Tag Archives: freelancing

La Presse begins pre-emptive Journal scab watch

Catherine Handfield looks at which freelance columnists will bolt and which will stay on if there’s a labour dispute at the Journal de Montréal. Jacques Demers and Martin Brodeur (who obviously don’t need the money) would be out.

No word on Richard Martineau.

Steve Proulx places odds on those who haven’t declared, and discoveres Chroniques Blondes’ Geneviève Lefebvre also refuses to scab.

Quebecor, meanwhile, accuses the union of intimidating freelancers.

Journal stops demanding moral rights of its own employees

The Journal de Montréal has stopped a practice of demanding that its employees sign draconian rights waivers when doing additional freelance work, which require the waiver of moral rights, among others.

Whether an author can waive moral rights in the first place is a legal debate that hasn’t happened yet, but this is a good sign. Hopefully other media will follow and be a bit more fair in their freelance contracts.

Freelancers vs. The Gazette

The so-called Electronic Rights Defence Committee, a group of former Gazette freelance writers, finally had its day in court this week to seek class-action status for a lawsuit against the newspaper over online rights to their content.

The lawsuit, launched in 1997, was actually filed against Southam, which owned The Gazette at the time. That’s how old it is. Besides freely reprinting writers’ stories on the Canada.com website, the lawsuit takes issue with Canwest-owned Infomart, which sells archived articles individually or as a group, without giving a cut to the writer.

Precedent exists in the case, thanks to a woman named Heather Robertson. She sued the Globe and Mail over electronic archival and won a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The hearing continues today, in Room 16.01 of the Palais de Justice, starting at 9:15am.

For more information, check out the blogs of ERDC members Mary Soderstrom and Jack Ruttan (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3). (UPDATE: And Craig Silverman.)

(Full disclosure: I’m both a freelancer for and an employee of The Gazette currently. I don’t take a position here on the merits of this lawsuit.)

Should letters to the editor be paid for?

Thursday’s Gazette features some letters to the business editor responding to last week’s inaugural Business Observer section, and particularly my opinion piece about independent video producers being exploited by big media.

One of those letters asks an interesting question (which I jokingly alluded to last week): Should letter writers be paid for their opinions?

You are asking us for our opinion on using Web content with no payment to the producer. Well, how about you guys at the Gazette? Why don’t you pay the author when you publish his opinion, or even a letter to the editor? Writing something for publication doesn’t exactly take only a few minutes of his time. An opinion piece, or letter to the editor can take the author hours of his time.

So let’s be upright about this. When The Gazette (or any publication) publishes anything, there should be automatic payment for the author.

Martin Plant, Montreal

At some point, we have to have a discussion as a society over what line exists between freelance journalism (which should be paid for) and reader interaction (which shouldn’t).

The vlogolution will not be televised

As promised, my first opinion/analysis piece appears in today’s business section as part of the new Business Observer weekly page, which includes other pieces from academics and a small glossary of bizl33t from Roberto Rocha.

The crux of the argument is this: YouTube wonders and other amateur producers are being exploited by big media companies who want to reduce costs. Instead of being offered a freelance fee for their work, they’re offered give-us-all-your-rights contracts and no monetary compensation in exchange for the opportunity to have one’s video put on TV.

Some of you might remember a column from Casey McKinnon in the Guardian last year that was along similar lines, and my article is a blatant rip-off an homage and expansion of that idea. I talked to her and to Dominic Arpin, who hosted TVA’s Vlog show during its brief run in the fall. Vlog, as a news show, relied on fair dealing provisions to side-step copyright. They didn’t ask permission before screening 30-second clips of popular videos online.

Though the article focuses on video, the situation is analogous for audio and text. Media organizations seek “user-generated content” because it’s free. That’s fine for letters to the editor and small comments attached to articles, but what about photos and stories? The line between freelancers and free content is blurring.

Casey’s advice is useful for all independent content producers:

Start thinking like businesspeople and stand up for their rights. Demand fair contracts and proper compensation, and ignore fast-talking TV executives when they say “you don’t need a lawyer.”

If you have any comments about this issue, you can of course add them here (I won’t pay you either, suckers). The Gazette is also soliciting responses to the idea: send them to businessobserver (at) thegazette.canwest.com

(I’ll refrain from pointing out the irony of big media soliciting free content on an article denouncing big media’s exploitation of free content. But at least here you’re doing so willingly.)

UPDATE: Digg it?

Was Paul Pritchard a freelance journalist?

