The Born Freelancer on Interning for Free

 This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in the comments. 


Whenever I read stories about corporate media insisting they have no money to pay their hard working interns (such as Derek Finkle’s recent excellent post) I think back to my first job at a local small town newspaper.

It was a sweltering, stinking summer. I was just a teenager in high school but I wanted to be a professional writer. That meant getting in print and being paid for the privilege. I had tried all the major outlets. Nobody was hiring. Then a very wise teacher suggested I find the smallest media outlet I could and approach them.

And so I did.

It was pretty much a one-man operation, a free independent local weekly erratically distributed to area shops and selected street corners. It rarely had more than a dozen pages (and often less). Even at that tender age, however, I could tell that it had that indefinable asset known as “heart”. It took on local causes. It reveled in naming and shaming.

And – most importantly – it might even tolerate a complete newbie.

My resume back then consisted of letters of recommendation from my English teachers and several back issues of an all-volunteer rate payers’ newsletter to which I had freely contributed my (limited) wit and (even more limited) wisdom for over a year. The overworked editor/publisher/owner kindly looked them over and shook his weary head.

What he was really needed was a sales person. There were no editorial staff positions as such. But something about me must have reminded him of himself at a younger age or else he was having a “be kind to the newbie” day. He said he would take me on as a “stringer”. It was the first time I had ever heard the word. I would, in effect, become a “freelance” scribe and be paid by the word if I produced copy worthy of immortalization in print. It would be entirely up to me to find the stories and make them good enough to use. This was the best offer I had received all summer. Of course, it was also the only offer! We shook hands on it.

That handshake would change the shape and direction of my entire working life.
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Posted on April 17, 2014 at 9:05 am by editor · LEAVE A COMMENT · Tagged with: , , ,

CMG Freelance to hold digital media mixer in Vancouver

CMG Freelance is holding a free event in Vancouver later this month for workers in digital media.

From writers to coders, digital workers all across the spectrum are finding it increasingly challenging to meet the diversifying expectations of employers. Media, tech, creative and communications workers are invited to come and meet colleagues, discuss these challenges, and hear about the opportunities that exist at the intersection of storytelling and coding.

The mixer is scheduled for next Thursday, April 24th at Rainier Provisions in Gastown (2 West Cordova St). It will feature two speakers: game designer, researcher and writer Elizabeth LaPensée and writer, designer and producer Sean Embury of the interactive media company Fulscrn.

For more info and to RSVP, visit the Eventbrite page.

Registration is free and snacks will be served.



Posted on April 16, 2014 at 9:00 am by editor · LEAVE A COMMENT · Tagged with: , ,

Off The Wire: News for the Canadian media freelancer April 8-14

Once a week, we gather stories about the media business, journalism, writing, publishing, and freelancing—with a Canadian focus—and share them in Off the Wire. Who needs a water cooler?

From Canada: 

From the U.S. and beyond:


This week on Story Board:


Spot a story you think we should include in next week’s Off the Wire? Email the link to or tweet us at @storyboard_ca.  

Posted on April 14, 2014 at 9:00 am by editor · 2 Comments · Tagged with: ,

Angela West: a Q&A with the founder of Canadian Freelance Writing Jobs



by Rachel Sanders

Every day, Angela West does a generous thing for young Canadian writers. She gets up, has her coffee, and spends 15 or 20 minutes gathering job listings from around the web and aggregating them on her own website, Canadian Freelance Writing Jobs. She’s also a freelance writer, who, over the past six years, has built a successful business based on writing search engine optimized web copy for corporate clients. I spoke with her on the phone last week to ask about her business, the reasons behind the service she performs for freelancers, and the opportunities that exist for writers in Canada.


How did you get your start as a freelance writer?

I started out as a webmaster for the first company I worked for out of university and I very quickly found that I enjoyed the web copywriting aspect of it much more than managing the website. Not that I didn’t like managing the website, but [the copywriting] is where my talent was. And at the next company I worked for I ended up writing some web copy for a client and he said “you know I actually pay people a lot more money to do a much worse job than you did with this. You should consider doing it as a full-time thing.” And I found myself working that over in my brain and going “maybe I should be doing this as a full-time business” so I hunkered down and started investigating how to get into it.

As a result of that, I joined PWAC, went to a few networking events there, and basically took any writing gig that I possibly could when I first started out no matter what it paid. I definitely got my start doing lower paid things to build up a portfolio.

I was sort of doing a two-pronged attack on publishing and the corporate copywriting. I wasn’t going full throttle at getting into consumer magazines because my primary interest has always been in the online world. So I really wasn’t making a huge effort to get into print magazines, per se.

