Hiring and paying freelancers


The National Writers Union offers a search tool to find a union writer.

The National Press Photographers Association offers a search tool to find a visual journalist. NPPA also published Best Practices for Working with Independent Photojournalists (2012).


Work-for-hire agreements should establish a fee in addition to expectations on the scope of the work, when it is due, and who owns the work and who will have rights to publish it. A fee can be a set amount or contingent on some factor such as hours worked and invoiced, number of words written, number of pages edited, number of photos published.

Publishers can set their own rates. Freelancers who are in demand can set their own rates. From there, an agreement is either negotiated or both parties move on.

Freelancers share information with each other on forums such as Study Hall to help determine a fair rate in their market. They also have Facebook private groups such as SPJ Freelance Community and Binders Full of Writing Jobs.

The Editorial Freelancers Association publishes a widely shared rate chart that has  typical ranges of fees. It warns, "These should be used only as a rough guideline; rates vary considerably depending on the nature of the work, the time frame of the assignment, the degree of special expertise required, and other factors."

An anonymous, crowdsourced list of which publications pay freelance writers, and how much can be found online at Who Pays Writers. The Twitter feed is @WhoPaysWriters

INN members working with regular, dependable freelance writers and copy editors often pay them by the hour. A local news outlet in a midsized city shared that it pays $40 per hour.

A small, issue-oriented INN member in the South shared that it pays experienced writers $1/word and less experienced writers a flat fee ranging from $300-$750 based on length, complexity, and number of sources involved. It pays guest columnists $100 typically, and sometimes as much as $200. (Many news organizations do not pay guest columnists, whose work may already be compensated as part of their "day job" as a professor, doctor, etc. But the INN member wants to create opportunities for people who do not have that type of institutional support.)

An INN member that covers regional public interest issues in the Midwest shared the rate schedule below. The outlet, which relies on freelancers to supplement the work of its small staff, categorizes stories like this:

  • Advanced: Requires extensive digging, including robust record requests, data analysis, more than five interviews and some travel.
  • Moderate: Stories that take significant time to complete and include multiple interviews, some data analysis or some record gathering.
  • Basic: Routine stories that are “evergreen,” or require a few phone calls and or few interviews, no data analysis or record requests.

Content Type


Advanced story*


Moderate story


Basic story



(one to three photos edited from a single event)

$50 each


(four or more photos edited from a single event)

$200 total


(Up to five minutes and edited)


Event appearance (webinar, town hall, podcast)