Freelance Contract Dos and Don'ts for Freelance Journalists

Freelance journalists have a tremendous amount of flexibility in choosing what assignments they will take and what subjects they will write about. However, most assignments are still governed by a written contract. When signing a contract for freelance work, you need to be very aware of what is in that contract. This article will provide some simple dos and don'ts for such contracts.

1: Services Performed

Make sure the contract states in clear, unambiguous language exactly what services you are to render. There should be a section of the contract entitled "description of the work" or something similar. This will make clear the size and length of the story you are writing. An exact word count is not necessary, but the contract should state "feature article," "news article" or some such description. If the client expects more than one story, the contract should say so.

Your contract should also state a firm delivery date for your project. This way, both parties will know, with no uncertainty, when the final story is due.

2: Payment and Expenses

The contract should also clearly set forth your payment terms. Be as specific as possible concerning the amount of payment, the method of payment and the date of payment. You are protecting yourself by establishing all of these in solid terms.

A freelance journalist may incur expenses while researching or covering a story. The client should also take care of these expenses. Make sure the contract states that such expenses, as long as they are reasonable and customary, should be paid by the client within a set period of time.

3: Penalties

A contract should have terms protecting you from non-payment, late payment or sudden cancellation of the assignment. A specific monetary penalty should be established in case any of these things happen. Use your own judgment based on the value of your work to set up that penalty. Also firmly set up what constitutes a "late payment." Remember that this issue goes both ways: Your client can set up terms penalizing you for late delivery or non-delivery.

4: Conditions of Use and Author's Rights

It is extremely important that a freelance journalist and client address these two issues in their contract. "Conditions of use" will establish the specific ways your finished journalistic product will be used and for how long. If it is a broadcast journalism story, you should establish what outlets will use the story. Will the story be re-used or reprinted? This also needs to be stated, because you should receive payment for each time the story is used. Be as specific as possible when setting these terms up.

Author's rights also need to be addressed. Some freelance journalist contracts will state that any license to publish or distribute the work will revert back to the freelance journalist within a certain amount of time. But other contracts may award exclusive rights to the client. Make sure you understand who maintains rights to your work so you can receive appropriate pay.

5: Confidentiality

Both parties want to make sure that their privacy is protected. A contract should clearly state that your sources and private information are not to be released to the public.