But I do think it’s important to diversify, especially if you are doing a lot of work in the corporate world. The nice thing about the publishing world work is that it doesn’t matter how many websites or brochures you write for, companies always think you’re a “real writer” if you have actual publication credits! So that’s the way I view the publication side: it’s a great marketing tool, although there is more money in corporate copywriting.


When did you start
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Posted on April 10, 2014 at 9:00 am by editor · One Comment · Tagged with: , , , ,

Podcasting patent threatens independent media


by J.P. Davidson


Image by: Electronic Frontier Foundation

Like blogging and web video, podcasting has matured in recent years – from nerdy niche to viable independent media platform. Marc Maron is one success story: the interviews he conducts from his garage in LA go out to a massive online following. The show revived Maron’s career and even landed him a sitcom on IFC. But now Maron and thousands of other independent podcasters are under threat from a company claiming to own the entire concept of podcasting.

The company, Personal Audio LLC, sent letters to several independents last year, including Maron: “I got a letter from a patent troll. And the letter was basically a coercive invitation into licensing the patent – negotiating a fee for using this patent. It’s an extortion racket.”

“Patent troll” is the derogatory term for what’s technically known as an NPE – or non-practising entity. These companies own patents, for things like cloud-based file storage systems and online shopping carts, but don’t actually make anything themselves – instead they seek out companies that are using their technology and ask them to pay a licensing fee. If the company doesn’t pay up, they might get sued.
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Posted on April 9, 2014 at 9:00 am by editor · LEAVE A COMMENT · Tagged with: , , ,

Off The Wire: News for the Canadian media freelancer April 1-7

Once a week, we gather stories about the media business, journalism, writing, publishing, and freelancing—with a Canadian focus—and share them in Off the Wire. Who needs a water cooler?

From Canada: 

From the U.S. and beyond:

This week on Story Board:


Spot a story you think we should include in next week’s Off the Wire? Email the link to or tweet us at @storyboard_ca.  


Posted on April 7, 2014 at 9:05 am by editor · LEAVE A COMMENT · Tagged with: ,

Tyee Master Class in Vancouver: Creativity in the Digital Age

Vancouver freelancers, The Tyee is beginning a new series of Master Classes and there’s one this weekend that will be of interest to writers of all kinds. Creativity in the Digital Age will see copyright lawyer Martha Rans giving in-depth coverage to the complex and ever-changing issue of copyright.

“She’ll help participants understand how to protect their work online and off; how they can expect to have their work used and use work by others; how to properly credit sources; what fair dealing and fair use actually mean and the implications of this on a given work,” says Master Class programmer Alison Cairns.

The event is on Saturday April 5th from 10-3 pm in the Tyee’s Vancouver newsroom in Chinatown. The $200 class fee includes coffee, lunch, and a wine reception after the workshop.

Other upcoming classes in the series that may be of interest to writers are Build Your Winning Publishing Plan on May 24th and Two Day Data Bootcamp on June 7th and 8th. You can find more information, register for workshops and see the full list of spring 2014 Master Classes here.


Posted on April 3, 2014 at 9:00 am by editor · LEAVE A COMMENT · Tagged with: ,

The Unpaid Internship Conspiracy

Why Toronto Life’s first intern backs the Ontario labour ministry in shutting down the magazine’s twenty-one-year-old internship program and others that don’t pay


by Derek Finkle

Toronto LifeI won’t lie: when John Macfarlane called me in May of 1993 and offered me a four-month internship at Toronto Life, the magazine he then edited, I was overcome. I said yes as calmly as I could, hung up the phone, put my head in my hands and stayed like that for a long while, paralyzed by a mixture of relief, gratitude and elation.

Six months earlier, I had graduated from the University of Toronto with a master’s degree straight into the recession of the early 1990s, an “economic downturn” similar to that of 2008 minus the additional disruption to the publishing industry of the Internet and the digital revolution. The six months that followed the pomp of receiving that rolled up diploma were probably the six most difficult, angst-filled months of my life. I’d (perhaps naively) expected my entrance into the workplace to be a lot less challenging than it was.

There wasn’t much left of my savings and a five-figure mountain of student loans loomed. With no parents in Toronto to move in with while I looked for a job, I instead occupied my grandmother’s basement in Thornhill, a suburb north of the city. Determined to pursue a job in publishing, I bought a stack of stamps and envelopes, mailing out about a hundred resumes across the country. In the weeks to follow, I received a total of three replies.

