Freelance does not mean free

Who put the “free” in freelance? If you are a freelance writer, editor, journalist, graphic designer or another type of freelancer you know that freelance does not mean free. But not everyone knows that.

A few years ago there was a local freelance photographer that I’d see at networking events. He’d stand up, smile, wave and say “I’m the only truly “free”-lance photographer in town!” He was proud of the fact that he gave his work away. Several times I pulled him aside afterward to tell him he was making it harder for the rest of us to earn a living when he was creating the perception that freelance does mean free. It doesn’t.

At first, he didn’t really get it. He was retired from the military and, though once paid for his photography, he was doing it because he enjoyed it, not because he needed the money. He continued on this “free” path for a few years, before finally changing his outlook. I’m happy to say that he now charges for his work, and he watermarks his photos so that can’t be as easily borrowed as they once were.

I’m not sure how to change the perception that freelance means free, but maybe the term freelance needs to be updated. The Georgia pro chapter suggested using the word self-employed. Another freelance friend prefers the term independent journalist, which is also the name of this blog. I’m leaning toward that title myself. I am independent, I am a journalist, and I get paid for my work.

Do you find the terms “freelance” and “freelancer” misleading? What do you prefer to be called? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

~ Dana Neuts

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Dana Neuts, SPJ PresidentBased in Seattle, Dana Neuts is an independent journalist and the publisher of Her work has appeared in The Seattle Times, AARP Bulletin, 425 Business, 425 magazine, South Sound magazine and others. She is a member of the Kent Community Foundation board and is currently serving as SPJ’s national president.


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