The Feature

Vice sends memo in response to CJR freelancer report

September 1, 2016

Vice’s head of content outlined a series of steps to improve working relationships with freelance journalists in a memo Thursday responding to a CJR story on the company’s mistreatment of freelancers.

In the memo to Vice’s global editorial staff, Ciel Hunter acknowledged the CJR story drew attention to “weak spots that do need fixing” and asked editors to treat contractors just as they would employees.

“Always remember that Vice and freelancers depend on each other,” Hunter wrote in the memo.

Here’s the note in its entirety:    


Hi VICE editorial and freelancers,

Sign up for CJR's daily email

As you may have seen, yesterday the Columbia Journalism Review published a story about VICE and our freelance practices.

We’d like to use this opportunity to address questions surrounding the story, detail new steps we’re taking across editorial to improve the working relationship we have with our freelancers, and to restate best practices that need to be followed when working with freelancers, who are a crucial part of what we do at VICE.

As you all know, VICE is a rapidly expanding company, and as we grow we can—and must—improve the experience of working here, both for for full-time staff and for freelancers, which is why we’ve worked so closely with the new editorial union. While many of the complaints highlighted in the CJR piece date back to 2014 and 2015, before we mandated best practices and overhauled our accounts payable department, they do point out weak spots that do need fixing, which we’re currently addressing.

It’s our goal to make VICE the best place in the industry for freelancers to work, here are some concrete steps we’re taking to make that the case. 

Improvements we’ve made or are in the process of making:

  • In recent months we hired a payroll company for freelance producers, Cast & Crew, to ensure swift payment.
  • We’ve simplified invoicing to make it easier for both editors and freelancers, and we’ve hired new leadership in the Accounts Payable department, which has resulted in substantial improvements in how quickly and accurately freelancers get paid.
  • We are also implementing new time-tracking and expense-reimbursement processes that will be much more user-friendly for everyone.
  • This fall we are investing in a new comprehensive HR system that is expected to be up and running in the early part of 2017, which will drastically improve our recruiting, on-boarding and feedback to all VICE employees, including freelancers

We’d also like to restate the following best practices, which are mandatory for everyone:

  • Once a project has been commissioned, editors are expected to return emails or phone calls from that freelancer within two business days even if just to acknowledge receipt. 
  • When assigning work to a freelancer, expressly state the scope of the project and maintain clear communication until the project is done. Any follow up questions from the freelancer regarding payment or anything else are your responsibility.
  • To avoid potential confusion, document everything in writing—payment terms, scope of assignment, etc.—and make sure both parties have access to the records.
  • If you are talking to multiple freelancers about a specific assignment, clearly detail for specific freelancers whether it is a formal assignment or still in review process. 
  • If for some reason a commissioned piece doesn’t work out, we will pay a reasonable kill fee.

And finally: always remember that VICE and freelancers depend on each other, so when a freelancer is working with VICE, that freelancer should be treated with the respect as if he or she is a VICE employee.

Please reach out to me with any questions and suggestions, as always.


Ciel Hunter

The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.