The initial rate negotiated last fall between Tel Aviv-based freelancer Yardena Schwartz and Vice for a story about a Palestinian uprising and that event’s connection to the holy site Temple Mount was $500. However, following a personal emergency that disappeared her Vice editor for a week and undermined the topicality of the submitted item, she was offered a kill fee of just $75.
As Schwartz explains in a piece posted today on CJR, she had spent three full days working on the article. Since the decision to kill the piece had nothing to do with proper editorial considerations, she turned to her Alma Mater:
I typed up a quick email detailing what had happened and sent it to the Columbia Journalism School international alumni listserve. The subject line was, ‘Warning for freelancers re: Vice.’ Within minutes, my inbox was flooded with emails from other journalists who had suffered similar misfortunes with Vice. Most of the stories were worse than my own.
Not all of the journalists referred to in this story were approached this way. After hearing only negative anecdotes from former employees and freelancers, I tried to find people who had something positive to share about their experience with Vice. I put a call out on Facebook and within my network of other journalists… Out of 25 people I spoke to, emailed with, or interacted with through Facebook, three said they had a positive experience freelancing for Vice.
For the CJR feature, Vice separately put Schwartz in touch with three freelancers who it promised would have positive things to say about their experiences. Her article quotes two of these individuals, but here’s the catch: both journalists are based in the U.S.
Whereas pretty much all of the attributed scenarios cited by Schwartz, in addition to her own, are international. Two journalists in Paris; one in Morocco; another, unnamed, in Europe; and a bunch of grievances in Canada. As she writes near the top of her CJR report, Vice’s A/P department was recently reconfigured with a new invoicing system and the engagement of an outside payroll processing company.
Let’s hope Vice gets it together moving forward on the international freelancers front. Because there appears to be little doubt that Vice’s rapid growth left a lot of lot of those folks holding the bag.
Update (Sept. 1):
CJR’s piece has sparked quick action at the Vice end. Head of content Ciel Hunter circulated a memo that restates company best practices and operational improvements being made. From the memo:
While many of the complaints highlighted in the CJR piece date back to 2014 and 2015, before we mandated best practices and overhauled our accounts payable department, they do point out weak spots that do need fixing, which we’re currently addressing.
Previously on FishbowlNY:
Vice Contributor Recalls Low Point of Iran Undercover Mission