Mainstream media is scamming indie journalists

Published by Village Portland on August 1, 2020
Edited by Andrew Wilkins
By ROSIE RIDDLE

Photo by Rosie Riddle

The estimated net worth of NBC is $35 billion as of July 2020. 

The combined salaries of four of the top five news anchors working for ABC News is reported to be $20 million. 

KOIN 6 News is an affiliate of CBSwhose market value is about $18 billion.

These are just some of the major news outlets that reached out to me a few weeks ago when footage I took of Multonomah County Sheriff Officers t-boning a motorist with their squad car after a protest against police brutality caught their attention.

This footage was viewed over two hundred thousand times, showing police stopping a vehicle attempting to obey their dispersal orders, breaking the Portlander’s window, and then t-boning their vehicle with a MCSO vehicle when they tried to escape a terrifying situation.

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Throughout the two months of protests that have been happening in Portland, Oregon, major news outlets have been reaching out to many freelance journalists here.

All too often our local journalists— who are putting their life and well being on the line every night in attempts to show the world what is happening here— are not offered compensation of any kind.

For me personally, these attempts to license my footage were particularly insulting.

On top of being asked to give up the rights to the footage that I took at my own risk and without any compensation, I was refered to as a “community member” and a “citizen journalist”, a term which apparently means “a journalist that I don’t expect to have to pay”.

This is despite presenting myself in every interaction as a freelance journalist, a job which I did previously for nearly two years. I have begun working as a freelance journalist again during these Black Lives Matter protests— and have seen many of the journalists out there being injured and burnt out while covering all of this.

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When Danny Peterson of KOIN 6 News contacted me, he offered “attribution” for the video, which he asked to put on KOIN’s website. KOIN’s website had a reported 1.71 million views in June of 2020 alone. 

When I informed him that in addition to attribution as, “a freelance journalist, Rosie Riddle”, specifically, I also required compensation for the use of my footage.

He claimed that he would ask his editor as, “we’ve done this before for freelancers”. A statement which to me indiciated that they were indeed in the habit of taking footage for free, something I would find out later is a fairly standard practice in journalism.

Erin Calabrese also contacted me from ABC News. They asked if I would, “agree to allow ABC News and its licensees to use and distribute it without restriction in all media” and linked me to a document showing their media licensing agreement which included a paragraph about how they would not pay for my footage, and several paragraphs about how they would be free to use it without restriction in any way, including distributing it to other networks.

Incensed by these interactions and these networks apparent disregard for the danger I had to put myself in in order to create this footage, I tweeted about it, calling on major networks to pay the journalists who’s work they wanted to use.

I also called out KOIN specifically for having been there, on the ground, but they left moments before the police began to be violent towards the protesters who were doing little else but chanting. 

A tweet calling on major networks to pay jornalists for the work we do, showing screenshots of direct messages I had recieved from two such networks.

It wasn’t until the day after these interactions that Suzanne Ciechalski contacted me with NBC News. They asked me about my licensing fees in the initial message, and directly linked to the footage they were asking to use, a first on both counts for these interactions.

I quoted them at slightly higher than my research indicated was an acceptable rate for someone as unknown as I am in journalism, and several hours later they asked for my email to send their standard licensing agreement for me to sign.

A day later I received said email, and had further questions, as the wording throughout was unclear and seemed to indicate that they would be able to source any of my footage, at any time, without contacting me. This left me to have to figure out that they were using it and invoice them to collect my fee, which they stated they would pay “within 75 days”. 

After sorting out my questions, and being told that I was mis-understanding their licensing agreement, I signed it and sent it back to them. Unfortunately by this point they had lost interest in using the footage they had originally contacted me for. I was told that if I produced anything else they were interested in, I would be contacted again. 

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Photo by Rosie Riddle

All this is to say, by and large, it seems to me like major news outlets do not value their freelance counterparts. In the day of the 24-hour news cycle and public interest moving on from things at the speed of the internet, I understand why there is a rush to source footage and get it into the public eye as quickly as possible. I can also see why licensing and payment agreements hold this process up.

But similarly, we live in the age of Cash App and Venmo and being able to pay people for their work near instantly.

Asking freelance journalists, who often don’t have access to the same tools and resources that big news outlets have to write invoices and sign legal documents we may or may not understand, seems like a deliberate effort to force our hand and say, “well exposure is good too, I guess”.

But frankly, until we live in a world where the cost of living isn’t a barrier to working for free, this is unacceptable.