The National Union of Journalists publishes this guide to help freelances - self-employed journalists - negotiate the best rates and conditions possible for the various kinds of work that NUJ members undertake.
Being a freelance offers freedom to those who choose it - but also responsibility for tasks that employed journalists can leave to their employers, from negotiating contracts to dealing (eventually) with government bureaucracies.
The sections listed below offer advice on being a freelance.
Non-journalists may think that some of these numbers represent a lot of money for what sometimes seems from outside like little work. Staff journalists often look at freelance day rates, divide their salary by 365 and mutter about "freelances having it easy". No, we do not. Here's why.
A client will always have a budget for a job, but they might not always want to share it with the freelance. So when a client asks "What do you charge?" or simply states "We pay this rate", the freelance needs to start negotiating.
As a freelance journalists you own whatever you create - you have copyright and authors' rights. This is so whether you have been commissioned or whether you have sold work "on spec" or from stock. As a freelances have two kinds of rights in your work: copyright and moral rights.
A commission to carry out and deliver a piece of work often starts informally with a telephone call from the client to a freelance or vice versa. It is important to be completely professional from the first contact.
When you get paid is something to sort out in your initial negotiation. You should be paid soon after delivery of the work or receipt of your invoice (depending on what you agreed with the client). We give tips on chasing up payment...
If payment seems to be delayed, do not hesitate to chase it up. Telephone, or send a reminder, or both. Late payment is at least as likely to be the result of inefficiency as deliberate procrastination and if you do not remind a client, your invoice can disappear into a pile of paperwork or computer files. The more you delay the less likely you are to be paid.
Some freelances working shifts have found Income Tax and National Insurance deducted from their fees as if they were employed staff. This can be challenged. This does not stop them being entitled to paid time off.
It would seem at first glance that a freelance is by definition not "employed". But unfortunately there are details to get to grips with and they have important consequences.
As a self-employed freelance journalist you are generally responsible for paying your own Income Tax and National Insurance.
If your turnover exceeds the threshold figure of £85,000 a year (as of June 2020), you must register for VAT. Some people find it worth registering before they reach the threshold, in order to claim back the VAT paid on equipment. The high cost of photographic equipment can make this particularly attractive for photographers.
Some freelances set up limited companies that charge for their services and pay them a salary and dividends. For most, though, the cost and trouble will outweigh any gains.
The internet makes it much easier for unscrupulous publishers and individuals to rip off your articles or photos, in breach of your copyright. In return, it also makes it possible for you to track down such abuses yourself. Of course, you can only do anything about those abuses if you have kept copyright in your work.
Text © Mike Holderness & previous contributors; Moral rights asserted. The collection (database right) © National Union of Journalists. Comments to email@example.com 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.