Freelancer research findings announced at the All Party Writers Group

ALCS Chief Executive Barbara Hayes opened the All Party Writers Group (APWG) Winter Reception by announcing preliminary findings from our commissioned research into earnings for freelancer journalists.

The APWG is a group of MPs and Peers who represent the interests of writers. The Winter Reception, hosted by APWG Chair Giles Watling MP, provided an opportunity for those attending to learn more about the issues facing freelance creatives.

Barbara Hayes began by paying tribute to Janet Anderson, a former Chair of the APWG and champion of authors, who sadly passed away in February.

In the spirit of championing authors, ALCS is committed to improving conditions for freelance writers by campaigning for a Freelancer Commissioner. To better understand the challenges facing freelance creatives, we commissioned the CREATe Centre at the University of Glasgow to conduct a survey examining freelance journalists’ earnings.

The full report will be available in early 2024 but Barbara announced some of the preliminary findings from the research.

“Earnings from freelance journalism have stagnated over the past five years, with professional median earnings now standing at around £19k per annum.”

Barbara explained that ALCS does not yet collect for all types of secondary uses, though we are busy working on changing this and ensuring that the mantra “no use without payment” continues to apply in the digital age.

“A major secondary use is the scraping of news stories by platforms like Google who offer them to users, securing significant advertising revenues in the process. The added value gained by the platforms associated with this type of activity is estimated to be in the region of £1 billion per year. And less than 10% of the freelance journalists surveyed had ever received income from this type of re-use. This is something that we want to see change.”

Barbara expressed hope that the proposed Digital Markets Bill can help address this: “In the UK, we hope to see the Digital Markets Bill (Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill) enacted which would empower the Digital Markets Unit to support efforts to secure a fair share, the right share, of this money for journalists.

Barbara then introduced freelance journalist, Marie Le Conte, to provide first-hand experience of life as a freelancer.

Marie spoke about the difficult conditions for freelance journalists: “Newspapers and magazines are paying less and less, and as you may have noticed, everything is costing more and more. I managed to become a journalist and for quite a few years I made a point of giving talks at universities to tell journalism students that they should give it a shot if that’s what they wanted to do. Increasingly, I’m not sure I can give that talk anymore.”

She then explained journalism’s heavy reliance on freelancers: “News rooms rely increasingly on freelancers. They’ve been gutted from wave after wave of redundancies, and what that means is they need us to fill the pages of their publications. At the same time, they don’t pay us enough, they don’t pay us on time”.

Finally, she outlined the importance of the profession and the consequences of failing to protect freelance journalists: “Journalism is crucial. Disinformation and misinformation are massive issues, especially on the internet. If space is not filled with relevant and reliable information written by professional journalists, it will be filled by other actors, who are often acting in bad faith.”

You can read more about our campaign for a Freelancer Commissioner here.