“It’s not always clear between employer and employee who takes care of insurance,” says Normand. He recommends that freelancers discuss this upfront, during the initial contract negotiations. “When the freelancer provides the employer with the cost of reporting, sometimes they don’t put in the price of insurance, and then the employer says, ‘Oh, we have a contract for this price, you didn’t include this price, so we aren’t paying for this.”
But reporters often don’t mention insurance out of fear that it could mean losing the job. After a brief stint reporting for an aviation news service from Iraq, Kimberly Johnson knew she wanted to go back and continue reporting. She took a course on surviving hostile regions, and after lining up some “tentative strings” with newspapers and news services, was able to embed with the Marines in Anbar Province. The embed was a strategic move on her part: “I knew that if something happened, the military will take care of you to a certain extent, or at least get you to a hospital in Germany, and then I would figure out how to reimburse the military from there,” says Johnson.
She researched insurance policies, but says she “would have been making just enough to maybe pay the premium.” “It was an endeavor sparked by passion, versus common sense, as my mama would say,” says Johnson. After freelancing a few pieces for USA Today, Johnson was offered the opportunity to blog for the paper’s site; she accepted, and wrote a column called “Dispatches from Iraq.” Johnson also wrote stories that landed on the front page, above the fold, in USA Today’s print edition.
But insurance wasn’t part of the deal with USA Today, says Johnson, and she was reluctant to ask: “I do believe it would have been a deal breaker if I pressed the issue.” She recalls explaining the entire situation to her mother and recommending a course of action should something go wrong. “I told her, ‘If you don’t hear from me in X amount of days, contact Reporters Without Borders and Committee to Protect Journalists.’ And I said, ‘Go to local media with this picture of me smiling and every other word out of your mouth is to be USA Today,’” says Johnson. “That was my insurance plan.”
Johnson takes full responsibility for going along with this contract. “It was complete free will,” says Johnson. “I agreed to their terms to do this with them, and my intent in talking about this is not to throw them under the bus. They have their priorities, and so did I. My priority was to get over there and tell a story. I felt compelled to do that.”
William Dermody, the world/military affairs editor for USA Today said in an emailed response that the details of Johnson’s arrangement with USA Today could not be confirmed in time for this piece: “[T]o be absolutely clear, I am not disputing Kimberly’s account. I just can’t verify it one way or the other because [those] who may have had personal knowledge of her deal have since left the paper,” writes Dermody.
“I do know that since I have been in this position roughly two years that we have paid the cost of an insurance policy for contract employees like Kimberly who we have arranged to send to conflict zones,” writes Dermody. “However, we rely much more frequently on freelance journalists who do not work exclusively for us and are located in the region where the story is happening We do not manage nor direct these reporters. They are independent operators
“We pay a flat fee for the story and photos from freelancers. It’s our understanding that the freelancers provide for their own insurance. We greatly value the contributions of our freelance reporters We will always stand by them if they encounter trouble.”
Other large news organizations responded similarly. John Daniszewski, AP’s senior managing editor for international news, wrote: