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Halifax Chronicle Freelancers Unfairly Terminated Over Refusal to Sign Rights-Grabbing Contract

Freelancers who work for (or did work for) the Halifax Chronicle Herald are engaged in a fight that affects all of us. The newspaper has arbitrarily imposed a new freelance contract on its contributors that takes virtually all rights, and pays nothing in return.

A group of freelancers, led by some of Nova Scotia’s best-known authors, has taken a stand to say “no” to this rights-grab. So now the newspaper is refusing to even talk about it, has basically fired all these long-standing freelancers, and is seeking replacements.

We ask that you ignore these ads. Don’t respond, or better still, do respond by saying that you’d be happy to work for the Chronicle Herald just as soon as the paper resolves its dispute with its existing freelancers.

You can read all about the efforts to get a fair deal by going to: http://howenow.ca/ And you can also read the actual contract and other documents at: http://www.cfunion.ca/Halifax_Freelancers/

Finally, if you are interested in learning about the history of your business, please check out: http://www.cfunion.ca/vision/income.html. You will see what has happened to rates and rights over the decades.

The Canadian Freelance Union has been created to help reverse these trends. It would be great to have you join us: http://www.cfunion.ca/forms/dues_form.html

-Michael OReilly, President, CFU

Letter of Concern from Canadian Freelance Union

Why do publishers want to replace journalists with ordinary citizens? The price of “free” is enticing. However, while some ordinary people in other professions may be good writers, the amount of people who want to devote their free time to writing for a paper for free is probably quite low. A good model to look at is Huffington Post; many bloggers were happy to contribute to the site, until Arianna Huffington turned around and sold it for a cool price that was not distributed amongst her contributors. That turned many of Huffington’s contributors sour on the model.

The rule is, in any profession, if someone is profiting from your work, you should be paid. Citizens and writers alike. This is something that both the ordinary citizens being asked to write should be just as concerned about as the journalists.

It’s no secret to writers that publishers increasingly want to replace them, and their pay, with ordinary citizens. A recent plea for citizen assistance by the London Free Press which carried a subtext of disdain for the “old business model” of paying writers was posted on their website. Soon after, fellow writers and the Canadian Freelance Union picked up on the story and the CFU wrote an open letter to the London Free Press, which has not yet been responded to. You can view it on the CFU website as well. Reprinted with permission.

CFU concerned about LFP’s move to encourage “free” content

April 21, 2011

Joe Ruscitti, Editor-in-chief
London Free Press

Re: Make your voice heard in paper
Newsroom: Initiatives underway to enable the community to better interact with the newspaper
http://www.lfpress.com/comment/columnists/editors_desk/2011/04/15/18011841.html

Mr. Ruscitti, we at the Canadian Freelance Union (CEP Local 2040) are dismayed and frustrated that the London Free Press is now seeking to replace the work of professional journalists with free content produced by members of the community. As the national union for professional freelance media workers, we ask that the Free Press reconsider this decision.

We have no objection whatsoever with members of the public contributing news tips, or pointing to stories that need coverage. This strengthens the paper, and its connection to the community. But your column clearly envisions something much grander. By providing a professional editor to work with these “citizen journalists,” and even offering training, the paper is clearly attempting to replace paid professional journalists with the free work of members of the public.

In your column, you tempt the readers by saying a reporter’s job is “cool.” Do you know what else is “cool?” Getting paid. Instead of teasing members of the public with the chance to get their name in lights, how about offering something real. How about offering to pay for the work you clearly want?

There are dozens of professional freelance writers, journalists and photographers in your community who would be more than happy to work with the Free Press. They already have the skills, and the desire, to tell the stories your readers want to read.

The Canadian Freelance Union is fully supportive of the Free Press’ desire to engage the community. We encourage you to look to the large pool of talented individuals who would like nothing better than to help you with this endeavour.

We only ask that these people be treated fairly.

Sincerely
Michael OReilly, President

Why Google’s New Focus on Content Farms Will Mean Better Work for Writers

Last night, I read two posts that got me very excited. The first was this one from Business Insider, and the next was this post on the official Google Blog. Go ahead, read them. I’ll wait. If you are a freelance writer, you can’t afford not to read them. If you’ve only got time for one, pick the Google Blog.

