CWG’s Derek Finkle on Nino Ricci’s letter to the Globe

If you missed it yesterday, familiarize yourself with Nino Ricci’s open letter to the Globe before reading on.

We asked Derek Finkle, founder of the Canadian Writers Group, which represents independent writers, about typical compensation for freelance travel writing and whether it’s common for dailies to leave an invoice unpaid for six months, as the Globe did in Ricci’s case.

Here are his thoughts:

Travel writing for newspapers such as the Globe and Mail or the Toronto Star is almost always done for lower rates than what’s offered by other areas of the paper, which is why we encourage our writers to concentrate on other opportunities. Writers such as Nino Ricci only take on such assignments because either a) it subsidizes their travel a little or b) they are getting a free trip (read: junket). They are not doing it because it pays well, or even close to well. Unlike the New York Times, which has strict rules, from what I’m told, when it comes to junkets or subsidized travel, newspapers (and magazines) in Canada, for the most part, don’t seem to share these ethical (and budgetary) luxuries. So if a writer like Nino Ricci happens to be going on a trip worthy of a story in the Globe and Mail, they might pay him a few hundred dollars for a feature, but it’s very rare these days that they would actually pay for any of his travel expenses.

Travel writers used to be able to make decent sums of money selling their work to publications all over the world, but when newspapers and magazines began demanding that most or all of their print content be published online as well, that pretty much wiped out that source of revenue. The “digital age” Ricci refers to has yet to offer any solutions for replacing the revenue independent journalists could once count on from resale, especially in foreign countries. In their mad dash to dive into the multi-platform world, this loss has been pretty much ignored by publishers.

As for the length of time it takes the Globe to pay its independent contributors, I would say that the paper is usually reliable, though frustratingly inconsistent at times. Here at the agency, we have developed a dependable network within the Globe (and elsewhere) to help us take care of overdue invoices. Still, problems can arise. We recently had to appeal to the managing editor at the Toronto Star (who was very helpful, by the way) to resolve a couple of payment issues (one, by coincidence, happened to be for a travel story) that had dragged on longer than Ricci’s. Right now, we have a story one of our writers did for the Globe that was invoiced in early December but remains unpaid. In this case, the delay was caused because the story got bumped (through no fault of the writer) and the editor decided, two months after receiving the invoice, to kill the story.

The editor offered a kill fee — about a third of the agreed-upon fee. When I told him a) that the writer in question had delivered on his end of the bargain and b) that Globe staffers still get paid their full salaries when their stories get bumped or killed, he asked me to resubmit the invoice. We are hopefully close to resolving this, but it is frustrating. CWG writers sometimes take advantage of the fact that we are able to advance some or all of the outstanding amount due in these situations.

As it turns out, Ricci’s tactic was a success. John McGrath wrote on Toronto Life‘s The Informer blog yesterday that when Ricci checked his email just hours after posting his letter, there were messages from John Stackhouse and other Globe staff promising that the cheque was — not just figuratively, but literally — in the mail.

Posted on March 24, 2011 at 8:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , , , , ,

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