Via J-Source comes this blog post from Frank Moher complaining that the big TV outlets paid big money to Paul Pritchard, the guy who shot the video of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski being Tasered at the Vancouver airport. Dziekanski later died from injuries he sustained during the incident, and that has prompted an investigation into Taser use by police.

Normally, paying for news is outright prohibited by journalistic ethics codes. The reason is simple: It encourages people to make news for profit rather than report on events for altruistic reasons.

The media’s response is that Pritchard was a freelance journalist, who sold his footage just like any freelance reporter would sell a story to a newspaper or magazine. He wasn’t directly involved in the incident, and he had no ulterior motive other than to expose what happened.

The ever-growing field of freelance journalism, where regular people are contracted and paid for individual stories rather than employed as a part-time or full-time journalist, provides for a certain loophole in these areas. Instead of paying a source for an interview, you can pay a “contributor” to discuss a topic with a news anchor, or pay a “columnist” for insights into insider politics or whatever else they might specialize in.

How do we separate the ethical from the unethical payola? And which side does Paul Pritchard fall on?

Pay me, dammit

There’s an interview on YouTube with Harlan Ellison that really struck a chord with me. In it, he rants about how Warner Bros. wanted to use an interview with him on a DVD but didn’t want to pay him for it. He talks about how outrageous it is that this is now accepted practice, and how amateurs seeking a big break are willing to whore themselves out for nothing.

I’ll admit to being somewhat of a hypocrite on this issue. On one hand, I want to be paid for my work (because I need to eat). On the other, most of that work is based on interviews I do with people, and I don’t pay any of them for their time or thoughts.


I’m not a cheap date either

Michel Leblanc has a post about offers he gets to “participate in group blogs” which he rightfully translates as “give away your content freely and maybe get a link back from a blog with less traffic than your own”.

I’ve contemplated participating in group blogs. Metroblogging Montreal and Midnight Poutine are always looking for more bloggers. Some make vague promises of compensation once the owners are rich beyond their wildest dreams.

But Michel is right. Group blogs want a free lunch so they can make some money off your content. It’s not that they have bad intentions. I fully believe these organizations when they say they’ll share any profits with contributors (I also believe them when they say these projects are losing money). And if the organization is a good one with a good cause, I might consider providing them with some free content.

But when an organization run by people I’ve never met want to offer me the “opportunity” to work for them for free, I’ll have to decline. When someone searches for something I’ve written about online, I’d rather drive traffic to my blog than theirs.

Only I can hire me for free.

Cheap content

Montreal web-media darling Casey McKinnon has an opinion in the Guardian (yeah, that Guardian) about mainstream media trying to screw over independent web producers. With all sorts of TV shows popping up that are basically just collections of popular YouTube videos, it’s rather a propos.

Of course, it’s not just web video producers that are being screwed over. Newspapers are screwing freelancers and bloggers, new media is screwing over other new media, and all media are hopping on this “crowdsourcing” bandwagon, trying to save money by getting other people to work for them for free. Then they slap their own copyright notice on it as a crystal clear “fuck you” to the community that helps build them.

That won’t change until everyone starts seriously demanding more than just seeing their creation on television.

Scoble has (some) scruples (UPDATED: Is Scoble noble?)

Casey McKinnon, my future wife the co-host of Galacticast (which promises to have a new show some time in the next eon) is speaking out about being burned by PodTech.

It’s a good lesson for techy startup companies who think that because they’re cool they don’t have to treat people with the same professionalism that other companies do.

Ripping off a photographer is a prime example. I’ve heard countless stories of small magazines asking for people to provide high-quality content free in exchange for only the “publicity” they would get from having their name beside it, and perhaps one day getting a few dollars.

Not having enough money to properly get your startup off the ground is one thing. But PodTech isn’t poor, it’s just lazy.

UPDATE: Credit where it’s due. Scoble has responded both here and on Casey’s post. It doesn’t negate the criticisms, but it mitigates them somewhat. Hopefully PodTech’s act will improve as a result.

The full story? Nobody needs that

In another case of blatant editorial masturbation, The West Island Chronicle ejaculates the news that Peter McCabe (not this one, this one) has been nominated for a National Newspaper Award for this photo, which appeared in newspapers around the world the day after the Dawson shooting.

What the Chronicle piece doesn’t mention is why McCabe doesn’t work for them anymore. According to McCabe, the paper (or its owner Transcontinental) decided last year to go from using him as a staff photographer to abusing him as a freelancer and getting him to work for pennies. McCabe said no, and now he’s getting recognition worldwide for a photo his former paper would have paid about $20 for.

Kudos, Peter.