Online tech blog, The Kernel , has never been a stranger to controversy. Known for its irreverent attempt to ‘fix European technology journalism’ in the eight months since its launch it has frequently come under fire for its ‘negative coverage’ of the London start-up scene.
However it was at the centre of a new storm last week with the news reported by Media Guardian that Kernel is being sued in an employment tribunal by some of its former staff and two of its former freelance contributors for non-payment.
Editor in Chief, Milo Yiannopoulos wrote a note on the website refuting the claims saying there were some issues with late payments that would be rectified soon and were not on as a large scale as reported.
Regardless of the outcome of this case, it got me thinking about my own rather lacklustre attempts at freelance journalism over the past few months and how getting paid for writing regular articles is still eluding me.
The question of payment for journalists just starting out in the business is a contentious issue with so many young wannabes willing to write for free that securing well-paid and frequent commissions can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. Whilst I was still in university and still being supported by my student loan I didn’t mind writing for free. Now that I’m supposedly starting out as a professional journalist, I’ve been wondering increasingly about when and how to ask for money.
It’s easy to think that once you establish a relationship with a client they’d turn around and offer to pay you for your hard work but why pay for something you get for free? It’s not mean-spirited or greedy; it just makes more business sense.
So the onus has to be on you to go out and make people pay. Yet where do you start? How do you bring up the topic in your brief pitch emails? How do you know when you’ve substantially built up a relationship with the commissioning editor that you can suggest you deserve payment? How do you suggest it in a tactful enough way that they don’t start ignoring your emails?
Given most people’s natural reticence to talk about money, the fact that many writers may not feel comfortable using such forthright sales style aggression (I know I don’t) and for many wannabes it’s a stop gap rather than a full-time job, it’s all too easy to complain that you should be paid without doing anything to make it happen.
But the mountain won’t come to Mohammad.
I know I speak from experience here. I still haven’t managed to bring up the topic of payment with any of the people I’ve worked with; I’m far too insecure about the quality of my work, I don’t want to push my luck etc, etc. As a result I still haven’t been paid for anything.
However I am determined to change this. I have already got a list of things I will and will not do firmly set in my mind.
For instance I won’t write for free without a byline anymore. There is simply nothing in it for me. I remember being contacted by a well-known women’s magazine in April asking me to do a little research for a story on student life. As it was clear I’d get no credit or recognition for my work I declined. I would have got nothing out of it other than one associate editor at a magazine I don’t have much interest in remembering my name.
It could be seen as petulant and foolish but there comes a point where you have to stand up for yourself. It’s important to treat every commission and every agreement like a business transaction. We act as if writing for free is just the inevitable ‘paying your dues’ part of entering the industry but this is only because we let it be. No-one is ‘expecting us’ to write for free (unless we are writing for blogs who genuinely can’t afford to pay anyone), we do it because we don’t take the opportunity to stand up for ourselves.
I am as bad as anyone at this but it will get better. I am determined to make a proper go of freelancing during this supposed gap year and hopefully I’ll pluck up the courage to actually ask someone for money by the end of it.
If you want to be a professional, you have to act like one.
Image on home page by Images of Money
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look