Press Gazette survey finds freelance journalists are happier than staffers - but pay is falling - Press Gazette

Press Gazette survey finds freelance journalists are happier than staffers - but pay is falling

Freelance journalists are concerned about falling pay rates and insecurity – but enjoy the freedom their work offers, with 94 per cent saying they enjoy their jobs.

These were the findings of an anonymous Press Gazette journalism survey filled in by more than 200 freelances.

Last summer, more than 700 journalists completed a survey to find out more about the journalism industry. 

Several partipants complained that the survey was not freelance-friendly, with questions asking about journalists' "place of work". This means the fact freelances rate their "place of work" at 7.3 out of ten is not necessarily directly comparable with scores from other areas of journalism. This figure was 6.7 for business-to-business journalists, 6.6 for online journalists, 6.1 for regional newspaper journalists and 5.9 for news agency journalists.

More comparable, though, was the answer to the question: "Do you enjoy your job?"

Overall, 211 freelance journalists filled in the survey and 208 answered this question. Of these, 196 (94.2 per cent) said they did enjoy their job. This compares with the overall rate of 87.6 per cent.

'Freelancing has never been more precarious'

Despite this positive score, nearly every freelance who filled in the survey listed concerns they have about their work.

Among the concerns, pay was most prominent.

The survey found it is rarer for freelances to earn higher wages. Out of the 695 who provided salary information overall, 173 (25 per cent) placed themselves in £40-50,000 or above. Among freelances, it was 43 out of 205 (21 per cent).

And at the bottom end, two-thirds of those who said in the survey that they earned between £0-15,000 a year were freelances. 

One freelance, who earns  £15-20,000, said: "Freelancing has never been more precarious. Fees are at rock bottom and it's not uncommon to be treated with utter disdain by commissioning editors – or completely ignored.

"Often you'll pitch an idea but won't get any response whatsoever, not even a brief 'no thanks'. It's gone from being a varied and interesting way to make a living to being utterly miserable."

Another complained that it is "assumed I will always be available at short notice".

A multimedia freelance, who earns £20-25,000, said: "The power imbalance between me and the commissioning editors I work with is a constant worry.

"Most are ethical, reasonable and very fine people to work with and for; a minority seem to view freelances as a free source of ideas which can be stolen and worked up in-house; a very small number of editors – but rather more publishers – seek to gain advantage of the power imbalance by enforcing unfair, exploitative and restrictive conditions on freelances, working on the assumption that we need the work so much we will agree to anything.

"Regrettably, they are all too often correct."

A freelance who earns £40-50,000 through television and newspaper work, said: "Zero hours shifts mean I have to often work seven days a week (sometimes 18-hour double shifts a day) because I don't know when I will be booked again so I am afraid to turn work down so I can have some time/weekend off."

A freelance photographer said: "No one wants to pay for photographs. Total lack of understanding especially when dealing with the BBC."

Several participants complained that freelance rates have been static for decades. One said they have "halved in real terms over two decades".

A newspaper and television freelance said: "How anyone survives on freelance commissions is beyond me. I do a mixture of shifts and commissions. Rates for commissioned pieces are appalling."

'I frequently type in the nip'

When asked to list the positives of their place of work, participants listed being able to see their families more and the freedom and flexibility of their work. In addition, two said they enjoyed working naked.

One freelance said: "Having been bullied out of a job after more than 30 years for refusing to sacrifice journalism for SEO, I am now freelance and enjoying working at home."

Another, who earns £30-40,000 from national newspaper freelancing, said: "I can work naked, unshaven and when I like."

A freelance national newspaper sports reporter said: "I work from home and happily avoid the office politics."

A photographer wrote: "I work from my car. It's a BMW."

A feature writer, who earns £40-50,000, said: "Working from home, I get to see my children grow up. Which is very excellent."

Asked to list what they like about their job, another freelance said it was "fun, diverse, challenging, unpredictable, freedom, stimulating, important."

Another said: "I start when I want, I go out for dog walks when fazing out, the coffee is awesome and I frequently type in the nip."

And a freelance travel journalist wrote: "No commuting, see the kids, no office politics, no stupid meetings."

Other means of income

Some freelances who filled in the survey made clear that journalism was not their sole – or even primary – source of income.

A food journalist said: "The rates paid by the nationals are absolutely outrageous. I get paid more by obscure trade magazines than the Telegraph.

"Increasingly, I think freelance journalists are looking beyond pure journalism to earn their money, i.e, talks, presentations, consultancy."

Another, who earns £50-60,000, said: "I mostly work with marketing directors and ad agencies, producing 'content'.

"I do this because (a) there's more money in this than in conventional journalism and (b) because there are very, very few positions in conventional journalism in which I could earn enough to support our five-strong family.

"Unfortunately, I miss 'conventional' journalism. A lot. My main concern is that I'm largely employed to foster illusions. Because of the sector I work in, I know this is mostly harmless. But it doesn't always feel good."

There are 64,000 people in the UK who call themselves journalists, according to the Government's Labour Force Survey.

And in June last year Press Gazette – as part of a project to mark the publication's 50th birthday – launched a survey to find out who they are, where they work, how much they earn, what they do, what concerns they have about their work and whether they enjoy their jobs.

Over three weeks, more than 700 people filled in the survey after it was promoted on the Press Gazette website, on Twitter and via email

The full survey, which is no longer open for entries, is below.



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