Last night, building on the momentum brought into sharp focus by a piece I wrote for Press Gazette on the insidious practice of Payment on Publication (POP, piece here: Pop, go the weasel words...), a group of freelances assembled at NUJ headquarters, Headland House, in London, to discuss ways in which to keep the pressure up on publishers to deal fairly with those who fill their pages, and help them to make vast profits. NUJ president Tim Dawson writes...
The angry freelances were inspired to act by Eugene Costello’s Press Gazette article about 'payment on publication', a practice which impoverishes hard-working journalists. His article generated a massive social media reaction, provoked scores of positive response and led to a spontaneous crowd-funding of over £500 to cover his costs..
Last night's meeting agreed a strategy to insist on the kind of basic entitlements that sole traders in virtually every other sector take for granted - payment of fees as agreed, remuneration within 30 days of invoice, and respect for authors’ rights.
"Freelances are clearly angry. It’s great to see that so many people are willing to try and change things"
Some freelances travelled over 100 miles to attend the meeting, others gave up lucrative work to make their voices heard. Many more sent messages of support. "I have been overwhelmed by the reaction", said Eugene Costello, at the meeting.
Costello added: "How is it that every other person involved in putting together a story, from photographer to hair and make-up, stylist, commissioning editor and subeditor can count on being paid at the end of the month, while the writer who came up with the idea, made sure that the story came together and was responsible for writing it up has to wait months - sometimes even years - before being paid, and even then might only get a third or half or what has been agreed? It is patently unfair and discriminatory, and it is high time this abusive practice was consigned to history."
Attendees exchanged experiences – some deeply shocking. One, who regularly works for national tabloids had several times been unable to keep up payments on her mortgage because of late payments for work. Another told of his shame at relying on his partner’s income to survive. There were also inspiring accounts of freelances who stood up for their rights and were rewarded with better terms.
Among the resolutions was a plan to publish a page on demanding better terms on the NUJ website, survey freelances to investigate how widespread are abusive publisher practices and to collect examples of commissioning editors with good reputations. Specific publishers will be targeted to seek terms that do not denigrate contributors.
"We need to build confidence among freelances to stand up for their rights", NUJ president Tim Dawson told the meeting. "The NUJ is determined to turn this rightfully angry outpouring into an effective campaign."
Pamela Morton, the NUJ’s national freelance organiser, said: "This meeting is a great start. Conditions for freelances have been getting steadily worse, this is just the kind of initiative we need if things are to change."