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Pay day mayday


Louise Tickle finds exploitation is becoming ingrained with the plethora of free content


J


ournalism graduates interning at news outlets for bylines; Websites that don’t pay for words; Professional photography that’s being replaced with smartphone snaps; Specialist journalists asked to speak at events that have no budget to


pay them. Welcome to the life of the self-employed hack in 2018. Freelance journalists being asked to work for zilch is nothing


new. But the explosion of online platforms and the rapid evolution of communication technologies, together with the willingness of many individuals to blog their thoughts and Instagram their lives for free are increasingly the problem. Until recently, Kate Bevan was a technology journalist and broadcaster who received regular invitations to speak about her specialism – for nothing. These requests, she observes dryly, tended to go as follows: “We love your work, we think you’re wonderful, we’d love you to speak at our event – by the way, we have no budget.” Bevan, now editor of Which? Computing, has moderated the StopWorkingForFree Facebook group whose manifesto calls on freelancers to withdraw unpaid labour from the creative industries. She says the bottom line is simple: “If you’re monetising my expertise, then I’m monetising my expertise.” The group’s manifesto points out: “Every time you work for free for a company that could and should pay you, you set up a paradigm whereby you in turn become replaceable.” Although experienced freelancers find it easier to be


assertive than those starting out, dealing with the emotions that are provoked when someone presumes to exploit your skills can sap energy and affect morale. Journalist and editor Sarah Drew Jones says she feels ‘insulted and undermined’ when these requests come through. “When a PR or content agency emails to ask for ‘my take’ or help on a project, pitch, product, event or even idea, I tell them how damaging it is,” she explains. “Their greed and thoughtlessness is actually changing the DNA of the industry. It punches home that journalism is increasingly devalued. I don’t want to be part of that trend.” ‘Offended and bemused,’ is freelance journalist Emma


Lunn’s reaction. She has been asked to work for free, ‘numerous times by dodgy start-ups’, which suggest – despite


16 | theJournalist


her having 14 years’ experience of writing about money for the nationals – she might benefit from ‘the exposure’. “I normally reply with a curt email saying I don’t work for free and often point out that my ‘exposure’ is fine – after all, they found me OK,” she says. There are more subtle ways of gaining from a journalist’s expertise – and some blurry lines. Journalist, lecturer and coach Susan Grossman was asked by a fellow journalist writing a book if she’d answer a few questions on the phone. “I questioned payment but she said ‘I haven’t been given a budget for consultancy.’” When the book came out, Grossman discovered that she


was quoted throughout, and felt it was ‘more of a collaboration than a few quotes’.


Just reward, not free cheers


Recently, I’ve been asked several times to chair or speak at events without pay. Each job would have taken a full day, writes Louise Tickle. The first was from a


profit-making company. When I protested, the reply from the director included: “Almost always those we approach are happy to help, and recompense if needed comes from exposure…” Others were


universities. One was an invitation to chat to students about an article I’d written. Once I had explained the situation, he


was hugely apologetic and said he would put a budget line for freelance contributors into his next funding application. The other uni was


sponsoring a literary festival. The press office – which knows I’m self employed – invited me to moderate a panel discussion on domestic abuse, an issue I’ve written about for years. I would have loved to do it


– but there was no money, except expenses. I was told speakers


weren’t paid. Free tickets to other festival events and a ‘nice case’ of wine had been accepted by other speakers. My website is clear I give


talks and chair debates for payment so I’m staggered people reckon they can use my skills for nothing. Maybe they believe a journalist with national bylines is rolling in it. If only. Even if this were so, freelances shouldn’t have to point out that their skills should be valued in the only way that’ll keep them clothed, sheltered and fed: with money.


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