You’re freelance… but your editor treats you like an employee

by Pip Harry
01 April 2016

Some editors and clients are golden. They send fleshed out briefs, give judicious, constructive feedback and have a thorough understanding of the sacred and time-honoured client-contractor relationship. Others, however, will treat you like a full-time employee, with none of the associated holiday pay and Christmas bonuses.

When your editor or client thinks you’re at their 24/7 disposal, has zero boundaries and texts you at 10.44pm on a Sunday to make a few alts and adds to your work, then you really have to get out your own red pen and draw the line at behaviours that are getting in the way of happily ever after. Some would say it’s flattering that they consider you part of their in-house family. And, yes, they’re helping to pay your mortgage/phone bills/holiday to Mauritius, but in order to keep your rockstar freelance lifestyle ticking along smoothly, it’s time to push back on your turf.

Here’s some ‘I’ statements to help establish your professional role.

‘No, I won’t do substantial extra work for no extra money.’

No decent freelancer minds doing minor re-writes and tweaks to ensure a story is hitting the mark. That’s part of our job. We do object to being asked to completely re-write a feature because the editor decided to change the angle, deviate wildly from the brief or add more experts, interviews and breakouts at the last minute. This is especially true if the finished work was sent to and approved by them personally three months ago, and they’re only just getting around to reading it now.

‘No, I won’t sign your ten-page, iron clad contract, the one that tries to lock me in to your publishing house and its subsidiaries to on-sell my stories around the world (especially because you only give me one story every three months)’

If freelancers wanted to sign lengthy, legally-binding employment contracts with companies, they’d be on permanent staff, right? Being freelance should mean we have some control over our work and where it ends up being used.

‘No, I’m not your picture editor/section editor.’

Many freelancers include the odd photo collect as part of the deal. It’s no biggie when it’s a couple of shots and you’re talking to the talent anyway. But when you’re asked to do the job of a photo editor and research, collate, select and send dozens of high res shots (for free) then you’re eating into valuable pitching or writing time. Same goes for coming into the office to help the team brainstorm feature ideas, coughing up contact lists and sending full 60 minute transcripts for 300 word stories.

‘No, I’m not paid to do your PR.’

Yes, we wrote a newsworthy article for you, that everyone now wants to talk about in the media, but that doesn’t mean we’re also available to conduct a live late night webchat, pre-record regional radio interviews on the weekend or make a perky appearance on breakfast television. Unless, you plan to pay us in more than exposure…? Didn’t think so.

‘No, you can’t micro manage me.’

I’m working in my snoopy PJ’s on the couch, and juggling several other deadlines, so I’m not available for daily project updates via Skype, weekly WIP updates and regular face-to-face meetings to ‘touch base.’ I love our close relationship, but I don’t want to feel your breath on the back of my neck. I escaped the office for a reason: personal space.

Have you been in this position where an editor or a client crossed the line and treated you more like a full-time employee? How did you handle it?

4 responses on "You’re freelance… but your editor treats you like an employee"

  1. Tim says:

    I appreciate this insightful post Pip. On a (slightly) related note, my partner was asked to be interviewed for the lifestyle section of a local magazine, only to discover that as the interview subject, she ended up writing most of the piece herself!

  2. pip harry says:

    I’ve definitely seen this scenario happen Tim! Particularly as editorial teams shrink and overworked journos are more and more under the pump to produce copy at speed and without support. But great interview talent who can write/communicate well shouldn’t do(unpaid) writing work for reporters with no by line. It’s not fair and it’s not their job. Hope she got great ‘exposure’ 😉

  3. Louise says:

    I’ve never felt there’s much of a choice with the contracts…is there?

  4. amen on all counts!

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