2013: The Year of the Angry Freelancer
by Rachel Sanders
Back in January I wrote a post called 2013: The Year of the Freelancer. The number of freelancers worldwide had grown hugely in 2012 and the freelance trend was showing no signs of stopping. Freelance work was making mainstream news, which seemed to indicate a big year ahead.
Well it was a big year, all right. 2013 turned out to be the year that freelancers got really, really mad. Writerly anger seethed worldwide. Angry posts by freelancers went viral. In Canada and abroad, freelancers spoke out against exploitative publishers, bad contracts and low rates.
Here’s a summary of some of 2013’s angry freelancer news.
• The year started on a positive note. In January, the Canadian Freelance Union announced that they’d made progress in renegotiating Canada Wide Media’s freelance agreement. A large number of freelancers banded together to push back against the contract, which attempted to hold writers solely liable for damages in defamation lawsuits.
• In February, parenting writer Ann Douglas wrote a post on Story Board explaining why she was giving up her Toronto Star column. The new Star contract asked her to give the publisher the right to reuse her work without any additional compensation — or control over how her work was used. The post went viral, receiving thousands of hits and dozens of comments.
• In early March American journalist Nate Thayer wrote a blog post called A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist – 2013. In it, he recounted his experience of being asked to give a piece of writing to The Atlantic for free. The Internet went crazy over it.
• That same month, Australian writer Jennifer Mills wrote about a similar experience in a post called Pay The Writers. She set up Twitter and Tumblr accounts by the same name to keep the conversation going.
• Later that month on Story Board, writer Jay Teitel wrote an open letter to TC Media explaining why their new copyright-grabbing freelance contract was unacceptable.
• In April, freelance writer Amber Nasrulla came out against the TC Media contract, too, in a post on Story Board called I Am Not Anonymous.
• That month, the International Federation of Journalists also launched a campaign against unfair, copyright-grabbing contracts.
• In May, the issue of unpaid internships started to get some attention. An article in The Guardian claimed that unpaid internships are ruining journalism. In June, a judge ruled that two interns who had worked on the film Black Swan deserved to be paid. Here in Canada, Justin Trudeau expressed his concern about the exploitation of students and young people through unpaid internships.
• In June, a post from the Awl called I was paid $12.50 an hour to write this story got a lot of attention. The tone of this post was more resigned than angry, but it spelled out very clearly how difficult it is for writers to make a living freelancing.
• During the dog days of summer, angry freelancers turned to humour to express their frustration. In July, British comedy writer Nathaniel Tapley wrote a post called Of course I’d love to write for free.
• And in August there was this fun satirical essay from Molly Schoemann called Put These On My Byline.
• In early October, science blogger Danielle Lee wrote a post on Scientific American about an online editor for Biology Online who asked her to write for free… and then called her a whore when she declined. There was major backlash when Scientific American deleted her post.
• That same month, freelance writer Tim Kreider published a very popular — and funny — article in the New York Times called Slaves of the Internet Unite!
• In November, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain launched a campaign called “Free is NOT an Option” to draw attention to the issue of writers being asked to work without pay.
• Which brings us to December. Last week, freelance writer Chris Turner went public on Story Board with a complaint about an overdue payment from Venture Publishing. Several days after the post went up, Turner got paid. But judging by the stream of angry comments on the post, a lot of freelancers are still waiting for their money.
Freelance writers, it seems, have had enough. Rock bottom rates, late payments, draconian contracts and requests for free writing have us all in a state of constant, simmering rage.
On the upside, at least people are talking about us.
So where do freelancers go from here? Onwards, I guess.
Here’s to 2014. Hopefully it will bring freelancers more press, more solidarity, and maybe even a few solutions.