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signing a contract

Freelance journalist liabilities.

You don’t have to be an investigative journalist to have liabilities associated with your work. Even a writer heading out to a concert to write a music review faces several liabilities.

For instance, what if the concert reviewer takes photographs for their article and leaves their camera bag on the floor beside them, then someone trips over the bag. They might be personally responsible for the victim’s injuries.

Or what if all goes well at the concert, and the writer submits their review, but a staff writer or editor changes quotes without the writer’s consent before the piece goes to print? Those changes could not only damage the writer’s relationship with their sources/subjects, but could open up potential libel or defamation claims.

Freelance journalists assume a degree of liability for every article they write. While the contract between the journalist and the publication can help the writer better understand the scope of the writer’s responsibilities, there are some matters that are simply inherent with the general operations of a freelance journalist.

There are a few things that writers can do to improve their awareness and response to professional risks:

  1. “Writer insurance.” I have a past post about how to acquire media liability insurance, and I wrote an article a few years ago about Media Insurance for Writers.
  2. Legal guidance. Meet with a business attorney to review your overall freelance journalism plans and consider seeking a legal review of each of your freelance contracts. This can help you negotiate terms with publishers/clients. Here are a few terms I added to my freelance writing contracts.
  3. Educate yourself. Look for panels at writers conferences about professional liability and contracts, read books about freelancing, and talk to other writers about these issues. Keep a dialogue going so that you can be aware of new problems and long-time issues. Indemnification clauses are a big issue that programs like The Authors Guild’s Fair Contract Initiative are trying to illuminate and advocate for changes in book contracts.

If you’re in or near Graham, North Carolina on Tuesday, September 19th – I present the next Project Freelance seminar Build Your Authority With Journalism and Know Your Liabilities at 6PM at The CoOperative, a unique co-working space in downtown Graham. Thanks to supporters of Project Freelance, this community seminar is free and open to the public! RSVP is encouraged. Here are a few places you can register depending on your preference:

Hope to see you there!