On the one hand, simple sub-editing of copy for a website on a stable production system (or for Teletext) may pay little more than magazine sub-editing, even though more technical knowledge is required and mathematically rigid style constraints may be essential to the production working at all.
In the middle, editing and design work that involves the use of authoring and styling languages (HTML and CSS at a minimum, increasingly often XML and Flash scripting and so forth) can pay in the scale of computer programming work rather than sub-editing.
On the far other hand, some jobs are in effect business consultancy - what the client needs to know is how a website can change the way they make their living. Rates of £425 per hour were on offer for this in January 2006 and that's probably not top of the range.
Some clients want a "static" site - one which presents the public with a few pages of information that rarely change. They are called "static" because those pages sit there on the "server" computer waiting to be called up by the public.
Some need one of these, even though they think they want a fully-bell-and-whistled database-driven site - that's one where the web pages that the public sees are created on demand from bits and pieces stored in, er, a database.
Others really do need a database-driven site - especially if it needs to be updated by non-technical workers. In this case... Firstly, building a bullet-proof interface for those workers is often seen as an afterthought but actually takes two or three times as much programming work as getting the stuff out to the public, and is at least that much more important. Secondly, the fee for the job must include full training for all those workers. It's not going to work if they do not understand why postcodes must be entered in the field labelled "postcode" and so on.
Any rigorous and precise sub-editor can learn to build the first kind of "static" site. The markup language involved (HTML) comes from the same family as the old ATEX production system. The principle of the language that defines how the words are presented to the public (CSS) is the same as a good style sheet in Quark or InDesign. As with magazine work, a designer who thinks like a watercolourist - "let's just splash some Cheltenham italics over here, and paint that bit in dark blue" is storing up massive trouble for later. One who thinks like a librarian - "this paragraph is a list of actors, so I'll mark it up as one and use CSS to work out what they look like later" will be able to change the design of the entire site with a few keystrokes when, as is inevitable, the client changes their mind.
Producing database-driven sites, those with online shops, and so on, involves learning radically different programming languages. This may not look like part of journalism at the moment. But journalists who work on websites or DVDs will increasingly find that clients expect them to have the ability to learn new computer languages - and suggesting that the client might like to learn Mandarin and Finnish next week does not pay the bills. And with the much-touted "convergence" of media actually happening, the ability to work with scripting languages is going to be as basic, for some, as the ability to work with InDesign.
However the pages that the public see are generated, the "think like a librarian" approach is also a selling-point when it comes to reassuring clients that their sites will conform with disability legislation. Sites that stick to the Web standards are easy to make accessible to people with visual or other disabilities. Those produced by designers who are thinking of the screen as a rather small Chromalith™ printout, or those that clients think they have produced in Microsoft Word™, are often impossible to make accessible. And sites that work with antique computers in Africa and with text-to-speech programs also work on the latest yuppie status-symbol mobile phones.
Some clients may want to outsource the management of a website to a freelance or a group of freelances. A TV channel, for example, may want someone to commission and edit articles as back-up to a programme, update the home page and these new pages weekly, write copy "wrapping" older sites and generally keep things tidy. Many clients will pay over £800 a day to website design companies, for perhaps two days a week. Individuals, without managers to feed, may feel they can charge less, but should keep the going rate in mind.
Clients may want the apparent simplicity of an all-in price. Since requirements so often change half-way through the project, freelances should agree these only if there is a clear written description of the work and a contingency price for further work beyond it. See Notes on negotiating rates for Editing and production. A per-day rate is often in fact simpler and fairer for both parties.
Other digital media
Many of the same observations apply directly to negotiations over production of, for example, an interactive DVD or CD-Rom. In fact, the website-on-a-disk is an inexplicably under-used technology. That apart, the main difference is in the skills that editors and designers are expected to have: Macromedia Flash and Director and so forth. Freelances bidding for such projects are probably even more likely to need to factor in time for meetings.
Text © Mike Holderness & previous contributors; Moral rights asserted. The collection (database right) © National Union of Journalists. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org please. You may find the glossary helpful.
The National Union of Journalists must not, can not and would not wish to dictate rates or terms of engagement to members or to editors. The information presented here is for guidance and as an aid to equitable negotiation only.
Suggestions apply to contracts governed by UK law only. In any event, nothing here should be construed as legal advice.