OpenFile freelancers post open letter to Wilf Dinnick

Some of OpenFile’s freelancers started a tumblr yesterday to try to get straight answers from the news organization’s CEO, Wilf Dinnick. OpenFile suspended publication in late September, promising to return within a few weeks after doing some restructuring.

Last week, Dinnick spoke with J-Source about OpenFile’s financial problems. He revealed that OpenFile’s bank accounts have been frozen and its books taken by auditors, all of which has caused delays in payments owed to the company’s freelancers.


Freelancers left out of the loop

Although OpenFile’s full-time staff were warned about the coming hiatus, freelancers were taken by surprise. Freelance journalist Justin Ling first heard about it when the story broke in the Globe and Mail. He spoke with Dinnick via email shortly after that, but his subsequent messages to Dinnick went unanswered.

“When I first contacted Wilf what he said to me was that there was at some point going to be an email chain going to all these freelancers, but it didn’t happen,” says Ling. “And it seems to me like a massive oversight to just suspend operations and not tell your main staff… well, staff, employees, and contributors. So that seems like a big problem to me. And that still hasn’t been rectified.”

Ling says OpenFile’s hiatus came as a shock, but that freelancers likely would have been “very understanding” about the delayed payments if there had been more communication.

“With the lack of explanation we’ve just gotten to being cynical and we’ve started getting worried about whether or not we’re getting paid,” he says.

Ling says that shortly after their open letter was posted yesterday, freelancers received an email from Dinnick that contained an apology and promises that all outstanding invoices will eventually be paid.

“But, again, he really didn’t specify a lot of the details of the transition, what’s going on,” says Ling. “Didn’t really give us a more accurate timeline. So I think we’re all still a little confused. We’re happy that he reached out to us but we’re still uncertain exactly what’s happening.”


30-day payment schedule to blame?

Ling also takes issue with implications in the J-Source story that OpenFile’s financial troubles were partly attributable to its “ambitious promise to pay freelancers within 30 days.”

“I know the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, everyone I’ve personally ever worked for has paid me within two or three weeks,” says Ling.

“That’s really a normal payment timeframe. Thirty days is actually long. And to give him credit, in the email he sent to us he said that that J-Source article was inaccurate on many counts, so maybe that was one aspect that was kind of taken out of context. But if that’s what he really meant, that’s a bit absurd,” he says.

“And actually I have it on good authority that a lot of the freelancers were paid well beyond thirty days,” he adds.


Freelancer frustration

Freelance writer and photographer Riley Sparks also signed the open letter. He agrees with Ling that OpenFile was often slow to pay out invoices and that communication with the head office in Toronto was problematic. He says he and other Montreal freelancers emailed Dinnick two weeks ago and didn’t hear back. The lack of response finally spurred yesterday’s open letter.

“We figured this was going to be the quickest way to deal with it,” he says.

“It’s unfortunate because I loved working there. I loved working with the editor here in Montreal, the reporters that I was able to collaborate with. That was all fantastic,” he says. “So it’s disappointing to have to be doing this.”

Sparks says that with the closure of the Mirror and layoffs at the Gazette, times are tough for Montreal freelancers.

“It’s frustrating,” he says. “It’s not a great time to be a freelancer here. So this is a bit depressing. OpenFile was one of the more interesting experiments in new journalism.”


“Freelancers are people, too”

Justin Ling also seems to be feeling some freelancer frustration.

“Freelancers are people, too,” he laughs, when asked if there are any other comments he’d like to add.

“I hope if OpenFile comes back, or if anything else kind of takes over that market for hungry freelancers that they have a better understanding that freelancers are doing this for a living and that paying them on time and being open and honest with them is definitely a good business model,” he says.

Wilf Dinnick has not responded to Story Board’s request for an interview. You can read the email he sent yesterday to OpenFile freelancers as well as his comments to Ottawa journalist Melanie Coulson here.



Posted on November 13, 2012 at 8:45 am by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

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