Shop where everything is for free

TWO FREELANCE writers report being phoned by the Independent, who were soliciting opinion pieces for the paper's new online blog, The Talking Shop. One, who we'll call X, is a columnist, the other is an occasional contributor to the Independent, but is not under contract to the paper.

Writer X said of the Indy's call: "I let him go on about what an exciting venture this was... how it meant I could get my opinions heard and (then) I said: 'I have a column for that - and I'm paid, so what are you paying me?'"

"Oh," he said, "we hadn't thought of that."

X replied that they would need to be paid, after which it was "end of conversation".

Writer Y said they would write for money and that when the caller from the Indy said they weren't paying, it was "end of story".

The Freelance contacted the Independent to find out whether or not the paper was really expecting professional journalists to put their opinions in writing for free. The Indy's multimedia editor, Ruth Metzstein, got back to us to say that "We are asking people to contribute to a blog but currently these are staff or contracted writers." Asked for clarification on who "contracted writers" were, Metzstein added that those being invited to blog for free were only "columnists and commentators on retainers. Not freelance news reporters".

The calls from the Indy to writers X and Y were surely some mistake then, as both of them are freelances, not staff, or shift reporters or on retainers, which explains why their conversations were over so quickly. We invite readers, and the Independent, to explain commissioning procedures for The Talking Shop more clearly.

Kate Simon, mother of chapel at the Independent (chair of the NUJ there) said, "The idea that contributors.... won't be paid for work done for the Indy website is of serious concern." She plans to raise this at the next Indy chapel meeting.

All this demonstrates how unclear and slack blog commissioning can become. Blogs are first-person opinion pieces that appear online only, or online first. These should be paid at the "words, online" rate, but some editors see blogs as something to commission casually and for less money, or for no money at all.

On a positive note, the commissioning editor for Reuters AlertNet was able to tell a member - with some pride - that they pay the same for blogs as for other copy. And as reported earlier, EMAP's Mojo pays slightly above its minimum word rate for blogs.

For our investigations into the nebulous world of commissioning at the Guardian's Comment is Free online current affairs magazine, and for our appeal for blog rates ("words, online"), take a look at www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0711blog.html

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