What my resume said about me was this: I had graduated from an Ivy League university; I had written a novel for my senior thesis and had Joyce Carol Oates as an advisor; my thesis had won a prestigious award; I had worked at a student magazine; and, finally, I had been published in several magazines and journals while pursuing my MA.
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Posted on March 31, 2014 at 9:15 am by editor · 14 Comments · Tagged with: , , ,

Off The Wire: News for the Canadian media freelancer Mar 25-31

Once a week, we gather stories about the media business, journalism, writing, publishing, and freelancing—with a Canadian focus—and share them in Off the Wire. Who needs a water cooler?

From Canada: 

From the U.S. and beyond:

This week on Story Board:


Spot a story you think we should include in next week’s Off the Wire? Email the link to or tweet us at @storyboard_ca.  


Posted on March 31, 2014 at 9:05 am by editor · LEAVE A COMMENT · Tagged with: ,

Crackdown on unpaid internships a positive step, but the collective struggle must continue


unpaid internships

illustration by Shantala Robinson

This week, the Ontario Ministry of Labour told The Walrus and Toronto Life to bring their internship programs into compliance with the Employment Standards Act (ESA). Both publications had a long history of offering full time, months-long, unpaid internships for contributing to the main work of the publication. Instead of apologizing and figuring out how to give these young and/or emerging media workers the pay they deserve, both publications have chosen to shut down their internship programs and terminate their interns.

In Ontario, anyone performing work for a business or organization is considered a worker by the Ministry of Labour and is therefore protected by the ESA. However, if an internship is part of an approved college or university program, or if it meets six criteria that indicate that the intern, and not the employer, is benefiting from this experience, the internship relationship is exempt from the ESA.  Unless an internship fits into these two narrow exemptions, the “intern” is actually an “employee or “worker” and is entitled to all the legal protections outlined in the ESA – including minimum wage, safe and healthy working conditions, overtime pay, holidays, and EI contributions.

The rules around internships vs employees are not new in Ontario, but it is a welcome, if not long overdue, turn of events that the Ministry of Labour is finally conducting a proactive enforcement blitz to bring employers that use internships in line with the law.

Unpaid positions are a pervasive racket in the media sector, much of which enjoys publically funded government subsidies in the form of grants and tax credits. A quick look through most job search sites or journalism school job boards will reveal multiple listings for what used to be entry-level jobs, now re-branded as internships where the intern is supposed to be grateful to have their labour exploited, while publishers and broadcasters hold onto their profits in full contravention of the ESA and other laws that are meant to protect workers and afford them even a minimal living.

Hopefully this is a wake-up call to many other media organizations, especially those who are turning a hefty profit (TC Media and Rogers both come to mind): all of your workers are entitled to fair employment standards, even if they are young or relatively new to this field of work.

Unpaid entry-level work is having a devastating impact on workers, on the accessibility of media jobs, and on the range and diversity of voices in the sector. Students from less privileged backgrounds who cannot afford the financial insecurity of unpaid internships are increasingly unable to even consider a career in journalismIf we allow this trend of unpaid entry-level work to continue, this profession will revert to its exclusive past, impacting the diversity of both the people and the ideas that shape the stories told by the media.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour ‘s actions this week underscore the utter exploitation of junior media workers in that province, and they verify that movement on this fundamental issue can only come through collective pressure. CWA Canada associate members are joining this growing movement against unpaid internships in Canada and have been developing strategies to address unpaid internships and the barriers to entry in our profession.  We believe that unpaid work is ethically wrong and that workplaces have an obligation to create fair entry-level positions for young and emerging media workers. Too many workplaces have come to expect emerging media workers of all ages to have multiple degrees, to come fully trained, and to demonstrate unpaid “experience” as proof. This system categorically fails the next generation of media workers and betrays the public role of media in our society.

We ask that you stand in solidarity with us, lend a hand of support, and join our struggle for fair, safe, paid and accessible opportunities in the media sector.

If you are an intern or know one who is not being paid or is otherwise mistreated in the workplace, we encourage you to get in contact with us.


Katherine Lapointe
CWA Canada Associate Member Organizer




Six criteria

If an employer provides an intern with training in skills that are used by the employer’s employees, the intern will generally also be considered to be an employee for purposes of the ESA unless all of the conditions below are met:

  1. The training is similar to that which is given in a vocational school.
  2. The training is for the benefit of the intern. You receive some benefit from the training, such as new knowledge or skills.
  3. The employer derives little, if any, benefit from the activity of the intern while he or she is being trained.
  4. Your training doesn’t take someone else’s job.
  5. Your employer isn’t promising you a job at the end of your training.
  6. You have been told that you will not be paid for your time.


Posted on March 28, 2014 at 2:20 pm by editor · LEAVE A COMMENT · Tagged with: , , , , ,