This is the latest installment of Dear WordCount, an advice column that answers your questions about writing, blogging and running a freelance business.
I recently switched careers to focus on writing. I have a few terrific opportunities but don’t have enough experience to know the fair market price for freelance newspaper work. I thought you may be able to give me some clarification.
I hate to say it, but the answer to your question is, “It depends.” Rates depend on a lot of things, including the market, the writer’s experience and the subject.
Newspapers don’t pay as much these days as they used to. You also need to research the papers you’re interested in writing for to see if they use freelancers: some do, some use stringers – writers who freelance for them on a regular basis – and some don’t.
Online resources for finding newspaper freelance rates
Some of the best places to look for current rates are writer websites or forums, including:
- Mediabistro.com – Among the various offerings provided by this online marketplace for writers
- American Society of Journalists and Authors – A national organization for professional freelance writers with a rates database that’s available only to dues-paying members.
- Freelance Success – A subscription-based online resource for all types of freelance writers that also maintains a rates database. Subscription is $99/a year.
- UPOD – A Yahoo group for professional freelancers that’s free to join and is populated mainly by veteran writers who contribute to high-level publications. One nice thing about virtual writers’ groups – since membership is geographically diverse, people are pretty open about sharing information like rates and fees.
- JournalismJobs – Most of the opportunities listed in this newspapaer industry employment site are full time, but every once in a while freelance or contract positions pop up. Investigating what those freelance jobs are paying might help bring the going rate for that type of work into focus.
- LinkedIn Jobs – Like the previous site, most editorial opportunities listed in LinkedIn’s Jobs section are full time. But every so often, the listings include freelance and contract positions.
A few other places to find out about rates:
- The Writer’s Digest Writer’s Market Guide to Getting Published – This publication lists all kinds of freelance markets, though because rates change all of the time this annual directory might not be entirely up to date.
- Local writing groups – There are regional writing groups throughout the country, including local chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, and to a lesser extent, the Online News Association, plus independent groups such as the Independent Writers of Southern California. Joining one of them might be another way to pick up info on current rates.
I’ve freelanced for several major daily newspapers and news services. One national daily paid me $1 a word; another about $300 for a weekly online column. From 1995 to 2000, I freelanced a 750-word, weekly column for Reuters and was paid a monthly retainer that topped out at about $1/word. But that was an eternity ago in the newspaper industry, and papers were in much better financial shape then.
Regardless of the rate, negotiate payment terms carefully. Have a contract and build language into it that would bump up the fee if the newspaper stories or columns you write get picked up by a newspaper syndicate. Also negotiate rights. Try to retain them exclusively or in some shared fashion so you can re-print stories or columns in a book if that’s something you’d ever be interested in doing.
Do you freelance for newspapers? If so, what types of rates are you getting right now?
Got a question for Dear WordCount? Submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org.