If you really want to put them off for another time, here’s the gist; Google has fired a shot across the bow of cheap content mills. They aren’t pulling any punches about it either. The Google post’s most interesting paragraph is this one:

“…people are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content. We take pride in Google search and strive to make each and every search perfect. The fact is that we’re not perfect, and combined with users’ skyrocketing expectations of Google, these imperfections get magnified in perception. However, we can and should do better.”

And it is painfully true. If you’ve done a Google search for anything in the past few months, you’ve probably noticed how you have to click over to page two, possibly even to page three, to get a site that is at all relevant and isn’t produced by a content farm or Yahoo Answers. I’ve turned mostly to Twitter and Google News if I have a high level term that I know will be spammed to death with poor search results, and I suspect I’m not the only one using search workarounds.

Google has gotten the message loud and clear and while they don’t promise specifics, they promise some kind of action and specifically mention content farms in the post, so it isn’t a broad assumption to think that they’ll be changing their algorithms to look for what we writers produce: quality.

Why should I care as a writer?

As writers, one of the most requested items we work on is web content. Right now, this is for companies that “get it”, and we don’t have to spend a lot of time selling our services. If you have well written content on a site, people are more likely to buy your product. It’s pretty simple.

However, the game is changing for internet marketers and companies that relied on cheap quality content. While some of these people will  turn to other methods, some of them will realize that good content is worth paying for. Especially when they start seeing their search engine results fall after Google introduces quality control changes.

Do I want these clients?

In a word, yes. They’ll have researched the rates and will have accepted them before they call you, for the most part. They may try to work you down on price a little more than previous companies you’ve worked with, but in the end will pay your rate.

Will the content mills start paying more money?

If and when Google starts making the changes they infer in their blog post, the content mills may slightly raise their rates. But not to what they should be. Their entire business model is predicated on not paying writers what they are worth, because the goal is cheap content to start with.

They have tried to increase their quality by making pitches to hire professional writers and editors in which they promise way more money than they actually pay, but the results on those campaigns have been short-term as pros sign up and quickly abandon the effort after seeing how much work they are doing for a tiny amount of money.

A content mill’s business model is not sustainable if they start paying writers what they need to, or even twice what they are paying them now, which still wouldn’t add up to an industry standard of any kind.

When will this happen?

Google is pretty fast about implementation, and they seem to realize that this is a big problem for their company, not just a minor line item that they need to deal with in the next update. I’d look for changes to start happening over the course of the next two to three months at the latest, if not a bit sooner.

Site owners will take a bit longer to come around. Most will only look at changing their practices when their site takes a hit or two, and when that happens they’ll start looking for help pretty fast. If Google follows through on their promise in a decent amount of time, we’ll likely be looking at more business around the second quarter of 2011.

How do I position myself to take advantage of this?

Make sure you are aligned with web professionals and web designers, because when search rankings start to fall, they’ll be the first ones to get phone calls. You won’t be, since most won’t make the automatic connection between dives in search engine results and writers, especially if they’ve been used to buying cheaper content in the past that has worked for them.

If you haven’t focused a lot on web content yet, pick up the Yahoo Style Guide. In the end, there are no great tricks or secrets, just a different style of writing and an awareness of how readers are approaching your copy online. I wouldn’t recommend picking up any spammy “LEARN WEB WRITING NOW” e-books – everything you need is really in the Yahoo Guide, and also in any usability tips you can find on useit.com.

There’s going to be a lot of speculation until Google actually takes action on what they’ll do and when they’ll do it, but as writers we should expect something to happen in 2011, and we should make sure we’re ready for that business when it comes in.

Stephen Fry’s “Language”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7E-aoXLZGY&feature=player_embedded#![/youtube]

What a great way to start a Monday! Stephen Fry goes on a lovely diatribe about pedantry in grammar. Too many great sentences to pull out just one – you’ll have to watch it.

CBC 2010 Literary Awards – Get Your Stuff In

The deadline for the CBC 2010 Literary Awards is November 1st – get your stories, poems, and other sundry literary items in today!

Go here to enter: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/literaryawards/