Editors To Freelancers: About That Raise You Were Expecting…

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By: Susan Johnston | Ebyline

The pay stinks but at least there’s plenty of it. Freelance writers shouldn’t bank on rates increasing anytime soon and may actually see their pay, already stagnant for years, fall if the results of a recent editor poll conducted by Editor & Publisher and Ebyline are any indication. Just eight percent of editors polled said they thought freelance rates were likely to increase in the next 12 months, although 28% said they thought they’ll use freelancers more in the next year.

The survey, which garnered responses from 771 editors, revealed some interesting changes in how editors see their newsroom roles. It also held some insights for freelancers hoping a more confident journalism industry might finally pull pay higher. Overall, 61 percent of editors disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, ”My publication will increase pay rates to freelancers for original content in the next 12 months.”

Website editors were the most likely to think rates will go up, with 11% agreeing or strongly agreeing. Perhaps surprisingly, trade publication/magazine editors were the most pessimistic on rates: 66 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed. Glossy rates have, at least anecdotally, held up better than newspaper and online rates in the last ten years, a trend that may finally be succumbing to the glut of laid off reporters and the sluggish advertising environment.

Marketers picking up slack

Still, freelancers are in heavy use at many titles. Three quarters of editors said freelancers produce some or most of the content they edit and on average freelancers produce roughly a third of the content at respondents’ publications. Just 14% do not use freelancers at all.

One reason for the heavy reliance on freelancers is the proliferation of corporate and marketing publications and sites that require professional journalists, says Jennie Phipps, editor and publisher of FreelanceSuccess.com. Phipps has watched freelance assignments from newspapers and magazines decline over the past several years while custom content and content marketing jobs have surged.

“The amount of work offered by businesses—from small companies to corporate giants—has exploded,” Phipps says. “Business decision makers thought initially that blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other sorts of social media was a fad that could be handled, if really necessary, by staff members. But they were wrong.”

Email, cold calls and Twitter

In terms of finding work, nothing seems to beat old-fashioned networking and crafting of pitches. Over two thirds of editors use networks and personal introductions to find freelancers and nearly half wait for freelancers to pitch them. Speaking of pitches, nine of ten editors prefer a pitch email or letter, with submission form or template a distant second. Despite the hype over social media, most editors preferred getting a cold call to being pitched via Twitter or Facebook (not surprisingly, online editors were the exception).

Jake Poinier, who has surveyed freelancers and freelance clients annually since 2009 for Boomvang Creative’s Freelance Forecast, says that, based on his survey and his own experiences, word of mouth and referrals consistently trump connections made via social media. “I continue to be surprised at how apparently ineffective social media is relative to the amount of buzz surrounding it. It’s a tool, but you shouldn’t be fooled into thinking it’s a shortcut.”

For more on the poll results, check out our earlier post: America’s editors: story still rules but social, audience and revenue loom.

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work appears in Bankrate.com, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, MediaBistro.com, Parade Magazine, and SELF, among other places. She is the author of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets and blogs at The Urban Muse.

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