Getting paid as a freelancer

Being commissioned to write a piece or setting a rate is one thing; getting paid, however, is another. In many other self-employed trades, it is normal to get 50% payment up front, perhaps another percentage payment on delivery and another within 30 days of invoice.

Depending on the publication for which you are writing in Ireland, it could take up to three months from production and delivery of a piece to payment reaching your bank account. Processes in accounts departments vary. Some pay within a week or two, or within 30 days of receiving an invoice. With some newspapers, there is no requirement to invoice – once a person is set up on a system they receive payment automatically, usually two to six weeks from publication.

Thomas Crosbie Holdings, for example, pays contributors 45 days from the end of the month in which the article appears or 45 days from the last day of the month in which an invoice is issued. If you have to submit work for May 2 or do a shift that day, you won’t get paid until July 15.

On the other hand, RTÉ pays almost like clockwork every Thursday on invoices received the previous week, has been told.

Independent News & Media has an online contributors invoicing service. Contributors are paid once a month straight into their bank account, and are supplied with a list of cut-off dates for each month, before which one must invoice in order to be paid.

Even if an editor is onside with paying journalists good rates as soon as possible, management can get in the way. One former magazine editor told “The attitude of management was ‘don’t pay them until they’ve been on the phone a few times nagging and begging’.”

The kill fee

There is another problem with payment for work completed (and commissioned) for many freelancers that contacted to share their experiences: the kill fee or lack of it.

Correspondents shared stories of commissioned work not being used or paid for. In one freelancer’s words: “On each occasion, I had written the piece and they had accepted it. They didn’t publish it and I didn’t invoice them, as I hadn’t realised I was in a position to… I haven’t followed it up though because I feel my energies are better spent elsewhere. I think it’s a good way for editors to avoid paying.”

Another freelancer attributed the blame for not getting paid to themselves: “I didn’t get paid but more my fault really as they commissioned the piece. I didn’t want to invoice them until I was sure it was used. I sent several emails asking if it was used – I never heard back so felt embarrassed to send an invoice… and hence no payment!”
VAT conundrums

One problem noted by a freelancer is that News International refuses to pay VAT to the freelancer, insisting it’s an English company, despite the fact that the invoice is sent to a Dublin address.

There can be a chasm between freelancers and their editors, especially if an editor has never worked freelance and has no understanding of VAT. One correspondent told the tale of the section editor who didn’t understand when people added VAT to their invoices – he thought they were trying to charge extra.

Where it’s at

Some of the feedback we received in this survey was general more than specific. One freelance journalist was of the opinion that a freelance journalist could expect €200 euro a day for either writing or subbing work. Subbing is more lucrative at the Irish Times and RTÉ, and writing can be less lucrative when writing for magazines or websites.

Amidst talk of falling freelance rates coupled with having to wait or fight for payment, one freelance journalist gave the following advice: “The danger is that journalism is going to become like acting – don’t choose it as a career unless you have a wealthy family who can support you through many lean years.”

Does journalism still pay for freelancers, in your opinion?