Freelancers Are Precarious. When Should They Push Back?
Hey Washington Post — are you reporting on Donald Trump so much that his notoriously thin skin has rubbed off on you? Like science, journalism improves with criticism.
THE WASHINGTON POST killed my story over a retweeted criticism. They told me I couldn’t pitch them for six months. Then they told me I might have an agenda against the paper. Then they went silent. Seven weeks later, when they learned I was writing about the incident for CJR, they told me they were terribly sorry; it should never have happened. In the pantheon of freelance horror stories, it’s hardly the most egregious. In my privileged position, I pushed back, I leaned in, I secured a commission and got my apology. Still, what does this say about the precarious state of freelance life?
To freelance is to put up with almost unending ignominy. Editors disappear for months after commissioning a piece. Some string writers along with endless questions and demands for more reporting, only to kill the story upon delivery. I did not get paid for more than a year by one prominent news magazine. Once, I waited 18 months to get paid a $500 “honorarium” for a 3,000-word reported story. These, of course, pale in comparison to the lack of protections facing fixers, translators and freelancers in in dangerous situations. But they are not meaningless. They affect how we work, what we can deliver and, ultimately, what stories can be told. The story that I pitched was not an “important” story. Spiking it has little impact. Creating an atmosphere that silences critics on issues of race and tone, though — that serves no one