A fair deal from the field

Updated:April 2016


Local freelance journalists working for foreign outlets as fixers or reporters face a specific set of challenges.

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Written by Paul Raymond

You may be fixing, stringing, doing your own reporting or a mix of all three. In all cases, it’s important to be aware of your rights and know how to avoid being exploited.


Negotiating a Fair Price

When there’s not much work available, it can be tempting to accept the conditions you are offered rather than risk missing an opportunity, says Ahmed Ellali, a fixer who has worked in Tunisia and Libya. 

“The work of a fixer is temporary, and there are lots of fixers working,” he says. 

This can put locals, both fixers and journalists, in a position of weakness. Therefore, understanding the marketplace is a key freelance skill. It’s vital to know what others are charging for similar work, understand exactly what the client wants and get a written agreement before you start. 

Ahmed says that when he has an offer of fixing work he asks his friends in the area about what price to charge. This post shows where you can find information on what outlets pay for written and photographic work. 

But not every assignment is the same. Sometimes clients  will have unrealistic expectations of what is possible. Extra danger or difficulty means it’s fair to ask for more money. It’s important to discuss these before beginning a project.

“Ask what the employer is expecting and evaluate if they can do it or not,” says a Libyan fixer in Tripoli who has worked for major news organisations. He advises fixers to charge extra for assignments that involve greater risks.

“If you feel what is asked is too dangerous, you can always say that you can't do it,” he says. 

Tip: If you’re negotiating with journalists coming from abroad, remind them to bring enough cash for their trip in case there are no credit card facilities available. 
 

Get a Written Agreement

This is the golden rule of freelancing. A written contract ­ or even an email chain ­ can help prevent misunderstandings and give you a way of applying pressure if the outlet tries to back out of an agreement.

Ellali warns that unprofessional clients can easily break a verbal agreement. 

“The solution in my view is to always get a contract that forces each side to respect the other, sets the rate and the date of payment,” he says. “A contract is a commitment by both sides ­the fixer can’t behave badly, nor can the foreign journalist humiliate the fixer.”


Should you ever volunteer work?

As a local journalist or fixer, you might be approached by a foreign journalist for information, contacts or favours. Helping them can be useful for building a good relationship and may lead to paid work, but you should be careful not to be exploited. If you suspect you’re doing all the giving, it’s time to start charging.

“Don't let them just plunder your information. Build good relationships and help if they help you, but otherwise charge them,” says Emma Beals of the Frontline Freelance Register. 

When it comes down to it, a polite but confident attitude that shows editors and fellow journalists that you know how much you’re worth will go a long way.
 
Image credit: Wikimedia

 

Go to the next chapter: Safety and Ethics on Assignment

 
Created: March 2016

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