" inclusive of a drink? When bus fare was $1?

When could you actually put $15 in gas in your car and get beyond the forecourt of the gas station?

Reality check - bus fare is no longer $1, and if you do not own a car - and how can you, with these kinds of rates? - and you have school runs to make as well as getting to and from assignments if the place you are working for does not provide transport, that $30 or $50 can disappear in one day's transport costs.

So, an upward adjustment is very much needed across the board.

And in cases where a freelancer is committed enough to one publication that they can call on him or her to do work at any time, and their work appears on a regular basis, consider paying them a weekly rate or a daily rate based on the days they work, and somewhere beyond minimum wage, please!

An hourly rate may not necessarily apply since depending on the nature of the assignment, jobs do not last that long, and stories can be submitted online as opposed to the reporter actually physically having to come into the office.

Also, give us a reasonable explanation if we work our asses off on an original story, or worse yet, one you assigned, and you refuse to use it. That time we would have wasted is something we can never get back and it could have been used on something more constructive and ideally lucrative as well.

Now I know the first thing media managers will speak of if you ask them about adjusting rates at this time is "advertising is down owing to the pandemic". OK, we understand that, but it was down for several years before that; that was the story I was given when I embarked on this journey in 2016, so do not hand me that pandemic BS!

The other problem I have is that these payments come in a very haphazard fashion.

Why should we have to be calling Accounts departments day after day to find out the status of our invoices, when we were told once the invoices were submitted before a certain time, the payments would come by a particular date? In my experience, some publications and companies keep to their word, others NEVER honour those dates.

Some of us have families to support, bills to pay, creditors coming to pick up items for non-payment, eviction notices hanging over our heads, repo men coming to collect the car (if we have one) - we cannot survive on promises and lies!

So, all I am saying is, If you consider freelance workers an asset to your organization, do not treat us as slaves - that is, overwork us then pay us starvation wages and take a year and a day to pay them!

We are people too! We love this profession and that is why we stay, but everyone has a breaking point. I have reached mine.

Now, in case you are wondering, I am no neophyte bitching about low rates and late payment because I have nothing better to do. I first entered the journalism profession in 1992 and have worked in print and broadcast media, as well as in Government public relations and corporate communications.

I presently have to supplement my income at an entry-level job in another sector because of the constant 'foot dragging' when it comes to payment from media houses. I am sure I am not the only one; but if my voice has to be the one to make a difference in the plight of my colleagues, I am not afraid to speak. (DH)

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