I was just reading an article at the Society of Professional Journalist offering some advice on freelancing for newspapers. Some of the tips, like “Read the newspaper” and “Know the value of deadlines” are pertinent and important. However, one tip got my attention:
Expect the pay to be small, if at all
Here’s the full tip
Typical pay ranges between $25 and $50 per story, with three-digit sums possible for feature pieces after a freelancer has a body of work under the newspaper’s masthead. Sometimes, however, newspapers will propose first-time assignments without compensation but dangle a contract if they are impressed with the results. Keep in mind that assignments may not be frequent or fulsome enough to constitute steady income.
One a few occasions I’ve pitched stories and columns to newspapers. Of the three newspapers I’ve pitched stories to, two have offered me fair payment for the work. The third liked my pitch. Their offer – I could put the URL of my blog in my byline.
I thought about that offer for about three seconds and then dismissed it. Why? Because if I don’t place any value on my work then why would anyone else? Sure, a link to my blog would be useful publicity but I can’t eat publicity. I need to be paid in order to pay bills, get food and provide for my family. I’m certain that the publisher would have sold more than enough ads to pay me fairly for my work.
I can appreciate that the SPJ is trying to provide realistic advice but getting paid $25 for a story isn’t good advice. It’s compliance with exploitation. A short 500 word story might take a few hours to research and write. At $25 – the hourly rate is lower than an unskilled worker would expect.
Would you accept work at this pay-rate? Do you agree with me that it’s poor advice to tell new writers to expect their work to be so poorly valued? Let me know if the comments.