Nowadays, many nonprofit news organizations must operate with lean budgets and few resources, which can also impact staffing and the feasibility of bringing on full-time or part-time staff. It may not be a matter of choice but also a matter of necessity for many nonprofit news organizations to have one or more freelancers on staff. With this in mind, do you have the proper protocols at your organization to work with freelancers? This week, we offer some tips for news organizations on freelancing agreements.
Freelance work and agreements have been in the news lately. A big debate arose in the digital sphere about a month ago. The debate came about from a situation between Nat Thayer and the Atlantic. The Atlantic wanted to republish an article (in shorter form) that Thayer wrote for NK News and feature it in an upcoming issue but the Atlantic didn’t want to pay Thayer for redoing the work. Thayer posted online the email exchange he had with the Atlantic on the matter.
At the end of the email exchange, Thayer did not agree to the republishing of the article unless payment would be arranged for his time to redo the article. Thayer’s post became widely debated in the digital sphere about the role of freelance work and a larger discussion about freelance agreements in today’s digital media landscape.
So this week, I provide some tips for nonprofit news organizations on how to approach freelance agreements. A nonprofit news organization should make informed decisions about how to approach these kinds of projects and decide on terms that both parties agree to. Freelance projects nowadays are not just writing articles but can also include website projects, app development, design and layout of print products, etc.
Of course, each news organization is going to have its own way of operating and its own budget for managing freelance work, but these tips below can help whether you are hiring freelancers for the first time or you have been doing it for years.
1. Identify expectations before the freelance project starts.
When embarking on a freelance project, make sure that you are clear with the freelancer of what you want them to produce, when it should be completed and how it should be presented.
In turn, the freelancer should also communicate with the news organization their expectations of how they will work for the news organization regarding the project requested and the terms for how the content can be used.
By clearly stating the expectations of what you want and documenting this in a contract, it will make all parties aware of the responsibilities and it will avoid any headaches later on.
2. Create a contract to document expectations of the freelance project.
This ties directly into item 1 above. Expectations of what is requested by both parties should not be a verbal agreement but a written one. Both parties should find time to draft a contract that lays out all the terms of the freelance project – whether that is a one-time article or a series of projects.
The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) has a checklist of items that every client should consider putting in a freelance contract (scroll to the bottom of the page).
Another helpful resource is that the INN has some sample freelance contracts that you can check out and download here.
3. Identify payment terms that work best for both groups.
When setting up a freelance agreement, it’s important to discuss the payment terms. Payment can be based on the overall project, by hour, or timeframe.
Nowadays, the pricing for freelance work varies from organization to organization. The Editorial Freelancers Association has a good tip sheet of suggested rates for freelance projects –ranging from copyediting rates to web design rates.
Nowadays, being informed of industry standard rates are necessary to make sure a fair agreement is created between the freelancer and the news organization. The EFA also has additional information on how to set up fees for freelance work that can be helpful information for the freelancer and news organization.
Also, the method of payment should also be discussed. There are many digital tools nowadays that make managing payroll and invoices with freelancers an easy process. The timing for receipt of invoice and the delivery schedule for payments should also be discussed between both parties.
4. Identify a timeline of deliverables that suits the workflow of both parties.
News organizations embarking on freelance projects should understand the timing of projects and discuss the deliverables required whether that is one article or a website project and the timing by which that project can be completed.
Specific terms for the scope of work should be discussed and contingencies should be documented in the contract if the project goes over the time originally allotted. The EFA has some helpful tips on setting up project terms: http://www.the-efa.org/res/code_3.php
It’s not uncommon for freelancers to have many other projects going on at the same time in addition to the one they are doing for your news organization, so making sure that timelines are communicated clearly will be helpful for both groups.
5. Identify and document the terms of republishing, repurposing of content.
Nowadays, digital content can be reproduced and republished in a variety of ways and across multiple platforms. Freelancers should make known their own policy for the republishing of their digital content and in what forms.
Also, the freelancer and news organization should also discuss how social media venues can be used by both parties in relation to the marketing and dissemination of the digital content created by the freelancer.
The freelance agreement should state clearly how digital content produced by the freelancer will be used beyond its one time use, the protocols for republishing it, the payment terms for the work, and copyright or ownership information about that digital content.
6. Talk with colleagues about their freelance projects and agreements.
If you are embarking on a freelance project for the first time or not, it never hurts to talk with other colleagues in the industry to find out what kind of protocols and agreements they have in place with freelancers. Your colleagues may be able to give you information about specific situations or matters that arose for them on a freelance project that could help inform your own freelance project and agreement.
These tips above can help the freelancer and the news organization have a mutual understanding of what is required and expected from the project, which maintains the professionalism of the overall agreement and helps make the process enjoyable for all parties involved.