Freelancing as a journalist has never been easy. Now it’s harder than ever. The number of outlets and full-time positions continues to shrink. The ranks of writers grow while the pool of available money dwindles.
CJR is both an observer to and a participant in this story. We get more pitches on the perils of freelancing than on any other topic. As an outlet that depends on freelance pieces to keep us vibrant, we also get complaints—about long wait times for feedback and payment, about editing deemed too heavy-handed, about rejections and killed stories that seem unjust.
As an outlet that sees itself as an arbiter of journalism done well, we take these criticisms seriously. We constantly work to address them, through better communication with our writers and editors and through increased transparency in how we work. This series is part of our own reckoning with journalism’s broken freelance system. As we continue to report on those shortcomings, we’ll aim to ensure that our own house is in order.
Which brings us to the question of payment. Writers are frustrated by interminable delays in compensation. Again, our own experience informs: CJR’s pay system is slow and cumbersome and opaque. Though we are a fully independent publication, we also are embedded in a gigantic university bureaucracy that has its own systems and requirements that can make getting paid needlessly laborious. Recently, we have started streamlining what we can control—invoicing on completion of edits, for instance, instead of on publication—and being honest about what we don’t.
We see this series as the start of a critical conversation about repairing a freelancing ecosystem that, for many, can be perilous. Surely there is a better way.
Editor and Publisher, CJR
Freelancers resist precarity by sharing rates and organizing
By Elizabeth King — February 25, 2020
For many workers, openness about pay has helped to make conditions more equitable. Still, they fear retribution.
Why can’t we pay freelancers in days, not months?
By Alison Van Houten — February 26, 2020
OutVoice dares publishers to pay freelancers promptly.
The risks and rewards of freelancing with a disability
By Sarah Kim — February 27, 2020
“I can better control how much of my disability is shown, or whether it is shown at all; indeed, all I have to show is my work.”
Why ethics dilemmas are harder for freelancers
By Laura Neumann — February 28, 2020
When do you make the call to kill an idea and move on? What if an editor makes a change that doesn’t reflect the facts?