August 10th, 2007
Balancing good for journalists and good for SPJ
By Christine Tatum
This afternoon, I decided that SPJ shouldn’t add its name to an amicus brief that supports clarifying contract law that affects freelancers and publishers.
Legal Defense Fund Committee Chairman Dave Aeikens and I still very much believe the brief has tremendous merit. Though SPJ’s national board is divided on the matter, Dave and I aren’t alone.
Yet neither of us wants to champion a cause that also damages SPJ — and it’s clear this one is.
As I have previously stated, I was fully prepared for some people to disagree with my stance. I knew they’d insult my intelligence and hurl silly and unfounded insults. That, unfortunately, is how many people choose to handle disagreements (even better are those who throw barbs without having the guts to attach their names to them). So be it.
But it’s hard to see the painstaking work that has been done over many months — even years — trampled on and readily dismissed because people disagree about one issue. It’s hard to see what should be focused and productive discussions dissolve into shouting matches that aren’t even on point. It’s hard to see good, hard-working people who have done so much to defend freelancers called stupid names and accused of the utterly ridiculous.
This particular cause, while worthy, isn’t worth all of that.
A highly respected freelancer with whom I have consulted (but gracious, why post the name here and sick the ill-informed and/or angry flash mob on him/her, too?) while evaluating this matter wrote today:
“Of course I can see why those freelancers are pissed. It’s like when your mom used to say, ‘I’m grounding you for your own good. You’ll thank me later.’ Mom was right, but it was hard to believe that at the time.
“SPJ didn’t involve itself in this case to benefit publishers or injure journalists. SPJ raised its voice because it is the job of journalists to create clarity in the face of constangly mutating, endlessly confusing language and smokescreens. The lower court merely underscored the bedrock principle of good writing: Words have meanings. Contracts, like well-written stories, must say what they mean and mean what they say. To disagree would be to dishonor our profession.”
My sentiments exactly. Thanks for capturing them so beautifully, my freelancing friend.
Despite all of this rancor, one big problem remains: contracts concerning payment for freelance work should be much clearer. Far too many freelancers are not in a position to negotiate their own terms, and they are, frankly, continuing to sign bad contracts because they have no other choice if they want to pay the bills.
I suspect the 2nd Circuit will, ultimately, help give greater clarity to the law. As these matters are hashed out, SPJ will continue to work to help freelancers understand what they need to do to protect their income.