Observations of a freelance writer/broadcaster at the NPAC Photojournalism Conference


by Rebecca Hass

Rebecca Hass speaks with a photographer at the NPAC conference last month in Vancouver.  Photo courtesy of Andy Clark

Rebecca Hass speaks with a photographer at the NPAC conference last month in Vancouver.
Photo by Andy Clark

While my friends and colleagues in the writing and broadcasting world were at the Toronto Canadian Media Guild conference this past May, I was in Vancouver manning a table at another media conference: The News Photographers Association of Canada (NPAC) Photojournalism Conference.

My own photographic ability is limited to birthdays and holidays with the odd flower in my garden thrown in for good measure, but I’m a fan of story telling through photojournalism, so I was excited to be there.

I was there to represent the Canadian Media Guild, and showcase the services the Guild offers media freelancers. With the large number of recent lay offs for photo journalists from the major employers like Reuters and The Associated Press, I assumed I would meet a number of people new to the freelance lifestyle and I was  excited to discuss the rich world of freelance. I was prepared to talk about resources offered through a CMG membership — contract advice, tax implications, extended health benefits and the like. Armed with a plethora of pamphlets I was ready for anything. Or so I thought.

The conversations I had with photojournalists attending the conference surprised me.  There was everything, from gallows humour and reflections on the death of the art form, to cautious optimism about the future.

For those who had spent a lifetime cocooned in the model of full time employment, freelancing seemed as reasonable a suggestion as running off to join the circus.  Overall, the photojournalists I met looked at the future as if it were a cloudy glass.  The future looked murky and mysterious.


Freelance: Life Sentence or Opportunity?

The top two fears I ran into about freelancing were:

1. No predictable income. 

The biggest argument against the freelance career that I run into is that it has no security. But the idea of job security to me these days is laughable. Gone are the days when you worked the same place from graduation to retirement. You want predictable? My income is predictable. I work, and I make money. It just means every year my projects are changing. If I show up every day and work, like ‘regular’ employees, I can’t help but make an income.

2. I can’t imagine continually having to find the next contract.

“You need talent, ambition and availability in this work.  If you have all three, you’ll be fine”

-Moe Doiron, photo editor at The Globe and Mail, said at an NPAC panel.

I think that says it all.


What is the silver lining of Freelancing?

Ignore the voice of fear that is screaming in your head that it will never work out. For me, freelancing means actively creating the life I want to live. I chose to freelance many years ago and here are my top three reasons to embrace it.


I decide what project and why. Like a writer who is writing the next great novel, I can be available for my creative life and passion project, as well as the work that pays the rent. What’s really cool is when they overlap.

When and Where

I decide when I’m most productive and tailor my day accordingly. I decide on my work environment and hours. No cubicle for me. I always have a window with a view.


I don’t have to play office politics. I don’t have to please one person. I can take my wares anywhere I want.


Why risk stepping out of the lone wolf world?

While I love my work, the freelance life can be very isolating. It can also feel like every contract is one you must defend and hide from the view of others, like a dog that buries his precious bone in the yard. I met several lone wolf freelancer types at NPAC. The idea of the Canadian Media Guild held little attraction for them. From the perspective of guarding what you have and going it alone, the Canadian Media Guild probably seems like a dangerous idea. What is a guild, but a bunch of people who do what I do and who want my work?  Why would I want to meet them?

I looked up the definition of ‘guild’. It means: “An association of people for mutual aid or the pursuit of a common goal.”

I think the common goal is to make sure that freelancers can pursue their work with the expectation of a satisfying and rewarding career.  That’s worth banding together for and leaving your lone wolf world behind.

Being a successful freelancer combines individual strength and talent and the flexibility to also collaborate. And in today’s market, that collaboration needs to go beyond the current contract or project you work on.

As Charles Darwin said: “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

Here’s to the future of courageous collaborative freelancers. Long may we prevail.


Rebecca Hass has worked a freelance career that includes, opera singer, vocal teacher, performer, writer, radio broadcaster and life coach.  She lives in Victoria BC and is currently writing Wagner’s Ring Cycle in 10 Minutes for a summer fringe. You can find her on Twitter at @rebeccahass


Posted on June 24, 2014 at 9:05 am by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

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