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Negotiating, fees, and expenses

Negotiating, fees, and expenses
Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

Getting a fair payment for your work while covering your costs is essential to make a sustainable living from journalism.

Written by Paul Raymond 

Remember: presenting your budget in a professional way will also persuade editors to take you seriously and help ensure repeat business.

What to charge for your work

It can be hard to know how much your work is worth, especially when you’re starting out. Should you charge by the day or per story? Your price can depend on many factors: how dangerous is the work? How much expert knowledge or sensitive contacts does it involve? Have you been published before? Is your work very exclusive and highly desirable? Are you willing to sell your work for less if it’s a prestigious outlet that boosts your reputation? 

Many outlets have a fixed rate that they pay freelancers, although it may be possible to negotiate a higher amount, but first you need to be informed about what’s reasonable. Fortunately, there is plenty of information out there to help you set a price.

Contently’s Freelance Rates Database includes information on over 150 outlets and what they pay freelancers. The information is anonymously submitted by journalists. 

Who pays writers? is another anonymous, crowdsourced list of which publications pay freelance writers, and how much. A similar site, Who pays photographers? provides the same kind of service for photographers. As a rule, $100 per day is the minimum acceptable day rate for fixing, but you can charge more if there is significant danger or difficulty involved.

“Be realistic in your pricing, you can't charge hundreds of dollars if you have no experience, but you shouldn't work for free either,” says Emma Beals of Frontline Freelance Register.

Rates, Expenses and Budgeting

Preparing an expenses budget is an important part of the planning for any reporting assignment. It helps you to get a realistic idea of your ambitions and what your client is willing to pay for. It can help you identify costs you haven’t thought of. If it’s done well and presented to a client as part of a proposal, it can help you demonstrate your professionalism and negotiate a fair rate for your work.

What to charge for

Expenses on a reporting trip can include everything from bus tickets to battlefield insurance, so it’s important to make lists that cover as much as possible. Most of your costs can be organised under these headings:

  • Travel 
  • Accommodation
  • Visas and accreditations
  • Communications ­– telephone / internet / satellite
  • Equipment and kit
  • Medical and safety kit
  • Local hires ­–  fixers, drivers, translators
  • Insurance

It’s important to find out what your client is prepared to pay for and how their system works ­every organisation has slightly different rules. You should ask for a clear written agreement before you begin the assignment, clarifying what expenses they will cover, who will cover unexpected or emergency costs and when you can expect to be reimbursed.

With effective negotiation, you may be able to persuade the organisation to pay part of your expenses in advance so you don’t face a cash flow problem.

A final note: it’s useful to keep a record of expenses you incurred on your last assignment. This can help you plan and budget for the next one. 

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