Finkle going to bat for independent writers

Toronto writer Derek Finkle’s first feature assignment netted him a cover story in Toronto Life. It all started in 1993 when he became the magazine’s first intern. The story was about a sting operation on a paid hit and it introduced Finkle to key police sources that would prove helpful to his later work. But it was a formative experience in another way, too: the magazine never paid Finkle for the story.
 
“I was told it would be a great boost for my career,” says Finkle, who opened The Canadian Writers Group, an agency that represents independent writers, in 2009. It was a hard lesson in how difficult it is for independent writers to negotiate a fair deal for themselves.
 
Now Finkle is not alone when he sits across the table from Toronto Life publisher St. Joseph Media; he’s there for some of the magazine’s top freelance writers who want to have more control over how their work is used and how they are paid for work that appears in various platforms. Finkle is also actively negotiating for writers at Rogers Publications, owner of titles such as Maclean’s and Chatelaine, at Readers’ Digest, and with other publishers. As well, the agency helps market their writers to both editorial and commercial clients. And the CWG recently joined forces with the Canadian Media Guild, a union that represents 6,000 media workers across the country including freelancers at CBC, in order to broaden the effort.
 
“We need a system of compensation for new platforms that’s more fair and effective than the decades-old print-only rates that current fees are arbitrarily based on,” Finkle explains. “With the new corporate set up, the old handshake relationship (between editors and writers) has been mostly lost.”

Rates have moved very little in 30 years. Worse, since the settlement of the Robertson v. Thomson case in 2009,  publishers have been making sure writers sign contracts that generally allow them to publish the writers’ work on the web for free – and in edited forms that the writer, whose byline is likely still there, often has no opportunity to approve in advance.
 
“It’s important that writers put a value on the usage of our work in the digital realm and that we all insist on our fair share of that new revenue,” says Finkle. “If publishers want to warehouse our content and use it for other platforms, they should pay a royalty for that.”
 
Finkle adds that his work as an editor at Saturday Night in 2000-2001 and then at Toro from 2002 to 2007 made him realize that there aren’t that many “available, reliable and telanted freelancers out there.”
 
“There’s a myth that there’s this endless source of cheap labour graduating from J-school every year, but that’s just not the case. Making a living as a freelancer is a very, very difficult thing to do. I know very few people under 30 who are even trying it. If things continue the way they are, there won’t be any freelancers left and publishers will have to hire people full time for all of their content.”
 
Finkle is also known for writing No Claim to Mercy, a book published in 1998 about the prosecution of Robert Baltovich, who had been convicted in 1992 of killing his girlfriend, Elizabeth Bain. Soon after the book appeared, defense lawyer James Lockyear took on Baltovich’s case and secured his release on bail in 2000 awaiting an appeal of the conviction. The court ordered a new trial that ended in an acquittal in the spring of 2008, when the Crown decided to present no evidence against Baltovich.
 
“It was gratifying,” Finkle says about the role the book played in re-opening the case. Baltovich now works for Finkle at the Canadian Writers Group.

Posted on December 3, 2010 at 1:49 pm by story board · · Tagged with: , , , , ,