Let’s be frank. Too many news organizations treat freelancers like garbage. Not all, and probably not most, but too many. There’s often meager compensation that takes too long to process. Some publishers want you to work for free. And in some cases, publishers promise compensation and never pay up.
This warped system leaves freelancers with few places for empowerment. But those who want to fight back can now take action on Pay Me Please, a website built for journalists to expose publishers that failed to fulfill payments for work.
Iona Craig, a freelance journalist based in Yemen who writes for The Times and USA Today, thought of the project after multiple BBC outlets withheld her compensation. To launch the initiative, Craig teamed with Beacon Reader, a Netflix for journalism where donors fund a particular writer for $5 a month in exchange for access to every story on Beacon. Five months later, 103 jobs have been listed on Pay Me Please from around the world. Some of the discredited publishers — like BBC, Al Jazeera, and the Associated Press — might surprise you.
As the BBC owes many freelance journos money. If I’m not paid in 10 days I’ll be creating an open source doc. for all to add their dues to.
— Iona Craig أيونا (@ionacraig) October 20, 2013
In an email, Craig wrote, “Big news organizations are relying on freelancers more than ever these days. Unfortunately their payment systems for freelancers don’t seem to be keeping up with that pace of change.” Most freelancers, not just journalists, deal with a financial lag likely lasting between two weeks and three months as their invoices snail through various accounting departments. But even veteran journalists like Craig can get stiffed. “It happens,” she said. “And it’s often some of the biggest names in the media industry who are the worst culprits.”
If a company snubbed a salaried employee without cause, it would be sued and forced to pay. When publishers do it to freelancers, the legal disputes can get more complicated, especially for writers, photographers, and videographers who may not be able to afford legal fees. Since Craig travels constantly and works thousands of miles from her clients, hunting down money becomes a logistical issue. As she argued on Beacon’s blog, “a return ticket to stake your claim will often cost more in travel expenses and time spent not working than the money you’re owed in the first place.”
[Editor’s Note: This is an issue important to us at Contently and a primary reason we pay our writers immediately upon submission.]
Thus far, 16 payment disputes on the site have been settled, but according to Craig, some writers haven’t even needed to openly shame publishers to see results: “When they’ve threatened to add publications to Pay Me Please, journalists have told me just the threat alone has been enough for them pay up immediately.”
When payments are settled, the publishers aren’t erased from the list. Instead, the job remains highlighted in green and the price is crossed out. It might be a small detail, but keeping the publishers listed is one way for writers to see what news outlets have been deceitful, even after those outlets eventually clean up their deception. And for publishers concerned about bad press, a link exists at the bottom of the page if they’re interested in settling a debt.
Pay Me Please is still a relatively a hidden site, but the more people know about it, the more useful it can become for journalists looking to force accountability. One writer even received payment for work more than five years old. Craig would prefer if she didn’t have to resort to “naming and shaming,” but at the moment, her creation is one of the few tools available to disenfranchised creatives.
“As I’ve said to many people who’ve asked me to work for free,” Craig explained, “I’m running a business, not a charity.”
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